Back Stock and Studio Time

Snow? *sputter* Look, weather guys, could you warn us? This is no flurry! Oh, right, the journal is on. Nevermind, New Yorkers, nothing to see here. Just a little Midwestern snow. Not 20 inches.


So, Catherine, how is the New Year’s writing resolution going? Glad you asked! After today’s morning session, I have written 49 hours so far toward the goal. (Only 5951 more expertise hours to go!) Have I learned anything cool? Why, yes I have!

To start with, I think of myself as working more on back stock at the moment. And I’m discovering the fun of studio time. Let me explain.

I have friends who are artists by profession. Kim makes jewelry. Dana makes many things, but sells metal craft. Cat paints pictures. And oh boy, do I have textile arts friends! There are some obvious differences between the kind of art I’m doing right now, and the kind of thing they do, but not as much as I thought there was.

By giving myself a certain amount of time to write a week, what I am doing is giving myself the gift of studio time. I free up a certain amount of space in my week to experiment. This means I can work toward a project that I’m hot to do, or I can ditch that project for a moment and work on something else. I can change gears when I’m tired. I can play.

I am also giving myself permission to play. Not everything I do during my writing time has to bear fruit (or word count). Some of my experiments will fail. I won’t like some of the early sketches of characters, or the way outlines and scenes work. Now I see that as necessary creative time, rather than a waste of what little free time I have.

Studio time=permission to create. I feel more free in my writing than I have in years.

Now, you might say, what about deadlines? What about edits? Well, yeah, there is that. I don’t see studio time as getting in the way of this. You can still set goals while you play. The difference is that the focus is time spent creating, and not the finished novel or story. If you set aside the time to write, you can set goals within that time if you have to. I’m not worried about this. I wrote a thesis. I think I can set goals. And if you’ve done your early work in a methodical, measured fashion, in theory, it will be easier to implement changes and edits. This doesn’t have to be the opposite of the freedom of play.

Often people at this stage are bolstered by the idea that their work will see print. 😛

The back stock concept stems from play. I *don’t* have an agent, an editor, or a publisher pushing me. I have exactly one story in the wings, and some day I will receive an editorial letter about it, and make my changes. That’s it. At this point in time, I’m not beholding to anyone. That is a gift in its own way. I’m probably not enough of my own writer to be beholding to anyone yet.

The focus of writers seems to be finish, submit to agents until you get one, and then hopefully sell your book and get published. I had already learned the lesson of time, and I have won the hard fought lesson of patience (for me, that was a very hard one.) I have glimpsed the problem that a good writer in a world of good writers has–there’s too many of us. I realized early on that the world of writing is subjective and lucky too. None of this is new to any of us.

I’m a good writer. I’m getting better as I practice. I’m learning practical lessons about motivation, characters, and pacing. I am getting better at proofing stories and letting stories wait as they need to. But you know, I don’t have anything yet that says, “Wow, this is a Catherine Schaff-Stump book.” I catch glimpses of that, and I can sort of see where I might be going. Until I have mapped out my unique territory, I doubt anyone is going to go wow when they see my work.

Right now, there might be moments of wow. I have to progress to a whole manuscript of wow. I do this by practice, by getting feedback, by letting things age, and by discovering how to reform my own work. Back stock. And works in progress. Nothing ends. I just keep writing and writing and writing, and eventually the consensus between those who give me feedback and myself will be that it’s worth sending out.

At this point in my career, while I will still be submitting stories to learn about publishing, I am focusing more on accumulating a lot of material and focusing on the philosophy that writing isn’t truly done, merely published. I want to build my skills and write some stories and books I think are worthy.

Practice. Focus. Along the way, I’ll also pick up the important skills I’ll need long term–editing, listening to peer edit advice and using it, how to re-read and improve my own work, and how to let a story age. I’ve been reading several books lately of stories that didn’t seem quite ripe yet, or didn’t reach beyond the obvious. I think perspective, both over the length of the work and the length of my career is the next lesson. The kind of back stock I’m gaining are the stories I will ultimately submit that will be better than the stories I can submit now. The kinds of skills I’m learning because I’m producing back stock are the kind that will help me be a strong writer when those deadlines start coming in.

I really recommend the time approach. I like playing. I like practicing. I like this change of focus.

I guess what this means for a while is that you may have to know me to read my stuff, and you’ll have to suffer through it as my craft improves. Well, we hope my craft will improve.

Okay. Grindstone time. Lots of writing to do today, then some teaching and work, and then cleaning, scooping, and a bit more writing tonight.


Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

2 thoughts on “Back Stock and Studio Time”

  1. Bejesus, Cath, but you’ve hit the nail on the head with this post. I know that elusive, unique voice will come with time. I can feel is stirring inside of me. But waiting for the epiphany moment, when I will find THE THING, and the ability to call the dragon to my heel is maddening.

    To be successful as a writer, I don’t need writing credits. I don’t need agents and editors and arcs. I need to know who I am. I need to say, unimpeachably, that this is the best thing I could have written. I have reached into my heart and yanked out my soul and thrown the whole dirty mess on the page. These pages are all I have to give, and if you don’t like it, then you know where you can stick it.

  2. Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!

    And I think I caught a glimpse of the real Schaff-Stump in the story on Clara Clemens. I can hardly wait to see more.

    (Started Hulk Hercules, and I’m enjoying it so far! I’m sort of saving it for late night reading, when I usually turn to either children’s literature or old-school pulp.)

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