Saturday, February 05, 2011

Too Fast, Too Furious, and Way Too Much

By Janice Hardy. @Janice_Hardy

I have no shortage of novel ideas. New ones come at me all the time and I’m always starting new files to hold notes and plots and whatnot. Naturally, whenever I get a new idea and I get excited and want to dive headfirst into that idea.

This didn’t change when I sold my first book, The Shifter. In fact, it made it worse. Because now I had an agent, and an editor, and I had to get as many of those books written to capitalize on this fabulous luck before they found out I was a zero-talent hack. (sound familiar to anyone? Yeah, we all have the same fears)

This is pretty normal. We wait and struggle for so long to get that first book published, then the floodgates open. I made detailed plans of when I was going to write which book. When I’d do the various drafts, when I would send them to my crit groups. I think I even gave my poor agent a schedule of my next few books and when I expected to get them to her (major cringe at this memory, but I’m sure she chuckled and my cute naiveté and forgot about it).

Then I learned that books take the time they take, and trying to force yourself to a schedule is going to drive you crazy.

Blue Fire, my second book, was “scheduled” to take six months. Two months for a first draft, working off my “oh so achievable” three chapters per week schedule. Two months of revisions, one month for the crit group to review, then back to me for the final month of edits. Easy peasy, right?

Fifteen months and five total rewrites later, it went to my editor. Where we did three more rounds of heavy revisions before I (and she) was happy with it.

So much for my schedule.

It was a great learning experience, though. Not only did I learn that I did have the chops to do this writing thing and take a “the first book was a fluke I really can’t write” draft and turn it into a pretty decent novel in the end, I learned that I couldn’t schedule creativity.

Not that I didn’t try again on book three.
Taking so long on Blue Fire put me behind schedule on book three. So I had this “I’m so behind” mantra eating away at me, making me feel like I had to write as fast as possible. Which of course  meant I wrote so-so drafts where word count was more important than the story. And then berated myself when the book wasn’t what I knew it could be.

My husband finally made me realize what I was doing to myself. He reminded me how long Blue Fire took, and reminded how long my first book, The Shifter, took. And then he asked me how book three was going compared to them. He told me to forget about getting it done “on schedule,” and look at what I honestly and reasonably felt I needed to finish it the way I knew it had to be finished.

And it was about nine months, the same time it took me to write The Shifter, back when I had no deadline, no rush to get it all done, no agent or editor. Without losing my mind or making me feel like a failure for not living up to my ridiculous “two books a year” schedule.

Books take what they take. Some writers can do two or three or even four books a year, others do one book over two or three years. There’s nothing wrong with either process. Understanding the time I needed to write a book I’d be happy with, on a schedule I wouldn’t lose my mind trying to adhere to, made the whole thing manageable again. If I wanted to be in this biz for the long haul (which I do), then I needed to find a schedule that didn’t burn me out or make me crazy.

The rush to write all those stories in my head is still there of course. I’m a writer, after all. But I know I’ll get to them when I’m ready.

And they’ll be better novels because of that.

Originally posted during the Blue Fire blog tour at First Novels Club


  1. I am a fast drafter, slow revisor, so I can totally relate to this. I see some people write books bam, bam, bam and wish I could do it, but that's just not me.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. This is a wonderful post. I think it's also a reminder that we often need other people to help us keep things in perspective. Wrapped up in our own minds, things can seem so dire or urgent, so it's essential to have someone you trust come along and say, "wait a minute ..."

  3. I wish all the people who berate me for not being able to write multiple books in a year and finish them, however bad they start out being would read this blog in general, and this post in particular.

    That said, it'd still be nice to not have to not have every book you do take 2 to 8 months. I don't think that's asking to part the Red Sea.

  4. I also tend to have a hundred different ideas all brewing at once. I'll usually end up coming up with ideas for stories or scenes while far away from my PC, but I keep a lot of notes.

    I think one of the hardest things for any new writer to accept is just how long it takes to even get a book written. I know that I can write 1,000 words an hour if I'm just writing continually with no interruptions, but that doesn't mean I can finish an 80,000 word novel in under a month.

  5. Mine seems to change with every book. The first couple took 3 weeks to draft and a year to edit. This latest is taking forEVER to draft, and I'm hoping that means it takes less time to edit. (Ha! Yeah, right. That'll happen!) I'm thinking I like the slower process better, though.

  6. Lovely post, Janice. I'm glad you're not feeling as stressed these days. We just have to keep plugging along!

  7. Great post. You’re right it takes what it takes. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  8. I definitely tend to underestimate how long it will take me to complete projects. What I don't ever take into account is the sheer number of rewrites I'll end up doing. Yeah, I move quickly, but I move quickly over the same ground over and over again. :/

    Heh, all part of learning.

  9. That's a great reminder. Lately I've been frothing a bit about how I started my WiP in JUNE and I'm still working on the rough draft (3/4 done). I usually can whip a rough draft out in 3-4 months. But I'm doing a little more "life" and other things, and besides--like you said, certain books just take more time. I'm starting to realize that. :)

  10. Angela: I think it also depends on genre. My mystery buddies seem to write very quickly, but they spend a lot more time on the planning stage (all those details), which might balance it out. Romance seems to go fast as well. I was blown away by the number of authors who had 100+ book careers at RWA last year. All romance writers who did like 5 books a year. Yikes!

    Sarah: Totally. My husband is so good about keeping me on an even keel. And he knows when to ask "okay, is this one of those time where you want me to nag you or not?" Because sometimes I DO want him to pester :)

    Taurean: At least you know they want more of your books that way :)

    Paul: Oh yeah. I write a lot more in one sitting when I do my blog posts on the weekend than I do for the novels. Takes more thinking on the novels.

    Wen: Nothing wrong with slower. Three weeks?? Wow, that's impressive. I'd like to be able to do a rough draft that fast. I think that would get me to the revision stage faster and that seems to be where my best ideas come.

    Juliette: Thanks! I've been trying hard to just relax and recharge this last month.

    Holly: Anytime :) It's nice to know we're not alone in this crazy writing journey.

    Sarah: It is, and there's always more to learn. Even when we know the technical stuff, we still learn more about how we write or how we can better use what we know. I like that part a lot, actually. It gets frustrating sometimes, but never dull!

    Carol: I felt that way with Blue Fire so I feel your pain. It'll probably be a better book in the end because you took time for "life" stuff :)

  11. Hey I like this! My creative process is still partly a mystery to me, and I think it always will be. Here is permission to go with it and not try to make it fit an external, artificial demand.

  12. I worry about not being prolofic enough. A lot actually. So thank you!

  13. Cassandra: Totally. You can do whatever works for you.

    Che: Most welcome!

  14. I love this! Thank you for this! I always have this feeling "I'm so behind!" But really ... the whole process is so different for each idea ... and each person's career, quite frankly, that it's going to take the time it takes. Period. The best we can do is take our work seriously and be consistent about sitting down to it. *hugs you*

  15. Cat, -hugs- It really is. I haven't had a single book go the same way. It is what it is and you drive yourself nuts trying to do what doesn't come naturally to you.