The schedule (and some notes on writing)
Hey everyone! The project is over, it's a success, and now we are into production mode. A quick note on the schedule, and then some long-promised reflection on writing.
But before any of that: Be sure to fill out your shipping information if you haven't yet. I sent an info request email; it should be in your inbox somewhere.
First, the schedule.
The design is done! Here's a peek at the first page in Adobe InDesign:
I got my proof copy in the mail literally moments ago. It looks great! Though of course there are a few things I want to tweak—so I'm going to tweak away and then place the final order tomorrow. And shipments of other materials are also en route. It should all converge in San Francisco in about a week and a half...
...just in time for me to head off to France for an event called the Forum d'Avignon. So I'll press pause on book production for about five days. Then, just after Thanksgiving, there will be a "production party" here in SF (details to come for those of you who are local) to put the pieces together.
All of that means that the books will head your way in early December. I'll send an update when they ship so you can keep an eye out.
There will also be a little book release party here in San Francisco in mid-December, which will also serve as the launch of the Creative Commons remix contest. (Okay, full disclosure: it's also my birthday.) I don't want to post the CC-licensed digital version of the book until you've had a chance to hold the real thing in your hands, so this timing seems right to me. By around December 15, you'll all have your books, and we can start to have some fun with the words and the world.
Now, a few notes on writing.
This is long; don't feel obligated to read all (or any) of it. I just know I enjoy it when writers take the time to think about this stuff out loud—so I thought I'd do the same.
LONG IS NOT A BIGGER VERSION OF SHORT. I thought that the challenges of writing something of this length were going to be mostly the same as the challenges of writing something shorter... just scaled up. So if a short story poses challenges X, Y, and Z, then Annabel Scheme would pose challenges 10X, 10Y, and 10Z, right? Nope. Instead it posed challenges X, Y, and Z... and A, B, and C... and Q6, K(ii), and so on. Totally new challenges. Problems I'd never faced before. How do you keep something interesting for this long? How do you set up ideas early on, and then pay them off a hundred pages later? How do you balance brevity with depth? (If you've read my short stories, you know I tend to write in short, simple strokes. I think that's a good thing generally, but with Annabel Scheme, I did many scenes a disservice the first time through by not spending enough time with them.)
WRITING IN YOUR UNDERWEAR. There's a great piece in the WSJ about writers' habits. You know, awesome stuff like:
Most days, Nicholson Baker rises at 4 a.m. to write at his home in South Berwick, Maine. Leaving the lights off, he sets his laptop screen to black and the text to gray, so that the darkness is uninterrupted. After a couple of hours of writing in what he calls a dreamlike state, he goes back to bed, then rises at 8:30 to edit his work.
I totally aspire to wacky writerly habits; I do not have any yet. One reason is that Annabel Scheme was a finite, urgent project, not a new lifestyle yawning out into infinity. So rather than put on a suit, go down to the basement, take off the suit, and write in my underwear every morning—John Cheever's famous routine—I just... wrote a lot. Mostly in my apartment, at a perfectly-proportioned white table that might be my most prized possession. Often at Cafe La Flore down the street (where I'm typing this) over a mug of coffee. Occasionally at the library.
(More on the WSJ piece over here, if you're interested.)
I did discover that I don't know when to quit. There are diminishing returns to any stretch of writing, at least for me, and I'd find myself, six hours in, just sort of dinking around—re-reading grafs, fiddling with words—when it would have been much smarter to close the file, work on something else, and come back to it the next day. I'm getting better at that.
THE RISKY REWRITE. I've mentioned it several times before, but it's worth repeating: doing this project, I felt so thankful for the good habits I learned at Poynter. I have absolutely no problem getting words on the screen; show me a blank document and I will fill it. I'd much rather have words to work with—any words—than the glowing white rectangle of doom.
However, I will cop to feeling more cagey and conservative as the project went on. As you write more and more—and especially when you're facing a sharp deadline—it feels riskier and riskier to change things. You've got words on the screen that you're happy with; that feels like money in the bank.
This seems logical enough. And indeed, you can't go back and rewrite everything at the last moment. But I did learn a lesson during the Annabel Scheme endgame, during that last week of editing and writing: You can change a lot more than you think you can.
I was feeling really cautious about digging too deep. "Argh, it's a house of cards! It will all come tumbling down!" But then, one afternoon, as an experiment, I just made a fresh copy of the whole project and started hacking. Whole sections, gone. Whole new sections, in. The ending, transformed. And you know what? It was fine. You can always rewrite. Words come quickly; the real question is always: what's behind them? If you have a new idea and you're excited about it, you can do a lot quickly. There's no reason to fear the rewrite.
And that's why I like writing better than, say, moviemaking. Even in the endgame, the story stays flexible. Words are cheap! If I want to get rid of that giant robot blimp and replace it with an armada of squid-ships, it takes five minutes. Let's see ILM do that.
I'm saying this very matter-of-factly, but again, it was a lesson I learned—a fear I conquered. (At least for now.)
THE SECRET BALANCE. One last thing. I'm glad that so many people felt like they had a fun view of the process, because I actually felt like I was concealing so much. There's a balance, I discovered, between sharing the fun of the process and preserving the fun of the finished product. Especially when the finished product is a narrative with twists and turns and surprises.
This is a puzzle, because there are many sections of the story where I could have benefited from your brainpower. But to even pose the question—"Should it be a giant robot blimp or an armada of squid-ships?"—gives it away. How do you ask for input without revealing too much? Should there be an option for some people to opt in? They'd basically say: "I know this is going to spoil the story a little, but I'm more interested in helping with the process." Or should I find really convoluted ways to frame the questions? "Sooo... if I had this hypothetical friend... who... was a detective..."
The point is: I want to get better at this. Just as there are concrete techniques that can make the process of writing better (see again: Poynter) I think there have got to be concrete techniques that can allow you to follow along even more closely—without sacrificing the pleasure of sitting down with the finished story for the first time. This is something I'm thinking a lot about, and something I'll keep experimenting with.
Okay, that's it. Now I'm going to load up the design and make these tweaks!