Writing a book is a lot like climbing a mountain. Going up Mt. Kilimanjaro with my brother in September 2006, we learned the art of “pole, pole,” which is Swahili for “slowly, slowly.” Pole is pronounced something like “poe-lay.”
Reaching the Roof of Africa meant mostly just putting one foot in front of the other until we reached Uhuru Peak.
Writing a book is kind of the literary equivalent. You write it (and re-write it and edit it and sweat over it and obsess over it) one word at a time. And you keep at it until you get to the finish line. Along the way, there are milestones, each with its own mix of emotions.
- Completing a draft (major cause for celebrations, six of them – one for each draft).
- Sending the draft out to editors, beta readers, the formatter, reviewers (exhilaration mingled with sheer relief and debilitating fear).
From the outside looking in, and vice-versa
People think it’s pretty cool that we’ve co-written a superhero book and it’s almost ready for publication. When I talk to them, they even manage to make it sound glamorous. Like we’ve accomplished something on par with being invited to consult for the president. (Although to us, it feels that heady, and we think it’s pretty freakin’ cool, too.)
They see the results. They don’t see the daily grind. And I do mean grind. The kind of procrastinating grind where you absolutely would rather clean your toilet with your very own toothbrush, then brush your teeth with that selfsame implement, than sit down with the laptop and write One. Single. More. Sentence.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of fun involved in making up stories. It’s fun to learn the craft. Fun to talk with other writers. Fun to brainstorm ideas and turn those ideas into living, breathing stories. It can even be fun to edit and polish and fine tune stories. Fun to collaborate and turn OK into great. But it’s not like that every day. Some days it feels like a hobby and some days it feels like an unpaying part-time job. Or penance. Take your pick. All that really matters, though, is doing what’s required that day, no matter how it feels. Pole, pole. Eventually, we’ll get there. Nothing very glamorous in the execution of it. (In fact, a lot of days it’s anything but pretty – remember what I said about the toothbrush?)
It’s all about time
One of the most common questions we get when people find out Baltimore & I are up to is where we find the time to write.
I’m not sure what my brother tells people, but I usually give one of several answers, depending on who’s asking and my mood:
- I’m not married, so I have more control over my free time.
- You watch TV when you get home from work. I write.
- You FaceBook. I write.
- You have kids, and I’m a morning person. I write before you can get your kids to school.
- You go out with your friends. I give up my social life 5 or 6 nights of 7 so I can write.
All of which are factually true, but incomplete answers. Sometimes I tell the full truth.
You find time for what’s important to you.
My work on Awakening takes about two hours a day, and has from the beginning. At the outset, it was roughly 90 minutes for writing and 30 minutes for talking and collaborating with my brother each day. Now, the writing is done for Awakening (thank the heavens) and I devote most of my time to marketing activities, such as this newsletter. (Although we do have Books 2 & 3 waiting in the wings, so creative writing will come back into my life soon.)
Progress every day
We all have the same 24 hours. Sure, we all need Z’s. And we need to earn money to fund our lives. But we need to spend our free time in a way that enriches us. For me, that means writing and scuba diving.
Sometimes that’s easy, especially the scuba part.
But not always. We need to keep at the book work even when life deals us more lemons than a Florida citrus grove. Last week, I alluded to us having gotten through a tough week. Let me tell you what’s gone on for us in the last 2 weeks or so, and we still managed to put our time in on Awakening and marketing for the book, because we made time for what matters to us.
- Baltimore had his appendix out. He’s recovering nicely, by the way, but the doctor told him not to laugh for a week so he wouldn’t compromise the healing process.
- My 13-year-old cat went to the vet for dehydration and came home with a special low-protein diet for stressed kidneys. I didn’t even know prescription food existed for pets. It’s a whole new world for us. We’re working through fluid treatment, which involves daily needles. It ain’t fun for either of us, and she’s starting to run from me. It’s only been a week. I’m not sure how much more of this I – or Possum – can take.
- My AC went out on a day when Houston had a heat index of 102. It was a very warm week in the Pallanich household.
- My mobile phone service has been on the fritz since I switched from Cricket to T-Mobile several months ago. I’m in the heart of Houston but can’t get 4G service at home. Garbles and dropped calls and “I can’t hear you” are the new norm, along with huge levels of agitation. What should take 5 minutes to discuss now takes 10 or 20 minutes and requires multiple phone calls and significant swearing. Skype, you say? Yes, would make sense to try that, except my T-Mobile mifi hotspot makes Skyping a bit tricky. It also sometimes means download speeds that rival the old dial-up modem days, but barely.
Two of these are merely daily annoyances. That life-threatening part my brother went through was super scary. And worrying about Possum is taking an emotional toll. But, to get a bit philosophical about things, if we didn’t have these problems, we’d have other ones.
In the end, those problems are part of the landscape of the mountain of book writing we’ve been climbing.
Pole, pole. We’ll get there.