Now that it’s October, I thought I’d post once more about my Djerassi Writes YA novel workshop and retreat this coming February in the mountains of Woodside, California… and remind anyone who might be considering that applications are due next week, October 18! (Quick link: APPLY ONLINE.)
What will the week be like? (Spoiler: I think it’s going to be awesome.) This is the first time the Djerassi Resident Artists Program—an artists’ colony not just for writers but for visual artists and composers and choreographers, too—is hosting a weeklong workshop and retreat, so we are creating the week from scratch, envisioning mornings of workshopping your writing and afternoons free to write new work in your private studio or wander the beautiful sculpture trails or talk with me about books and words and building a career. In the evenings we will do readings from our work or discuss issues in the industry or books we love or, if we’re so inclined, excuse ourselves to write some more. All meals will be provided, and you’ll be housed in the rooms and studios where Djerassi Fellows are housed during the residency season, giving you a little taste of the artists’-colony experience.
You’ll also have a private consultation with me about your novel-in-progress, in addition to the workshop feedback you’ll get from the group discussion.
On a personal note, I was an artist in residence at Djerassi in 2012 (that’s where these photos are from), and found myself really struck by the beautiful place in the mountains of Woodside, California. I see it as the ideal place to dig in to a draft and create new words. When the opportunity to lead a workshop and retreat here came to me, how could I possibly pass this up?
I should say that though the title of the workshop specifies young adult novels, middle-grade writers are also welcome and encouraged to apply. (I have written one, myself, and I do love middle-grade!)
One of my favorite things about teaching writing—aside from the celebratory moments that keep coming when I learn one of my former students has signed with an agent or secured a book deal!—is the opportunity to dig deep into a novel and help the writer make it the best it can be, all the while always respecting that writer’s vision for the book. I’d be honored to have the chance to do that with yours.
First off, in case I haven’t been talking about it enough and boring you with it, I have a deadline. You haven’t heard? So it’s November 1, and it’s the deadline to turn in the first official draft of my new novel to my new publisher. The book was sold on proposal, which means I had a lot of pages to write, and quickly, and I’m still not done yet, I feel very far from done, and it’s already October 4, and cue urgency, and cue one-track-deadline-mind, cue a healthy motivational level of panic.
I kind of love deadlines, actually. I love all of the above. This gets me writing.
(And, little psychological interlude I guess: Having a deadline makes me feel wanted. Someone wants to read my book enough that they gave me a deadline! That makes me feel really, really good.)
I’ve run into an interesting phenomenon lately when I mention my deadline. It’s one where I am all gung-ho crazy-serious about this deadline—like, I can go around blaming it for everything (I don’t have time to (a) go to the gym (b) clean (c) eat healthy (d) see friends (e) take that freelance project (f) the list goes on, I’m on deadline blah!). I know I take it too far. I exaggerate. I am very dramatic (was accused of this just last night!).
So, yeah, it’s not the end of the world or anything.
But at the same time, I kept sensing that not all writers take these book deadlines as seriously. Or understood why I was being so serious about mine. And it made me wonder about myself? Why do I?
Talking to some authors while I was away at my last colony, I explained I was there for an emergency residency and I had this deadline and I didn’t know if I could make it but I was putting my all into trying, and the most common response was…
But why do you have to make the deadline?
Deadlines don’t mean that much.
Publishers move deadlines all the time.
And sure, that happens. I remember. I worked in publishing, and manuscript deadlines rarely held. But here’s the other thing about working in publishing—as the production editor for these books, when those deadlines didn’t hold because the author and the editor needed more time? Not always did the publishing season shift. What shifted was the time the other people in the office had to work on the book—the designer, the typesetter, and last and yes actually least, the production editor, the in-house copyediting person who is supposed to catch every last typo before your book goes to press. I’d be the one losing time. And for someone whose job it was to make sure the books were PERFECT, you can imagine how exasperating and stressful this was. I once spent Thanksgiving weekend working on an enormous book, unpaid because salaried employees don’t get overtime and no freelancer could do the work as quickly as I could, at home, because the production deadline couldn’t move and I was the last round in the shrinking schedule. I’ve made mistakes during rush schedules that have haunted me, because not having enough time is never an excuse. The job could be so overwhelming, often due to the way work piled up and everything was due at the same time, and deadlines weren’t always met… that I stopped in 2009.
Yes I know publishers often have a cushion with their deadlines, to avoid just this problem. I am sure I have a cushion. If I need it.
But why be all blasé at the start? I’d rather take advantage of that cushion later, if I need it, during revisions.
When I don’t make my deadlines as a writer, I can’t help but think of that person at the end of the assembly line at my publisher—that person who was me, a short number of years ago—and I want her to have her Thanksgiving weekend, you know?
I really want to make my writing deadlines.
I take them very seriously.
I don’t always make them—and I hate that—but it is not for lack of trying.
At the same time, if I need more time I want to be as honest about it as possible, and say that as early as possible, so the schedule can be adjusted.
For authors, meeting—truly trying your best to meet—your deadlines is a way of respecting everyone in this process. There are a lot of people whose hands will be on this book, in one way or another, and I am honored and humbled by that. I want them to have the time they need to do their best work, too.
Right now, I am very early in the publishing process of this book, and the schedule can be adjusted—there is still time.
…So why am I working so hard, then, and pushing myself to write a crazy amount of words in such a short amount of time? Why not take as much time as I want to write this book?
Art can’t be rushed, right?
Because time is relative. I find that my time expands to fill the time I have. If I’d been given a year to finish this draft, I would have taken every last day of that year. If I had two years, I’d take the two. I don’t know why, but I always seem to feel like I never have enough time. I want to challenge myself with this draft and finish it by November 1, or as close to that date as I can.
Then I’ll revise. My favorite part of writing is the revising anyway.
There’s also the issue of money, which I know not all writers like to talk about because it’s crass, but, that’s part of it, too: I can’t stretch this out and take my sweet time on this—which would be, oh, from experience I’d guess three-and-a-half years of luxurious discovery and writing only when I am fired up and inspired—because I no longer have a day job to keep me afloat. I signed this contract with full intention to deliver. I want to keep this book on time, because I want the next book on the contract to be on time. It affects advance payouts and later book deals and my career for the foreseeable future.
That’s also the reason I wanted to sell on proposal, which is another question I get. I have thought of taking my ideal block of time—three-and-a-half years—and stepping back from all this and going back to a nine-to-five full-time office job so I didn’t have to rush myself and so I could still pay my bills, and selling a book only after I’ve written the whole thing and revised it a few times, too, the idea of which fills me with envy, but I didn’t choose that.
I chose this deadline.
So I’m trying to make it.
I am trying.
I don’t know if I can do it. I may need more time.
If I do, if I can’t complete a good first draft in the time I have allotted, I will be honest. Until then, I guess the production-editor part of me is still alive and kicking. And she really wants me to make November 1.
This guest post is part of the Turning Points series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Now, to celebrate the release of his new YA novel, Man Made Boy, out in stores on October 3, here is Jon Skovron sharing his…
Guest post by Jon Skovron
When I was sixteen, I was going to be a rock star. Of course, it would have helped if I’d been able to keep a band together for more than about ten months. Teen punk bands come with a lot of drama. And I lost a lot of friends during that time. To drugs and alcohol. To car crashes or suicides. A couple even to religious cults. That whole “Hope I die before I get old” thing was very real for us. I didn’t plan to live past 25. And I might not have, if it weren’t for a high school theater director who instilled in me a passion, discipline, and dedication to the arts. He also taught me how to be a good enough actor that I was accepted into a prestigious theater conservatory and given a grant.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
When I was twenty, I was going to be a movie star. I ate, slept, and breathed nothing but theater. I was past dedication. I was utterly consumed to the point where I had no life. Then one night, with trembling voice and outstretched hand, I confessed my long secret crush to a female friend of mine. She turned me down. As I walked home that cold rainy night, heartbroken and miserable, it suddenly occurred to me that these sorts of moments would make me a better artist. This is what my acting had been missing! Life experience! So I stopped on the corner of 5th and Shady, looked up at the uncaring stars, and said aloud, “Go ahead then! Give me everything you’ve got. I can take it.” There have been many times since then when I’ve thought back ruefully on the foolishness of that challenge. I’ve never regretted it, though.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
When I was twenty-three, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to be. Not an actor, that was for sure. I’d met the Hollywood machine and found it not to my liking at all. I’d tried to go back to theater, but as I sat there sweating backstage in an un-air-conditioned 90-degree warehouse waiting to go onstage and play yet another fool in a Shakespeare comedy directed by yet another arrogant megalomaniac, I decided it was not to my liking either. I looked down at the copy of World According to Garp in my lap and with the arrogance that only a twenty-three-year-old can muster, thought, “I can’t do that! I’m going to write books!” And from that moment on, I dedicated myself to becoming a professional writer.
But that’s not what I want to talk about.
When I was twenty-nine, I wasn’t worried about what I was going to do because I was just trying to survive. I was supporting a wife and two kids by working in a warehouse, dragging half-ton pallets of computer hardware around. I barely made enough for us to live. By then I had two failed manuscripts under my belt. I’d tried “serious literary fiction,” I’d tried “popular fiction.” Nothing seemed to click, and I wondered if maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer after all. But my agent suggested I take a look at this new thing called “Young Adult.” I picked up Holly Black’s Valiant and Gabrielle Zevin’s Elsewhere. I read them both in a day and knew I’d found my place.
But even that’s not what I want to talk about.
This is what I want to talk about:
When I was thirty-two, I decided I didn’t really need to know what I was going to do. I was up visiting a friend in New York. I’d finished my first YA manuscript and it was out making the rounds with publishers. So far, there’d been no takers, or even much interest. I sat there in this dingy bar in Manhattan drinking with one of my closest friends, a man I’ve known since I was eighteen, and I said to him, “You know, I don’t care if this book gets published. I love it, and that’s good enough. And I don’t care if I ever get published. I’m just going to keep writing anyway. Because I love it.”
A month later, I got a call from my agent that not one, but two publishers had made an offer on Struts & Frets. Which seems to support my long held belief that only when you truly accept failure can you embrace success.
We each have many turning points, like chapter headings on the journey of our lives. It’s up to us to choose them. Sure, the events themselves are concrete, but our interpretation of them is always subjective. Our lives are stories and we decide which bits are most important. In that way, we determine our own personal narrative. Every day, you’re out there interacting with friends and strangers, making choices, living your life, telling the story of you. Why not make it a story you like?
Jon Skovron has been an actor, musician, lifeguard, Broadway theater ticket seller, warehouse grunt, technical writer, and web developer. Now he is the author of Young Adult novels Struts & Frets, Misfit, and Man Made Boy (Oct 3rd, Viking Penguin). He lives just outside Washington DC with his two sons.
There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.