THE THOUGHTS OF A PROJECT-DRIVEN MAN
Writing starts with thinking—so I spend a great deal of time thinking (whether I want to or not). But what initiates thinking—given that a book writer normally works alone so has to be proactive?
Between you, me, and the gatepost—I have long thought that way too much of human existence is reactive—responding to stimuli, whether in work, politically, or socially, which others create. At a certain point, given enough conditioning, our reactions become almost entirely predicable—which means, in essence, that we are being manipulated. Is that any way to spend one’s life. I think not—which is why I’m a writer.
That’s a difficult question to answer—because, to be quite frank—and I say this with deep regret—I have very little idea how my mind works (or anyone else’s for that matter). Cognition remains a mystery to me. Yes, I know that great advances are currently being made in understanding how the mind works, but I confess that fascinated though I am, I have other priorities—so am far from I’m up to date on current medical literature on the subject (and am far from sure I would understand it, if I was).
Back to the question—“What initiates thinking?”
- Intellectual curiosity. I claim no credit. I seem to have been born with it. “Why” was my favorite word while while a child. Now I realize that the answer—in many situations—is: “Because they can.”
- One’s environment. This is partly a matter of circumstance but is greatly influenced by one’s own choices. For instance, a writer could choose to live in monastic isolation intellectually—or, alternatively—whatever be one’s physical situation—opt for contemplating the great issues of life and dwell in a state of intellectual ferment. Since my name isn’t Plato—or Goethe, for that matter—I have opted for a compromise. The day I focus on seeking the meaning of life, is the day I shall need medical attention. I am quite satisfied that I shall never know—as long as I’m alive (and am far from sure I’ll be informed by Saint Peter when I’m dead—or that I’m in that much of a hurry to find out).
- People and one’s relationship with them. This area is about as all encompassing as you want to make it. I have no idea what the right balance is—and doubt I ever will. To make matters worse, a fiction writer like myself (I also write non-fiction) not only has to contend with real people, but with my characters—who are equally demanding. Oy vey! I confess I do like (most) women—and would probably think about them a great deal more if it wasn’t for my writing. Where women are concerned, I tend towards the view that thinking should be followed by action—but I digress.
- One’s current project. For better or worse, I now accept that I am project driven—and that most of my thinking stems from trying to clarify exactly what it is that I want to achieve—and how to get there. This doesn’t mean that I don’t think about family, friends—and the fact that the Greeks have a funny alphabet, and the other great mysteries of life. It is more that my primary focus tends to be on the one major task I have set myself. That helps me—at least to some extent—to de-clutter my mind. Or such is my delusion!
I suspect I latched onto the concept of always having one dominant project as an antidote to an overactive mind. Either way, it has been the pattern of my life to determine a goal which:
- Is, on the face of it, beyond my current capabilities.
- Where I have less than adequate experience.
- Will take a ridiculous length of time.
- Will be extremely difficult to achieve.
- Will not necessarily improve my circumstances in any material way.
- Will stretch me from my gullet to my zatch (no, I don’t know what a zatch is).
- May well be guided by a higher motive (Save lives; create jobs; improve the human condition in some way—impractical motives in the scheme of things).
This sounds crazy, on the face of it, but I don’t think it is any more dramatic than the fact that I respond to challenge—and would like to feel that, in some areas—like the economy or the military—I have made a difference (albeit, perhaps, in a small way). Have I succeeded at all? More than you might think—though I have had failures too. But, though it is something of a cliché to say so, you do tend to learn more from your failures than your successes.
You might think that if I knew nothing else, I would at least understand my current project with precision—and sometimes I do—but the strange thing is that it normally arrives like a story. You start off with little more than a concept—which then gets fleshed out over time.
How much time? Months or years—as long as it takes. Creativity doesn’t punch a time-clock. It doesn’t even punch critics.
Strangely enough, my current project—probably the last major project of my life (though don’t count on it) makes a great deal of practical and commercial sense—as well as satisfying the altruistic side of my nature. Perhaps, at the age of 70, I have finally grown up (though I wouldn’t be entirely sure of that either). But:
- It’s playing to my strengths and experience—and directly at that.
- If successful, it will significantly improve my circumstances in material as well as other terms.
- As a side benefit—in that I will be able to publish socially concerned works in addition to my mass market thrillers—it it will satisfy the altruistic side of my nature.
Given that, all in all, it is a good thing—why is it taking so long to implement? Am I dragging my feet because of fear of failure—or what?
Managing my fears certainly comes into it—and I’m not as good as I’d like to be in this area—but I think the primary reasons lie elsewhere.
- This is a vastly more complex project than it seems, with a huge amount of detail to master—something I did not appreciate adequately when I started my research (which is why one does research). I stopped counting the web sites I had visited at 4,000 and that was a couple of years ago.
- I have spent a truly ridiculous amount of time both on desk research generally and on monitoring the book market and social media specifically.
- It is not just complex. It is difficult—both inherently and because it involves a wide variety of different skills with associated learning curves. It is not impossibly difficult—with effort, I have been able to master each individual task (so far)—it is the sheer number which raises the bar.
- I have been working with very limited resources. I’m embarrassed to say how limited (so I won’t).
- I have been seeking to improve my productivity in parallel in order to gain the time to both do the work associated with publishing—and still have time to write. This has actually cost me serious time in the short term as I have evaluated one unsuccessful methodology after another, but overall is proving out. I will finish the five years I have allocated to this quest by having changed my way of working quite dramatically—and being at least twice as productive (I hope for more). The cost has been at least a year. Worth it? Well, it depends how long I live. I’m going to feel damn foolish if I die tomorrow.
- As is the nature of life, I have been distracted by deaths (all too many—18 or so including family, illness and an accident (serious and entirely my own fault).
- I have taken time both to learn to blog—and, after a learning curve, to blog every day. Has this been worth it? Absolutely—and in ways I find it hard to express. It will also be a key element in my marketing program. But, all this has taken significant time. How much? Out of the last four and a half years, probably nine months to a year. I hated the task when I started—and for some time thereafter.
- Blogging and research apart, I have continued to write—though not as much as I would have liked. Still, it has led to 2.5 new books—plus a website draft the length of a long novel. And, in addition, I have written a screenplay. That little lot totals a book a year—or equivalent—which is the minimum creative target I have set myself.
- I have continued to carry out my daily media troll—focused heavily on military matters, the economy, international affairs, and matters of social concern. It could be argued that I should have dropped all this to focus on my publishing venture, but keeping myself well informed just feels right to me—and the results are put to good to use in my blog and virtually everything I write. But, I won’t deny that this ongoing effort takes time.
If I worked a five day 40 hour week, my workload would be impossible—and I haven’t even mentioned the time-consuming volume of e-mails and other administrative matters. However, I typical work in, or around, twice as many hours so manage to cope. Will I continue this ridiculous schedule indefinitely? Probably not. I would like—and need—a social life. But, it has been relevant during this particular period. And on one meal a day at that! Call it a long overdue exercise in self-discipline.
But, I still haven’t really answered my own question—even though I might have appeared to do so—as to why has Digital Blue is taking so long.
The issues I have mentioned apart, I don’t think I knew the answer myself until recently. But, the core issue has been that although I knew I had a good plan intellectually—and felt strongly that it would work—I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with it. Somehow, it was missing an ingredient that would put it over the top.
Recently, thanks to some hard work, testing, and some truly amazing developments, at last I feel like a sniper who—even before he squeezes the trigger-knows he will have a hit.
If every you have shot seriously, you will understand. Though self-doubt is part of the human condition, and a healthy antidote to arrogance, sometimes you just know you’ve got it right.
Now, I feel ready to move ahead at full speed.
1, 7401 words (not exactly my target, but this was important).