I am a lifelong fan of newspaper comic strips. When I was a young man, the comic strip characters with whom I identified were Steve Canyon and Buzz Sawyer. For those too young to remember, Steve was an Air Force aviator, while Buzz was a Navy test pilot. Today, however, I have more in common with Earl Pickles, a retiree who lives with his longtime wife, Opal. They are creations of the artist, Brian Crane, and the strip is entitled, Pickles.
One recent strip which I found entertaining opened with Opal coming into the room with Earl and saying, “I thing I’m getting the ‘but first’ syndrome.” Earl perks up and asks, “What’s that?” “You know,” Opal continues. “I start to do something but then decide to do something else first. But then I decide to do something before I do that. Pretty soon, I think of so many ‘but firsts’ that I forget what I started out to do originally.” “Whee!” mumbles Earl, wiping his brow. “I was afraid you were going to start walking around backwards.”
As I press forward to wrap up my new Vietnam novel, Asphalt and Blood, I fear I’m suffering from the “but first” syndrome. My mind should have a laser-like focus on the tasks remaining before the book can be launched. Instead, my attention keeps drifting to future writing projects. New characters, situations, and plot lines keeping popping into my head uninvited. Two new series are trying to take over my mind.
I have dealt with this problem before. In my days as a U.S. Naval officer and municipal engineer, I began many writing projects. I would get to a certain point, and then work situations would require that I lay writing aside for a while. When time again became available, my mind tended to leap off on some other idea to write about. Only when I retired from my engineering jobs did I find the self discipline to see a novel through to the end. After I thought I had completed the manuscript for Fall Eagle One, I convinced an agent to take it on. Three extensive rewrites transpired before the book was ready to shop to publishers. Early 2002 proved a tough time to sell a book about aircraft attacking the continental U.S., so I had to have patience and wait for a better world situation.
Self discipline is required to get any writing project into print, especially for the Indie author. Doing everything that an agent and publisher’s editor do for the conventional writer can be a daunting task. Manuscripts must not only be well written and cleanly presented, but modifying formats for the Internet is also required. Covers must be designed or procured. Short, attractive descriptions of the work must be written. Internet publisher’s applications have to be precisely filled out and entered.
Just as important, one must have a strategic plan for marketing the new work. Teaser advertisements on social media need to be scheduled weeks ahead of publication to build up pent-up demand. Blog posts remain to be written, websites updated, new business cards printed. A site for launching must be chosen and scheduled far in advance. One must not forget press releases, both on the work itself and on the launching.
So I tell myself, “Suck it up, Bell! Get Asphaltand Blood on the street before you go off chasing a new idea. Those new characters and plot lines will not fade completely. They’ll still be there when the time comes to exploit them. In the meantime, get your nose back to the grindstone! As Snuffy Smith used to say in the comics, “Time’s a wastin’.”