Jay Posey: Five Things I Learned Writing Morningside Fall

The lone gunman Three is gone.

Wren is the new governor of the devastated settlement of Morningside, but there is turmoil in the city. When his life is put in danger, Wren is forced to flee Morningside until he and his retinue can determine who can be trusted.

But out in the Open, they find a border outpost infested with Weir in greater numbers than anyone has ever seen. These lost, dangerous creatures are harboring a terrible secret – one that will have consequences not just for Wren and his comrades, but for the future of what remains of the world.

***

1.  If you MUST do something you love, you might occasionally forget you love it. (But you’ll remember again!)

It wasn’t really a surprise necessarily to discover just how much a deadline could affect my personal level of writing enjoyment, but boy oh boy did I ever get a reminded of it with this sequel.  I’m fortunate to have a day job that involves writing, so I thought I was really used to this whole writing-on-a-deadline thing.  What I neglected to recognize was that for me writing novels had been a special place for me alone where I could play with MY ideas on MY schedule (which of course on the first go-round meant it took me about three years to do six months of work).

With Morningside Fall, knowing I had some very fine folks counting on me to keep up my end of the bargain added a new dimension of pressure that I hadn’t really been expecting.  I let it get to me more than I should have, and there were many, many nights that trudging up to the office to work on The Book was a real struggle.  Sometimes I stared at my laptop bleary-eyed wondering why I ever thought this was a good idea.

The important thing was to keep at it, to keep pecking around the edges and making progress, until I found myself at those scenes and moments in the story that had driven me to start writing the thing in the first place.  My appreciation for certain reveals, or certain character resolutions was heightened, or maybe deepened, or maybe both by the slog through the set up.

2.  Keeping a record of daily productivity is very helpful.

Likely not a revelation to anyone else out there, but this was one of those things I figured I probably should be doing, but just never did.  I’ve never been much of one for lists and spreadsheets and data points and measuring, but a couple of months into writing Morningside Fall, I realized I was counting my productivity more by how many hours I spent in front of the computer rather than by how many words I had on the page.   Imagine my shock when I discovered that just sitting there in my office for three or four hours didn’t necessarily mean I’d made any real progress.

Word count might not be the most accurate thing to use to measure progress, since it’s perfectly possible to write several thousand words that don’t actually move your story forward at all, BUT it’s far better than having nothing at all to go by.  And having that record of daily work gave me some unexpected benefits, too … if I was feeling particularly burned out on a night, I could look back at my recent progress and make an informed decision about whether or not I could afford to give myself a break, or if I needed to buckle down and save the rest day for later.  It also helped me identify my overall velocity at different stages of the book, which is helping me now as I write the third installment of the series.  Knowing that I was crawling along in the early stages and practically flying towards the end is helping me stay more grounded in my expectations for Book Three, which is helping stave off some of that anxiety I suffered during Book Two.

3.  Being honest with yourself is hard, but necessary.

My original deadline for Morningside Fall was July (of 2013), but as I was getting into May I had to take some time to evaluate where I was in the story and how much time I was going to be able to devote to it over those coming months.  (This was another spot where having that Daily Record really came in handy.)  My pride kept reassuring me that WE CAN DO IT, insisting that I could write thousands of words every night between now and then and all of them would be perfect and require no editing whatsoever because hey I’m a professional!  I spent a couple of days wrestling with myself, not wanting to admit that I was in trouble.  But I was in trouble.  And I knew it, no matter how much I wanted to pretend I had it all under control.

I wrote my editor (the excellent Lee Harris of Angry Robot Books fame) a quick email to inform him I hadn’t made the progress that I’d wanted to by that point, and asking if maybe there was any wiggle room on the deadline.  It didn’t take him long to respond, but I of course spent most of that interval imagining the response was going to be somewhere between “No, it’s a hard deadline, get back to work, you hack!” and “No, it’s a hard deadline and we should have known you were a talentless hack, we’ll never work with you again and you still have to give us the book anyway!  On schedule!  Hack!”

Of course Lee’s actual response was something along the lines of “Hey, no problem, how about an extra month?  And thanks for letting us know so early!”

It wasn’t fun to admit I wasn’t hitting my targets, but it was a whole lot better to admit it eight weeks out instead of the weekend before.

4.  Sometimes your characters know themselves better than you do.

I’ve had that thing happen before where characters on the page seemed to take on a life of their own, or started making decisions I wasn’t expecting, but never to the degree that it happened while I was writing Morningside Fall.  At one point, I’d reached an important turning point in the story that I’d known was coming for a long time, and it involved a couple of characters sneaking off without anyone else knowing.  And lo and behold when I got to that moment, literally when the characters were at the door, there was another character sitting there.  My fingers typed it and my brain stopped and said “Wait, no, what?  No.  That’s not how it goes!”  But no matter how much I wanted it to go the way I had planned, once I’d seen it on the page, it just didn’t make sense any other way.  That opened a whole new branch of the story, but in the end, it was much more consistent with what had come before, and added some unexpected depth.

More startling was the character that inserted himself into the book without telling me who he was or why he wanted to be in it.  I wrote several of his chapters before I learned who he really was and what he was about.  And when I realized it I actually said “WHAT?” out loud, which was marginally embarrassing.  It’s pretty rare for me to be able to surprise myself like that.  And maybe a little unsettling.

5.  Being and Doing are different things.

I am Jay Posey.  Sometimes I write books.

If you’ve read the previous points, it probably comes as no surprise that writing Morningside Fall was really tough for me.  There were a variety of contributing factors but one thing I discovered through the process was that I’d let myself put my identity into something that couldn’t sustain it.  I’d bought into the idea that my value as a person was directly tied to my ability to produce.  Since I was A Writer, I was supposed to be Writing, and on the days when I just didn’t have it in me, I let it affect me at a much deeper level than it should have.

I’d developed an unhealthy connection between my output and my self-worth, and at times I got into a death spiral where a bad writing day brought on extra anxiety and fear, which made it harder to write the next day …

Writing is hard work, sure.  A novel is a long work that takes patience, discipline, and sometimes a little grit.  But writing a book should never cause an existential crisis.  Knowing that I need to guard that boundary between who I am and what I do was the most significant of these five things I learned writing Morningside Fall.

***

Jay Posey is a professional typist with a face for radio and a voice for print. He’s the author of the novels THREE and MORNINGSIDE FALL, published by Angry Robot Books, and is a senior narrative designer at Ubisoft/Red Storm Entertainment, where he has spent many years contributing as a writer and game designer to Tom Clancy’s award-winning Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six franchises.  He blogs occasionally at jayposey.com and spends more time than he should hanging around Twitter as @HiJayPosey.

Jay Posey: Blog | Twitter

Morningside Fall: Amazon | B&N | Robot Trading Co

7 comments

  • Boy, do I know the self-worth-linked-to-writing-output thing. Luckily I have a number of reassuring friends, and will hopefully get through it by the time I get to publishing something…

  • Great insight Jay. Putting your book on my read list. I too and probably every writer at one time or another go through what you have described. It is all part of being a writer. I have been stuck for over two months on my mystery, but I have no deadline to meet. Life gets in the way at times, especially if you come from a large family like mine. Kudos to you for having the courage to admit to yourself that there are times when we just have to coast for a while. I find that if I keep typing it will come. :o )

  • This was a genuinely great list. And a sort of reminder that I bought Three upon release last year along with six other books and never got around to reading it. Morningside Fall is as good an excuse as any to get cracking with it though.

  • Cracking list! I especially like points three and four but point five is brilliant; a personal bugbear of mine and something a lot of people seem to miss. So many people self actualise through what they do. It never makes them happy. Indeed, am pretty much convinced that it’s impossible to be happy unless you really know who you are – although the best way to find that out is, probably, to stop looking.

    Nice one.

    Cheers

    MTM

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