Friday, May 31, 2013

Deadlines and the Working Girl

I'm writing this post under the assumption that my editor doesn't read my blog. He works hard, and he likes me, and I'd hate to do anything to possibly damage that relationship. But as he doesn't read my blog, I'll tell you guys: I'll do pretty much anything to keep from meeting my deadlines.

Deadlines, deadlines. For any given novel, there are usually deadlines for the rough draft, the first edit, the final edit, the copyedit, the first page proofs, and the final page proofs. I tend to write two books a year, so double that. I also do the book trailers for my books, so that means there is a deadline for writing the song for the trailer and a deadline for getting the animation done. There are also various interviews and article type things that come up throughout the year. They come with deadlines too. Baby deadlines, though. Infantile deadlines. Nascent deadlines. When I trample over them, I don't even feel them stick on the bottom of my boot.

I have devised all sorts of ways to avoid making a deadline. My most traditional method of missing one deadline is to work on another legitimate project. Yesterday, someone asked me on Facebook:

"I'm curious how you spend your days, you seem to get so much done! Write, draw, write, read, create...can you give us a glimpse into a typical day for Miss Maggie? Plz n thnku"

I spend ninety percent of my work day working on things that have absolutely nothing to do with the most pressing deadline. For an example, here is a photograph of my desk as of this morning:

My desk is just . . .

I know what you're thinking. You are thinking: This is a girl who is Gets Things Done.

However, as sad as I am to disabuse you of this belief, I must report that absolutely nothing on that desk pertains to my most pressing deadline, the edits for Spirit Animals 2. Everything the light touches, Simba, are things that avoid my current deadline. From left to right:

a keyboard I killed by spilling a glass of water on it
The hair dryer I used to try to revive the dead keyboard and then on a piece of plastic to see if it would melt in a cool way.
A roll of scotch tape because I need scotch tape for . . . something.
A single corncob handle because I was making a birthday cake for Lover and needed only one.  
A copy of Forever, which I was reading because . . . because.  
A copy of The Rook which I was reading because it was delightful.  
An advanced review copy of The Dream Thieves because I need to open it every so often to admire my own animal cunning.
A video camera to record buzzards circling over my front yard because . . . because.
Some of my colored pencils, which I organize according to color and value whenever I feel like I'm in danger of meeting a deadline.  
Turpenoid, paint brush, pencil, and sketches for the Dream Thieves book trailer, which is not due until August which makes it more urgent than my Monday deadline.

Dream Thieves sketches 

the remains of cookies, milk, pecans, and a honey sandwich.  
A washcloth to mop up various spilled drinks and any tears from visitors sad about my missed deadlines.

I know it's pathological, but the more urgent something is, the more I want to do anything else. Is it work avoidance if you will do work to avoid doing work?

Because I've been like this since well before college, one would think I would have found a way to short-circuit my bad habits by now. And, you know, it's not like I don't try. Last week, I had a studio appointment to lay down the track for The Dream Thieves audiobook and trailer. The day before, I decided I despised the song I had written and threw it all away. As I had only twelve hours before studio-time, I knew I should spend my evening writing a new song.

But all I could think about was how I was going to drive my car two hours to the studio the next morning. And it was dirty. Covered with pollen. Very, very unsexy.

I had two choices. Write the song for the recording in twelve hours. Wash my car so that it looked sexier for the drive.

It's sexy enough, I told myself firmly. No one but you cares. It's not important. What is important is this song. You have a very little time to write a song that will be heard my thousands. You need to focus on your priorities. You — 


OH the things I do to avoid deadlines. The more aware I am of the problem, the more devious and desperate to miss them I seem to become. As the dates press in more urgently, I watch four episodes of Sherlock in a row. I google all of the bands in my music library. I draw pictures of my author friends' characters. I make increasingly complicated food items, culminating in Indian feasts of curry, naan bread, hummus and rice finished with shaved apple muffins with cream cheese frosting. I clean the espresso machine, although I have resorted to popping caffeine pills and no longer remember where I put my coffee beans. I take energetic naps. I cultivate lethargic street races. I alphabetize my book collection. I write screenplays for movies that having nothing to do with anything but vintage arcade games. I take up rally driving. I walk the goats. I bounce on a yoga ball while listening to songs iTunes says I will like. I design fake covers and real covers and title books that I will write some day but not this day. Once, memorably, I broke up a wedding rather than meeting a deadline.

The problem with me is that I get bored very easily. The thing that seems interesting and excellent for distracting me from deadlines this week often won't work the next. Once I've done something, what's the point of doing it again? It means I must devise new and tricky ways of keeping myself entertained. For instance, I took up a new, obscure musical instrument and signed up for lessons from a teacher three hours away, but I must be careful to take a different route to the teacher every time I go because I know that otherwise I will get bored. I had to give up rallying because I could not convince myself that it was entertaining enough to break cars and go sideways when there were so many rules that made you always break them and go sideways the same way each time. What a trial it is to be unable to sit still and work quietly on things. What a trial it is to not sit still. What a . . .

I'm lying. I cannot imagine anything less entertaining that sitting still.

I reckon you are wondering how I ever get my books done. Eventually, I run out of things that are not my book, and I run out of time, and in that crushing moment of time constraint and personal crisis, I write them. It is not really that I don't work on them during the rest of the time. I do pick and tap and work at them. It's just that I can't really finish them without that moment of intense fire. I've written 30,000 words in a night, so long as it is the night before my deadline. I really do have work ethic, I swear, it's just that I have put pieces of it in so many different horcuxes that sometimes it's hard to prioritize them properly.

So, this question: "I'm curious how you spend your days, you seem to get so much done! Write, draw, write, read, create...can you give us a glimpse into a typical day for Miss Maggie? Plz n thnku"

I guess what I'm saying that there isn't a typical day. I know what I should reply. I should say, "I work for 8 hours on my current deadline and then I frolic for the remainder of the time."

But since my editor doesn't read my blog, I can tell you guys the truth, right?


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

This Post Has Proof I Can Actually Be Delightful

And control my swearing, mayhem, and general whatever-it-is-that-makes-booming-sounds.

This weekend, Lover and I got into a giant fight because I told him I wanted to give his father a taxidermy possum for his birthday/ retirement party.

ME: What else do you get the man who has everything?

LOVER: *extremely heavy look* Would you like to be given a stuffed possum?

ME: I'd put it in the game room.

LOVER: Dad doesn't have a game room.

ME: The foyer, then.

Things grew more heated then, as discussions over in-laws and parties and aging often do, and finally I said:

ME: I was joking! Did you really think I would give him a stuffed possum?

LOVER: You were not joking. I know you and I know your face and you were going to give my father a dead possum to celebrate his freedom from the workforce.

ME: *stares heavily*

Apparently now I have to think of something else. Lover's mother didn't care for the alpaca hand puppet I got her for Christmas, so obviously that is out as well. There is practically nothing left in the world to give away.

LOVER: You are not appropriate for most public functions.

But that is not true! I can be delightful! I can control my swearing, mayhem, and general whatever-it-is-that-makes-booming-sounds. And the proof of that is that Scholastic asked me if I would write an entry in their new middle grade series, Spirit Animals. Would they have possibly trusted me with that if they thought I couldn't be delightful? NO WAY.

Here is an actual editorial note from the manuscript, by the way. 

Editorial Note

I learned a valuable lesson from this section of editing, by the way. It turns out it's very unseemly for middle grade heroes to perform unprovoked violence, even if there are weasels in the scene. It turns out you have to work a lot harder to support a character maiming someone in middle grade.

Anyway, I'm pleased to be able to share the cover (i.e. ACTUAL EVIDENCE) of my entry in the series. It comes out early next year. The first one comes out in September. Here are people who can be trusted talking about the series. And here is the actual evidence that I can be delightful and charming and not swear. At least for 180 pages or so.

Spirit Animals 2: HUNTED Cover

Now if you excuse me. I am going to go see if I can find a chandelier made of chili pepper lights or something else equally festive and gift-like.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Terrible Writing & the Prologue of The Dream Thieves!

I used to write terrible books all the time.

I've talked about this before, my terribleness. I have even posted some of my terribleness on the internet. By the time I went to college, I had over thirty manuscripts in various stages of finishedness laying around my house and ancient computers and word processors.

Terrible manuscripts.

I wrote novels about talking dogs, missing unicorns, IRA men with hearts of gold, enchanters with hearts of gold, missing dogs, missing IRA men, kids in suburbia who were secretly kings and queens, fairies who were secretly kids in suburbia, missing kids and fairies in suburbia . . .

Terrible. They were all terrible.

But like I said. I've talked about all of this before. I wrote a lot of terrible books. Today, however, in honor of Entertainment Weekly sharing the prologue of The Dream Thieves, I am going to share with you a very particular terrible book from my teens.

The Dream Thieves.

Well, it wasn't called that, back then. It was called The Llewellyn Society. And Gansey was an old man. And Ronan was named Sean. And Noah was named Adam. But it was the same. Mostly. Sort of. Except that I wrote this version longhand. Oh, and it was terrible.

 Old College Draft of Raven Cycle Books

Here are some more terrible bits that sort of stayed the same in the real version, only I made them less terrible.

Old College Draft of Raven Cycle Books

Old College Draft of Raven Cycle Books


And a typed version from a few months later:

Old College Draft of Raven Cycle Books

And like I said. Here is the prologue of the real version, and an interview, over at Entertainment Weekly.

I hope you find it not terrible.

(And as a reminder, you can pre-order a signed and painted in version of it over at Fountain Bookstore)

(and here is what I am painting in each of them: BJxGvIeCEAAbkv-.jpg_large)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Letter To My Mother, With No Swearing (Just As She Prefers It)

I suppose this post could be for mothers of creative, strange children everywhere, but mostly, it’s for my mom. My original plan was to write this note for her on a piece of stationery, but then I looked around my office. Somehow it didn’t seem very meaningful to give her something jotted in Sharpie on a Scorpio Races postcard or the corner of a Shiver bookmark or on the back of a Raven Boys bookplate or in the blank part of an index card that already has fourteen plot points scribbled on it.

Then I thought, no, my blog is my finest stationery. A thank you note on Mother’s Day is nice. A thank you note on Mother’s Day that is searchable in Google results is even better.

So here it is.

Hi, Mom,

I decided to write you a note for Mother’s Day. I’m sure this seems out of character, as I normally eschew all holidays that don’t involve cake or trees. But this year I looked at the jug of fancy conditioner I had bought you for your Mother’s Day present, and I thought: one day, this conditioner will be all gone. And then you will not remember my affection for you. This fancy conditioner won’t last for a year. It’ll last for a month. Then you’ll have eleven months of wondering if your middle daughter truly appreciates you.

Conditioner is transient. And once it has passed from this world, it’s just . . . gone.

So I tried to think of something more permanent. I considered artwork and furniture and knicks and knacks. However, I know that our idea of interior design differs. You have nice prints and wreathes on the walls. I have rusty metal scissors and twisted license plates hanging on mine.

And what is more permanent than the written word? Nothing.*

*with the possible exception of Gangnam Style

Here we go.

I know I haven’t been the easiest daughter to have. I remember well that I was a small, cranky, sullen, black-hearted, violent child. I pinched my siblings and punched my classmates. I didn’t really eat food. Mostly I ate the same four or five items for weeks on end and then, just as you had stocked the house with these a backlog of these items, I would remove them vocally from my diet. I’m still sorry about that letter the school sent home in third grade. Hey, at least I knew you weren’t starving me, right?

I was not very huggable. I liked things my way. I was a bad child and a worse teen. I had a very particular plan for my life and when I became interested in something, I would obsessively pursue it to the absence of all other things. I cut off all my hair because I knew you didn’t want me to. I swore because you frowned when I did. I street raced so often and got so many speeding tickets that I came within a hair of losing my license. And at no point was I sorry. Also I wore black all the time.

I was just terrible.

But despite my terribleness, I wanted to tell you that I think you did an amazing job. Especially now that I have my own children**. I guess I took it for granted how you always had an art project or a book for me to read or a piano lesson all ready. Until I had Thing 1 and Thing 2, I didn’t realize how much time and consideration it took to prepare something like that every single afternoon. You took all of us to the library nearly every week and let us browse in the stacks for hours. As a kid, I didn’t even think about how you might have other ways you wanted to spend your Saturday. And even though you were allergic to dogs and cats, we had about a billion of them growing up. I remember thinking you were being unfair by drawing the line at rodents. No doubt you said this with the traditional tissue you kept in your pocket — for when the dander of six or seven dogs or cats finally got to you. How crushed we were! HOW ABOUT A LIZARD, MOM? A KOMODO DRAGON?

**At first, I typed “my own kids” there and then I thought . . . no, now that I have goats, that is too unspecific.

I grew up surrounded by all sorts of different art stuffs and books and scratch paper and musical instruments and I just thought that’s how everybody lived.

Man, it takes a billionty hours a week for me to pull off even a quarter of what you did with me and four other siblings. I still don’t really know how you did it. But I didn’t want you to think I didn’t notice. Maybe I didn’t at the time, but I do now. Better late than never, right?

Here’s the most important thing: you never told me I couldn’t be a writer or an artist or a composer. You always made sure I had the tools to learn how to be the best writer and artist and musician I could be. We had our bumps along the way, but really, you were there at every step making sure that I could pursue that dream. Whether it was taking me to the library or setting me up with clay or hurriedly packing my stuff into a car so I could switch to a college with a Music Composition degree two weeks before the semester began . . . and then helping me switch colleges again when I left town after my morning classes six weeks later.

At the time, I thought, of course.

Now . . . well, I would have killed me. Or at the very least sent me to a distant boarding school with padded walls.

Thanks for making me who I am, Mom.

Love, Maggie

P.S. I will bring your conditioner out next time I’m at the house. It’s just great stuff.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Inside of My Sketchbook (and by extension, my black heart)

On Facebook, I shared a warm-sketch I did this morning while brainstorming about the look I want for The Dream Thieves' animated book trailer. It is this:


Someone asked me if I would give a "tour" of my sketchbook. I actually have a few laying around at any given time, but this is one of my oldest. If you want to see the contents of my black heart, you can click on the image below to see the full set.

As you can see, I used to take it with me on tour a lot, so there are a lot of doodles of people sitting in airports and restaurants. You can also sort of tell which novel I was writing at any given time, based upon the drawings. And some of them are sketches for finished drawings. For instance, the first sketch on the third row became this:

The Language Of Us

And the second sketch on the last row became this:

The Scorpio Races

My hands smell like turpenoid.

(oh, and also, on Twitter, someone asked me if I could teach them to draw. Here is my biggest piece of advice for every artist — and writer — out there: draw what you SEE, not what you know is there.)
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