A friend of mine suggested this blog post to me. She is one of a handful of people to have read SAND all the way through (I sent early copies of part 5 to some betas), and as both a writer and a reader, she is fascinated in how quickly I wrote and published a full-length novel that doesn’t suck all that much. This is also something that comes up in the KBoards forums. There are threads devoted to systems of publishing many works in a year and more threads devoted to how these books must not be any good.
I subscribe to the Blake Crouch theory of book production, which says that a novel takes a set number of hours to write, revise, and edit. How you distribute those hours is up to you. Some purists will claim that it takes five years to write a novel, four and a half of which are spent in a deep depression because no writing is getting done, six months of which are spent actually writing and even then for only an hour or so a day.
The first novel I ever published, MOLLY FYDE AND THE PARSONA RESCUE, was written in a week. I was out of work at the time (paid work. I was writing reviews and serving as the book editor for a website my friend and I started). Twenty years of wanting to write and putting it off exploded out of me. This was a story I’d been daydreaming about for a long time, so I knew my characters and I knew a very, very rough outline of a plot. I started writing at six in the morning and wrote until eight or ten at night. Ten thousand words a day for seven days, and I had a 70,000 word rough draft. I spent a week revising this up to 100,000 words, sent that manuscript around, and was told by friends and family that I had to get it published.
I never wrote that fast again. I doubt I ever will. But it doesn’t take as long as you think, not if you are prepared and dedicated. I saw John Grisham interviewed in person once, and he said writing is neither as difficult as authors make it out to be nor as simple as non-writers assume it to be. He writes for TWO HOURS A DAY and then goes fishing. This is enough to produce a novel a year, and I guarantee you he doesn’t write every single day. He tours and vacations and takes his weekends off.
I have a traditionally published friend (Harper Collins, 6-figure advances) who can’t force himself to write. As his deadline approaches, he goes off to various internet-free rentals and cranks out a master-quality novel in about a month. I suspect this is more common than most readers know. I also suspect not many authors care to admit how fast they end up writing their books, fearing that the time involved will be equated to a lack of quality.
Last month, I had the incredible pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Elle Casey, an online friend of mine and one of my heroes. Elle is a full-time self-published author who publishes A BOOK A MONTH. That’s the deadline she sets for herself. These are full-length novels with intricate plots and across various genres. She has a legion of fans who wish she could write faster. How does she do it? She writes every single day, hours a day. She treats this like a job. And like me, she is very passionate about what she does.
So let me tell you how SAND went from blank page to 90,000 word published novel in two months. It started with NaNoWriMo (which was denigrated in the New York Times yesterday, much to my chagrin and the editor’s shame). NaNo is Elle Casey month for hundreds of thousands of writers. 30 days to write a 50,000 word rough draft. This year, I was on the road for NaNo. I spent 7 1/2 weeks in Europe on book tour, and I was nervous that I wouldn’t meet my writing goal. This was going to be my fifth year participating, and I didn’t want to break that streak, nor did I want to miss the chance of getting all that writing done.
This is part of the motivational magic of NaNo, but it’s also the attitude that allows me to write several novels a year. No excuse is good enough to NOT WRITE. Being on book tour? Not a good enough excuse. Having a day job, a family and house to take care of, meals to cook, a dog to walk and exercise? Not good enough excuses. The people who make this work find the time. I told myself, even knowing that my days were blocked up with interviews and bookstore events, that I would find the time.
SAND was written on trains and in airports. It was written in Finland at five in the morning before I went to the Helsinki Book Fair. It was written on the stoop of my hotel while I waited in the freezing cold for my publicist to pick me up. It was written in the back of the cab on the way to the fair. It was written at the fair while I waited on interviewers and while between interviews. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about the plot, my characters, having conversations, making notes in my cell phone.
I flew to Amsterdam where I wrote more. Every day, I wrote at least 2,000 words. I had a few 3,000 and even 5,000 word days. These were crucial, because my mother was meeting me in Italy to spend 10 days of my book tour on vacation with me. When she arrived, it meant getting up a little earlier every day and writing before we set out to see the sights. It meant writing at night before I went to bed. I wrote in a laundromat in Venice while I refreshed my single carry-on of clothes. When I got to 50,000, my mom and I toasted with glasses of wine and had a nice meal. And then I powered on, knowing this wasn’t enough.
When I felt stuck — as happens to most every writer — I went back to what I’d already written and cleaned it up. I would start at the beginning and work my way to the end, and then find that I knew what happened next. This meant SAND 1 had six or seven passes by the time I was writing SAND 4. I shared SAND 1 with my newsletter subscribers. The first part of my work was ready to publish before NaNoWriMo was even over. By the time I got home (just a couple days before Thanksgiving), I had the rough draft of a novel with just a dozen or so chapters missing (I’d written the end, but I’d left out most of SAND 4).
December was for revising. My plan was to publish each part with two weeks between them. When I felt good about a section, I sent it to David Gatewood, who would work on his editorial suggestions while I was finishing the next part. It went faster than I had anticipated (it always does. I set insane deadlines, and then I work like a beast and beat them). I also realized SAND 4 was going to be too long and that it had a natural break point, so SAND 5 was born. (There was also the pleasure of mimicking WOOL, which SAND is the antithesis of in at least a dozen ways. More on that much later). I had hoped to have the final part out at the end of January. I was done with the writing on January 1st. It is now 6 in the morning on January 6th, and my formatter is working on putting together SAND 5, which will be published this week.
I’m not sure if this is what my friend wanted to see, this rough timeline of events from first words to final publication, but that’s how the novel was put together and published. I don’t think it’s all that unusual, to be honest. Elle Casey would think me lazy. Another of my author friends would claim that this is only possible after ten months of agonizing procrastination. I think anything is possible. It’s Monday. I spent quite a bit of my weekend writing, signing and packing up books, editing for an upcoming anthology, writing a piece of flash fiction for another anthology, responding to emails, etc. This morning, I’m up at 6 to put together this blog-post-upon-request. And then it’s off to the next story I want to write. Even if I had a day job, I would get my words in for the day. Every day. That’s what I did for three years while at the bookstore. I got up and I wrote.
Maybe SAND would be a better book if I spent five years on it and revised every paragraph dozens of times. Perhaps. But I don’t hate what I’ve written, and I think the story and writing would only be marginally better with all that time and re-working. What would be lost are the ten other novels I would write in that five years. That’s more important to me, staying energized and excited, keeping it diverse, not wallowing in a story until I’m sick of it, but writing at the pace in which good reading occurs. Every writer needs to find their own system. This is mine. The only wrong system of writing is to not write. And now . . . I turn to a blank page and start something new. Or maybe I look at that Molly Fyde manuscript and try to wrap it up. Finally. It has taken me three years to write that book!