Sunday, August 13, 2006


Writing is not an easy job. Getting your work published, even more difficult. But with all the conveniences of this techno-age, we're starting to forget that there are reasons things are difficult.

It's natural to want things to be easy, because there are so many other things we have to do. The wealthiest and most important man in the world could come to you and say "Hey. I need you to do something for me. It's going to take you years, you have to work very fast, you'll be stuck inside most of the time in very uncomfortable positions, and you'll have to nag me to pay you. P.S., it has to be magnificent and I'm not going to let you say no." You might be polite and not laugh in his face, but would you take the job?

Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo Pope Julius II said that to this arrogant, crooked-nosed sculptor from Florence who didn't even consider himself a painter. And it worked; between 1508 and 1512, the sculptor covered more than 3,200 square feet with over three hundred figures, nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, all while painting very quickly on wet plaster, often in odd positions and tight spots. The results changed the way art would be painted for centuries and ultimately became one of the most recognized artworks in human history.

What would Michelangelo have painted if the Sistine Chapel had been an easy job?

Every time being a writer is tough for you, it's teaching you something. It's testing you, too. This gig is a marathon, not a 100 yard dash. As you jog down the writing career road, you'll notice a lot of abandoned partial manuscripts tossed in the ditches. Those were written by everyone for whom the job got too difficult. They packed it in and went home to watch TV.

Right now I'm arm-wrestling a proposal that wants to grow seven heads and become a three-tiered series. I will tame it into a manageable pitch that doesn't scare the hell out of the editor. I have fantasized about taking a baseball bat to this machine at least five times today. Dell needs to have a warranty option to cover work-related temper tantrums.

But that's my Sistine Chapel of the moment. What's yours?


  1. This gig is a marathon, not a 100 yard dash.

    Everyday I write, I learn something new. And I'm so glad for it. Could you imagine how boring it would get if it was easy ALL the time?

    My Sistine Chapel of the moment is waiting the imminent release of my first single title without stressing myself out too much. (Not working!)

  2. I'm on the final draft of a S&S novel which has taken 2.5 years, mainly due to fatherhood, work and learning my craft as I went along. The big thing now is to let go and chop and change to make it work, with as much nonchalance as if I'd knocked it off in a week.

  3. Thanks for reminding me that I'm not the only one struggling with dead ends, characters that don't do what they're told and plots that don't gel.

    I started writing when I was about nine and found that I could never finish any story I wrote. So one day, I decided once and for all that I was going to finish This Book (an epic fantasy novel). No matter how long it took. Ten years on, I'm still working on it. It might never turn into the masterpiece I envisioned. Chances are, it'll never see the light of day. But it's the promise I made myself as a child and I won't let myself down. So yeah, that's my Sistine Chapel.

    ps: I've received my copy of The Writer's Book of Matches that you sent me, and it's BRILLIANT. Thanks ever so much! I'm going to use one of the prompts in there to do that Halloween e-book challenge you suggested.

  4. Good timing with your post, because there's a bit of a stoush going on in blogland at the moment. A new visitor popped onto a message board I frequent and asked whether someone with a good idea for a story could still fail to get published if they didn't have the right connections.
    All hell broke loose as some well-known authors who have been slaving over their keyboards for 20+ years took offence at the 'casting couch' inference, others leapt in to defend the newbie and the gallery watched with bated breath.
    What's your take on this? Would you be really narked if someone inferred you only got published because of industry contacts, rather than because you wrote a book an editor thought he/she could sell?
    I thought it'd be good to get another perspective from a straight talker like yourself. Some authors were accused of being mean and tactless when they aired their thoughts, but at what point should the kid gloves come off?

  5. Anonymous5:02 AM

    FInishing the Sascha novels to the best I can, and upgrading my math and chemistry marks from high school so that I can do something interesting.( marine biology. if i can't go to outerspace, why not back to the ocean instead)

    My other battle is wondering why I can't just be content to sit on the couch and drool my life away. when it get tough, sometimes I wish I had the ability to be content where i am.

    But it's not me.

    My challenge is doing what I want and living the most interesting life i can. No one ever said on their deathbed that they wished they'd spent more time watching TV.

  6. My Sistine Chapel is an epic of 900+ pages. It's sitting as a first draft and I know when I get to it and put the extra details in, it will reach 1000; then there's splitting it into a trilogy. I can't give up on it: it's one of the best pieces I've written. (I'm still gobsmacked when I read pieces of it.) Of course, selling it will be difficult since I'm not published... yet. Hopefully, not like Michelangelo, I'll keep my eyesight while going through it!

    Sigh. When I'm done with edits on Deception - still no alternative title - I'll wade through Oracle.

  7. I'm not sure I can say what my current marathon moment is, but I'm in one.

  8. Anonymous9:01 AM

    My Sistine Chapel is writing itself. I used to enjoy writing, but at the moment I'm always looking for excuses to stop. Like having to extend a map, take more notes, whatever.
    Last year there was a time when I wrote 1000 - 2000 words a day and had fun. When I'm sitting down to do it now, I hate it. I thought about quitting writing, too, but I know that's not an option. Because I had fun once and I realized that I want/need to write. It means more to me than I thought it would.
    There are a lot of possible reasons why it doesn't work anymore and I don't know which one it is (though I have an idea), but I think I'm on the right way and I will figure it out some day (soon). And I know writing is worth fighting for.

    Every time being a writer is tough for you, it's teaching you something.

    I like that a lot. Makes everything seem less pointless.

  9. Three tiered series?

    Ouch, that sounds like one of my Odd Trilogies That Ain't Trilogies mutant plotunnies escaped, had sex with one of your serial plotbunnies and now you've some mutants on your hands, too. I'm so sorry. :)

  10. My Sisitne Chapel?
    Said Trilogy That Ain't No Trilogy.

    The main storylines for the three books, the main characters aren't a problem, but the subplots are. Which one is going in which book, and how do I avoid to tell things double?

    Oh, and your ebook challenge made me think about a novelette/novella something I have to finish in time. Me, the slowest writer and most meticulous edit-while-I-goer in the universe. Yes, you can laugh already. :)

  11. Getting through the middle of a novel I believe must be written. Writing is very tough for me right now, and I know it's because there's something it's trying to teach me, and I'm slow to learn.

  12. Anonymous10:17 AM

    But that's my Sistine Chapel of the moment. What's yours?

    A sea battle, in my second novel. It is kicking my patookus to write, even though it has to happen where it happens. I know that the rest of the story's going to fly once I get that battle properly down on paper.


  13. My Sistine Chapel? My third book. It's also my Everest, and me with no Sherpas. Hopefully I can power through what ever is holding me back *before* my deadline goes zooming past . . .

  14. Anonymous11:17 AM

    Great reference! I remember sitting and staring at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel until my neck ached. Like Jean, my Sistine Chapel is the middle of my novel. I know I won't be giving up on this story, but oh there are times when I could wish for more light to shine into the darkness, just the right colour and the flash of inspiration that will lead me through to the end.

  15. Trying to find another appropriate myth for my heroine to bust in the third of the series while waitng to hear if ta publisher finds the first more exciting than watching paint dry.

  16. Two fun add-ons:
    1) There's a great 8000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the Cistine Chapel picture you posted. Recommendation: If you get it, put it together on the floor of a spare room -- maybe on a mattress box, so you can close the room off and keep curious pets and children from walking off with your pieces
    2) For the work-related tantrums, build a sturdy cardboard box and paste a screen and knobs on it to resemble a computer. Use the baseball bat on the replica at will.

  17. My Cistine chapel right now is my main WIP which is so close to being finished, but I'm stalling and dragging it out.

    And, the e-book challenge. I haven't written many shorts, so this is a special challenge for me. I want to see if I can do it.

    Awesome post.

    Erin K.

  18. I'd say it's the challenge of writing short-short stories. I'm the kind of writer that get involved in the trama and just have to add to the conflict. I can hardly tell a story in under 10K. But I've been challenge to write a story in 3K or under. It's HARD. Just the planning alone is driving me crazy. Every time I think I've got an idea, my muses go into hyperdrive and throw in all these cool ideas, and suddenly I realize I've got a 40K long story easy. Grrr... But I can do this. It's like a long distance runner. A matter of training and persistence.

  19. I blog every day. For money. Every day I have to find between 4-6 interesting articles on-line, read them, then summarize them with all the facts intact AND interesting to read w/o sounding biased. There are days the job's exciting; other days, I'd rather face thousands of screaming terrorists with a pocket knife. But it's worth it in the end when I see my name published on that post, comments by readers about the article (no matter how negative), and I have a paycheck coming in once a month.

  20. Anonymous11:23 PM

    Right now I'm arm-wrestling a proposal that wants to grow seven heads and become a three-tiered series.

    My dear Sheila, if this has anything to do with your science fiction books and the alien universe you began with Stardoc--or heck, who am I kidding, even if it isn't--I am SO there! Because I would not mind at all reading one of your three-tiered series with seven heads. =D

    I'm not helping at all, am I? ^_~

    My Sistene Chapel is to somehow work in writing on a regular basis. Because despite the fact that I'm currently studying to be a teacher, I do plan on being a full-time writer someday, and it would be good to get some practise in. =p

  21. Thanks for posting this. It's motivational and very comforting reassurance that this is a marathon and not a 100-yard dash.

    My Sistine moment... just trying to persist with the manuscript at hand and not abandon it for "new" manuscript ideas. I've got so many abandoned and partially-finished manuscripts on my hard drive, it's not funny.

  22. This post really hit me. Mostly because my Chapel is the fear of my own talent. I know that sounds a little crazy, but I'm sure you understand. One of those, "is everything I write crap?" feelings. I just need to buck up and push through the doubt. Easier said than done I'm afraid. But if it were easy everyone would do it, right?

  23. my current piece of c.... uh... my current Sistine Chapel is the second contracted book for Berkley.

    and it's driving me nuts. I really want it done. except when it is done... i have to start on the next one. and that one is about as vague in my head as this one is.

    Nah, writing definitely isn't easy, but I don't think it's supposed to be.

  24. Anonymous9:07 AM

    My Sistine Chapel is two-fold, at the moment: going over my (self-decided) publishable short stories with a non-writer in order to see what I'm missing on my edits, and finalizing my edits for my book...while trying not to get disheartened over my repeated failures at crafting a query letter that doesn't make me feel I need to resign my pen and paper.

    It's great getting outside input, and the reader catches a lot of things I don't, but it's also tiring explaining why certain things need to be the way they are, simply because that's how writing works. And it feels nice to be finalizing all of that red ink on the book, but it's still a slow process, as I keep discovering more I could change...and tell myself to stop that.

  25. Great post and great reminder. Thanks, PBW.

  26. Anonymous11:50 AM

    For me, its the first book of my sf trilogy which, happily, I finially finished. That is, now I'm in on the rewrites and edits, after input from my beta readers. I have a feeling this one is going to go on, and er, on, before I even get to book two.

    However, its reassuring to know I'm not the only one as is evident by the replies here.


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