Wednesday, October 03, 2012

God willing and the creek don't rise

One of the most heartfelt complaints from writers of every stripe--published, unpublished, self-published, well-published, hardly published, praying to stay published--is how long things take in publishing.

I hear it most plaintively from two categories of writers: clients waiting for me to do something and queriers who wonder what the hell I do all day since it's clearly not answering their email.

Here is a pretty good illustration of the answer:

I'd planned for a reading day. I have several people waiting on fulls, and I have some manuscripts I'd asked to see from contests, and the incoming material from the Houston Writing Guild conference I'll be attending next week. It's hard to read in the office, so I'm working from home.

First thing this morning I got a contract off to an author to sign. He's leaving on a trip soon and we need to get this done. Clearly a top priority.

Second thing was dealing with emails that needed immediate attention.

Third was prepping a submission list today for a project I'm going out with soon. I did it today so I could send it to my eagle eyed colleague Brooks Sherman for his input.

Then I planned to read most of the afternoon.

Of course, what happened is a manuscript landed in my inbox that needs immediate, which means RIGHT NOW, attention. So I'm not reading any of the stuff I planned to read, I'm reading this one.

This happens all the time.

One of the things it took me the longest time to learn (if indeed I actually have learned and fully implemented it) was remembering to allow for this when I planned things. Or promised to have things finished by a certain date.

When I talk to clients and querieres about when to expect something back from me, I look at my date book. I try to remember not all those blank lines are going to stay empty. And even if they were empty yesterday, tomorrow can change all that in a New York minute.  Now I try to plan to leave at least half to three-quarters of any day reserved for the things that arrive with no notice and on fire.

Almost every culture has a way of saying "God willing and the creek don't rise" for making plans. The Islamic world says Insha'Allah.

I think of it as life imitating art:

Salvador Dali


Anonymous said...

Another learning curve for people who don't know what it's all about. I think it's all too common for people to judge other people's time and career when they know absolutely nothing about it. ("Ooh, it must be great to have your summers off" for teachers and "How hard can it be to count out pills?" for pharmacists are just two that come to mind).

All you do is read and collect commissions, right? How hard can that possibly be?

Johnny Ray said...

Playing the devils advocate by using the economics of demand and supply, why are there not more agents, or agent assistants due to this high demand?

Richard Gibson said...

I've been a consultant for many years, on my own (good practice for writing and trying to get published!) and probably the hardest thing is determining how much time something will take - both total (ideally, billable) hours, and calendar days, which are too often not even remotely the same. I had 8 days of work beginning in late June. I told the client I could be done by the end of August. It was a push but it happened... but Janet is so very right about the creek rising, even without the warning of a rainstorm, often enough.

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

This sort of thing happens to all of us. It's happened to me twice already this week. I've had two whole days where I was supposed to be writing, but ended up handling other things because they were urgent. Which is why I'm sleep deprived, because the writing still has to happen some time, and it usually happens after my scheduled bedtime. :D

And I adore Salvador Dali. He's my favorite artist, and not just because I was born on his birthday. May 11 FTW!

Lilas Taha said...

In my household, whenever my kids hear me say "Inshallah," they automatically assume: "Not going to happen."

It takes tremendous effort and energy to stay on track, and maybe a bit of magic dust to accomplish what we set out to do each morning. As long as I'm moving forward, I don't feel too guilty if I had to readjust a schedule.

Juturna F. said...

I have that clock on my work bookshelf. Funnily enough it's 100% accurate, even when my computer clock goes a little wonky (my work computer is run by hamsters, who occasionally take lemonade breaks when they're tired of their little wheels, or wander off to forage because the hamster food at work is cheap and not very nutritious).

When estimating time, I always double the time I think it'll take, then add a little more just in case. While I'm usually finished early, every now and then the estimate ends up being just barely enough.

Matthew Masucci said...

We have "Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion" hanging in our bedroom.

Great painting by Dali.

Fairly emblematic of my life.

Brenda Buchanan said...

Your workday and mine look just alike, Janet.

I sometimes feel like one of those jugglers who specializes in keeping a half dozen plates spinning in the air.


Elissa M said...

Johnny Ray asks, "why are there not more agents...?"

My answer: Because it's a helluva hard job that takes skills not possessed by just anyone.

I suspect the attrition rate is extremely high among those who think they can just hang out a shingle and be an agent. And from what I've seen, burnout affects even those who are good at the game.

Janet, I admire what you and your fellow agents do, but your moccasins are not ones in which I would ever wish to walk.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Paraphrasing here, "battle plans survive the first shot." That is typically how my daily to-do lists go as well.


Bill Scott said...

I imagine that puts revealing what the doorbell/button thingy is way down on your list of things to do. :)

Janet Reid said...

oh Bill,thank you. I totally spaced that out.

I'll go read the comments now.

Jane | @janelebak said...

I've got a project on deadline...and I spent six hours yesterday in the ER with my kid, and after he got admitted at the end of the day, THEN I came home and tried to make my deadline. (Fortunately the hospital had wifi so I could email the editor.)

So Ms. Reid, we understand because this happens to writers too. Sometimes the whole schedule gets reprioritized, and screw the schedule.

Patrick Sean Lee said...

Thanks Janet,
It's so true. We who write (our hearts out) and query tend to forget what you've said. You HAVE a life beyond answering emails? Oh, didn't think of that.

PS. Love Dali!