Saying Yes

[March 2009] There’s a legend that Stephen King’s mother, commenting on his need to please people, told him that if he were a girl, he’d always be pregnant.

I can relate.

After struggling to get noticed as a writer for a number of years, people have started coming to me to ask me to contribute to projects that I would never have heard of once upon a time. I get invitations to write stories for closed anthologies, or to write essays for fun projects like the Book of the Month Club calendar I contributed to last year.

Generally those projects don’t happen all at once, so it’s not an issue. Every now and then, though, all the chickens come home to roost at the same time. My project calendar starts to get crowded, with different projects competing for the same precious few hours each week.

I’m in the midst of one of those times right now. Every time I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel, I take stock of what I still have left to do and realize that the crisis is not yet over.

I’m not complaining—that would be silly. I got myself into this fix, after all, and I’ll get myself out of it. It’s partly about prioritizing—but it’s also about living up to commitments. If I have to stay up all night, I’ll hit all my deadlines, and not only turn something in, but turn in the best work I possibly can. That’s just the way I roll. It would bother me to no end to do otherwise.

The main cause of my current situation is a big project that I’ve been working on for most of 2009. The one I talked about last month for a book packager. January and February were taken up mostly with principal writing, and the manuscript arrived back on my doorstep about 10 days ago with editorial changes and a short deadline. At the time, I was trying to write a short story for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology, which had a March 15th deadline. I haven’t been writing much fiction lately, so getting back into the groove of producing a short story that might be worthy of such a fine publication was going to be a challenge at the best of times. Losing out on several working days simply added to the problem.

In this case, my prioritization was easy. The big project had a contract attached to it and a decent payday. The MWA story was on spec and wasn’t something I’d committed to (other than to myself, and I’m an understanding guy). It stands a very good chance of not being accepted. So guess which squeaky wheel got the grease?

As it turns out, something lucky happened—my deadline for the MWA anthology got extended by several days, which gave me enough time to finish my story and get it in the mail. But if push came to shove, I was willing to purse my lips and concede that there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to get it done.

But that’s all in the past now. This essay is being written in a hotel room 200 miles from home two days before it’s due. I like to get these essays done at least a few days early so I can prune them down, but not this month. There may be warts in this one. Sorry. Because of day-job work commitments I’ve had to do a lot of work in hotel rooms lately.

What next? I have another essay and a short story due at the end of the month, two book reviews done in mid-April and three other essays due not long after that, along with another short story. All of these are things that I’ve promised, so they’re going to happen, come hell or high water. There’s a very real chance that I’ll get another set of editorial notes from the downstream editor on the book packager project, however, so I have to be flexible.

More than anything else, though, for the time being, if you ask me to do something that would be due before the end of May, there’s every chance that I’ll have to do the unthinkable: say no.

The word doesn’t come easily to me, though, so if you catch me in a moment of weakness, there’s a very good possibility that I’ll say yes. Pregnant again.

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