Sunday, June 5, 2011

Doing the Asimov

James Scott Bell

Fiction writers are nuts. Crazy. Not right in the head.
           
You have to be, at least a little bit. I mean, you want to make stuff up and expect to get paid for it? You want people to give you money for lying? You could go to law school for that. Why write?

You want to invest years of time plugging away at fiction with no guarantee of return? You want to endure the looks of pity and scorn you get around the Thanksgiving table when it's your turn to talk about what you do?
           
Yes, we're all more than a little unhinged in this game.
           
Sometimes, it gets even crazier. Like now.
           
I'm doing "The Asimov."


           
Isaac Asimov was one of the most prolific authors of all time. Something north of 500 books. Not just fiction, but science, history, Shakespeare scholarship, biblical studies, jokes. Sheesh, how did he do it?
           
By having no life, that's how (he said so himself). Asimov had several typewriters around his New York apartment, each with a different project in it. When he tired of working on one he got up, stretched, walked across the room and went to work on  another.
           
He'd "snatch time." If he had a fifteen minute wait for something – say, guests to arrive –– he'd write.
           
Writing madness, that's what possessed him. And I fully understand it.
           
I've been working for days on edits of a manuscript, brainstorming new scenes for a novel in progress and reading pages for two projects on which I'm a consultant. This morning I revised a story and hammered out final details on my seminar. I looked at the clock. I thought an hour had gone by. It was lunchtime.
           
I made myself a steak sandwich and parked in front of the TV to watch a little ESPN while I ate.
           
I also grabbed my AlphaSmart Neo, the nifty, light, dedicated word processor that runs on AA batteries, upon which I am typing this essay.
           
Type. Eat. Watch. Stupid Dodger owner. Type. Eat.
           
Cut to:
           
The steak sandwich is gone. And I've got a blog entry almost done.
           
That's The Asimov.
           
I have some writer friends who say they cannot do this. They can only concentrate on one project at a time. Personally, I think they'd find The Asimov refreshing. Taking a "rest" on one project lets the brain cells work on it under the radar.

But who knows? Brains are wired differently. That's why we have Jersey Shore and Masterpiece Theater coming out of the same box. 

What about you? Can you work on more than one project at a time, with the same intensity? Or do you think that's a ticket to madness?


It's time for some ice cream now. Excuse me.

22 comments:

  1. As long as the projects are different enough, I think it's possible to work on multiple projects at once. Certainly there are days when I work on a novel, a blog post, a newsletter article, and my paying job. I've also switched from a novel to a short story in the same day. Two novels might be pushing it -- but if you're inspired, why not?

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  2. I like the Asimov.

    I do the Asimov.

    I like unhinged.

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  3. If I didn't work on more than one project at a time there would be times when I didn't write at all :)

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  4. Basil, isn't Unhinged, AK, where you live?

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  5. I can only work on one project at a time. I need the story to percolate in my brain, so my subconscious can come up with new plot threads and connections. There isn't room for other characters. However, that's in terms of novel writing. I can, at the same time, work on blogs and other promotional activities and collect research for my next book. As for the passion that possesses us, no one understand this craze like another writer.

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  6. this is a little unrelated, but i was wondering how writers approach the phenom of retirement? as a nurse, i had a plan and implemented that plan, retiring at 53. and i was done...finito. so how do writers retire?? do you ever just get up one morning and say, 'enuf asimov'....i'm done. or does your brain just keep on 'percolating' as nancy states. and you write until they pry the keyboard out of your cold, blue fingers?

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  7. kathy, for myself, I can't imagine ever stopping. I want to be like Robert B. Parker. When he died last year at age 77, he was at work on his next book.

    I wrote about that here.

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  8. I would love to think of myself as an Asimov, but I ru. Out of words! I work so hard on edits or WIP I run out of emotional energy. I blog and do book therapies -- which are a nice change of pace.

    I've figured out writing involves a lot of emotional digging for me and I can only do that for one book at a time. I'm not good enough of a writer to just hammer stuff out. I think I have to accept that even though I'd like it to be different.

    Rachel

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  9. I think you have to do it the way you do it. Your brain is not wired like anyone else. There are always unique twists and turns in how you approach an idea, story, word, thought. I'm not published yet. Still have several stories in my head and on paper. Fiction and Non-fiction. Just yesterday I was sitting alone in my apartment, talking out loud about one story. Working out plot, movement, emotions in characters. Answering questions like: Why did you do that? I didn't tell you to do that. Then it works. Sometimes I write before I think. Other times I think before I write. But always inspired by the brain activity of other writers. Nice post.

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  10. I love multiple projects! I just turned in a contemporary romance to my editor, am up to chapter 5 in my Mythological Sam trilogy (urban fantasy), and am following closely with my time-travel romance that I can't wait to finish because I'm intrigued by my characters.

    Yes, James. Call it madness. Call it love. They are so closely intertwined in the author's mind. No one can stop me now!Bwaaahaaaahaaa!

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  11. I'm going to find out. :) I'm off from the day job for 6 weeks and am going to see how well I can do some heavy revisions on book 2, continue to write book 3, and continue to work on a non-fiction book as well. I'll only switch off from revisions when I can't stand them anymore. :)In this way I hope it will keep the creative well from getting burned out. We'll see.

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  12. I think we all HAVE to work on multiple projects at the same time. But some of those projects are washing windows, hanging out the laundry, and whipping up stir fry...which still gives your brain a chance to percolate on whatever you're writing.

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  13. doing two books at a time. Wish I could do more. One set in 1936 one in 2011. I do have a life outside writing.

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  14. Never will retire. Want a pension... work for GM.

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  15. The Internet is rewiring our brains in the direction of multitasking. Statistically, will the results of a multi-tasker's writing be better, worse, or the same as one who devotes all his creative energy to one project until completion? Time will tell.

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  16. Oh yes. I've got a few writing projects that I skip back and forth on in a single day. When I hit a rough patch on the urban fantasy, I swap over to the hard-boiled detective.

    I sort of have to do that, because if I don't, I'll hit that rough spot and decide, "I wonder if there are any new posts on that forum" and lose the night.

    Stupid modern life induced A.D.D.

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  17. I can only write one novel at a time, but during that process I have many smaller projects going: blogs, short stories, articles. I have to multitask and keep everything moving forward to survive!

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  18. I like the Asimov, too.

    Simmer, pots! Simmer!

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  19. I think Asimov had ADHD. His method sounds a lot like my life. Can't sit still long enough to finish any one thing. On the other hand, I'm a great multi-tasker. Thank god for my smartphone or I'd never remember what I was REALLY supposed to be doing!

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  20. I'm working on a series with many of the same characters in each book but a different protagonist, so I can work on two. But then, most folks will tell you I'm certifiable.

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