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Boxing the Octopus: all content copyright 2008 Colleen Thompson and Joni Rodgers all rights reserved.
Rather than resorting to cleaning my office this morning (heaven forbid), I trolled the Internet and came up with this catch of the day from the fascinating blog Modern Mechanix which looks at visions of the future created in the past. This particular illustration came from a Popular Mechanix magazine issue of April 1949, from an article title "Octopus Wrestling Is My Hobby."
Mine, too, dude. Only instead of diving into lagoons to pummel poor, unsuspecting cephalopods, I'm doing battle every day with the many slimy tentacles involved in being a working author.
Tentacle One requires the author to continually feel about for new ideas and file them away for future projects.
Tentacle Two keeps the writer working away at the project-under-contract or the proposal-under-construction. This tentacle can go into spasm, locking up, or it can be wildly frenetic.
Tentacle Three has applied its suckers to a scene, a chapter, or a whole book in the editing/revision stage. This particular tentacle wraps itself around the writer when she least expects it, whipping revisions her way -- or galleys that must be turned around in no time flat. Poised to strike at a weak moment, these demands seem timed to coincide with a mad rush toward deadline, a much-needed vacation, or a major holiday.
Tentacle Four deals with the author's agent. Though agents exist (really!) to make the author's job easier, they make occasional demands that must be meant. Periods when the writer is seeking or changing an agent are especially stressful.
Tentacle Five (and a mighty tentacle it is) has to do with the author's publisher. Whether it's the task of finding one (huge), dealing with the editor, the publicity department, the art department or the head of sales, these needs usually require a lightning-fast, put-everything-else-aside response. After all, these are the folks paying you.
Tentacle Six involves keeping up with the industry. Authors accomplish this through networking with other writers and industry pros, attending conferences and meeting, reading blogs, and general schmoozing. This is a tricky tentacle that can get a stranglehold on your time if you're not careful or entice you to chase the market instead of following your passion, but you can't afford to entirely discount it either. Educating yourself about the business is an important sucker on this tentacle as well because it's not a smart thing to leave "all those contract thingamiggees" to somebody else's discretion.
Tentacle Seven involves dealing with one's readers. Some authors are far more active in this regard than others, but most of them make a real effort to connect through sending periodic newsletters, responding to fan communications (usually e-mail these days), or website/board interaction. Balance is important here. Not enough interaction and the dedicated few (since it's always an extreme minority of readers) who reach out will feel slighted. Too much and the writer will find her writing dictated by the most vocal few or (worse yet) will be tempted to respond (and respond defensively) to negative comments or criticism. Very bad idea. The Eighth and Final Tentacle may be the most important. It involves keeping one's balance as a person, finding the time to build and nurture relationships with family and friends, to enjoy the whole spectrum of life experience instead of getting completely consumed by chasing publishing success. If you don't get this right, you're going to eventually break down, maybe because you've turned to drugs or alcohol or some other addiction to try to cope. At some point you have to figure out that in the grand scheme, it doesn't really matter whether you turned out to be a big shot. It's all about joy you gained from wrestling this beast.