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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When the Book Fights Back


People often ask me what my writing process is—do I outline first (yes, usually), what time of day do I write (evenings almost every day, and often a morning shift on the days I don’t work the day job), and how long it takes me to write a novel from start to finish. That last one is tougher to answer.

In general, it takes me about three or four weeks to play with the initial idea, do enough research to get started, and write the outline and character studies, all of which has to happen before I begin to do the actual writing. Then it takes me about four months to write the polished first draft (I start each day’s writing by editing the words from the day before, so in theory each first draft had already had one edit by the time it is done). Then it goes off to my agent Elaine, who sends me her very helpful revision notes, which take me about two weeks to complete. Then it goes off to my editor, who will eventually send me her own notes. Somewhere in that process, bits and pieces and sometimes the whole thing are also read and commented on by my First Readers, who are various folks who I trust to give me honest but not brutal feedback. [Each book has different First Readers—some people have worked on almost every book…thank, Mom…and some only one or two.]

You’ll note those important two works: in general. If you ask any writer, they will tell you that no two books are the same. Some are easier to write than others. And every once in a while, you get one that fights back.


Take it from me—this is Not a Good Thing.

Dangerously Charming, the first book in the Riders series, tried to kill me. No, really. This one fought back. Unlike Wickedly Dangerous, the first Baba Yaga book, it was not fun to write. Did I mention it tried to kill me?

I thought about not doing this blog post. After all, it would be kind of nice for y’all to have the illusion that I sit here with my laptop and my cat and merrily type away while bluebirds fly overhead, singing happy songs, and then, POOF, the book appears.


Yeah, not so much. Not even for the books that cooperate. (Although there is a laptop, and often a cat or two. But no bluebirds. The cat would eat them. And then the feathers would get into the keyboard, and I’d have to explain that to the tech guys, and well, nevermind.)

But I also thought that maybe it would be interesting for you to get a peek into the reality of the writer’s world, and really, the only way to give you a good look was to be honest. Which means admitting that not only is writing not always (or ever) easy, sometimes it is downright tough. The next time you read a book by one of your favorite authors, maybe you’ll wonder…was this one that fought back? And appreciate the fact that the book exists even more.

So what happened? A couple of things. It probably started with my signing a contract with back to back to back deadlines that were too close together, and getting a little burned out. It happens. Plus, it was more difficult than I expected to switch from writing about the Baba Yagas to writing about the Riders. But then the outline wouldn’t allow me to write it. I got about a third of the way into the story, and couldn’t get any further. Only had a basic idea of what happened next. Still, the book had to be started, and I’d written books without outlines before, so I just sat down and began writing, and hoped that I’d figure it out as I went along.

Nope. I got about 34,000 words in (on a book that would end up being about 90,000 words) and I had a feeling something just wasn’t right. So I sent it to Elaine, and she made some suggestions, and I rewrote the first bit. But it still wasn’t right, so I asked my then-editor, Leis, to take a look, and she called me up and basically confirmed my worst fears: the story wasn’t working, in part because there were serious problems with the two main characters, Mikhail Day (the Rider, who my readers had already met in the three Baba Yaga books) and his love interest, Jenna.

So I figured out the problems, and where the story had started to go wrong. Unfortunately, that was at about the 8,000 word mark. Yes, you can see my problem here. I was going to have to throw out almost everything I’d written (when I was already running late on my deadline) and start over practically from scratch. Did I mention that this book tried to kill me?

Thankfully, I was actually able to save more than I expected, although much of the old stuff had to be changed, rewritten, or thrown out completely. Once I’d identified the problems with the story, I was able to go back to the outline and finish it, which made writing the rest of the book a lot easier. And then there was my pal Sierra, who not only acted as First Reader, and my trusty paid researcher, but helped me brainstorm a lot of the story when I got stuck. So basically, she saved my butt. (This was a fairy tale story, and that’s kind of her area of expertise. Thank goodness.) As did my friend Kari, who brainstormed and did one-day turnarounds during that horrible last month. But holy crap, this was a tough one.

Eventually, the story got finished, two months past its deadline. (I’ve never been late on a deadline before. There was some serious twitching.) Which, of course, meant I was already two months behind on the current novel. Let’s hope that one doesn’t fight back too. The important thing, though, was that in the end, I had a book I was proud of, and happy to eventually be able to share with you all. As an author, the end result is a lot more important than the struggle it takes to get there.

You know, as long as most of the books don’t try to kill you.

So tell me, have you ever had a creative endeavor that fought back? Inquiring minds want to know.

4 comments:

  1. Yes!! I am currently revising my notes for what I wanted to release AGES ago as a YouTube video series on elemental magic. It's been a NIGHTMARE. Not because I don't have the outline or matrial, but because I keep running into a brick wall with my technical capabilities and finding a feasible way to record it all in a quality way.

    I've been really listening to some advice that another author friend with small children gave me and learning how to stop making excuses and stop trying to create the perfect environment to work from. I need to learn how to write and edit WITH the toddler climbing up my leg instead of attempting to find a time when she isn't while I'm still awake lol.

    So far none of its proved life threatening, but it sure is putting a damper on my enthusiasm for the life of my career when I get so bogged down feeling like it will never happen. I'm not what I thinkof as a "real writer" and I need to change that mindset. I have got to stop thinking that because I didn't go to college and don't have the best grammar or mechanical usage in the world,that that has anything to do with the value of the content I have to share.

    I'm so glad you survived this latest edition and can continue to write books that make us all so happy, and for inspiring me not to give up!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes!! I am currently revising my notes for what I wanted to release AGES ago as a YouTube video series on elemental magic. It's been a NIGHTMARE. Not because I don't have the outline or matrial, but because I keep running into a brick wall with my technical capabilities and finding a feasible way to record it all in a quality way.

    I've been really listening to some advice that another author friend with small children gave me and learning how to stop making excuses and stop trying to create the perfect environment to work from. I need to learn how to write and edit WITH the toddler climbing up my leg instead of attempting to find a time when she isn't while I'm still awake lol.

    So far none of its proved life threatening, but it sure is putting a damper on my enthusiasm for the life of my career when I get so bogged down feeling like it will never happen. I'm not what I thinkof as a "real writer" and I need to change that mindset. I have got to stop thinking that because I didn't go to college and don't have the best grammar or mechanical usage in the world,that that has anything to do with the value of the content I have to share.

    I'm so glad you survived this latest edition and can continue to write books that make us all so happy, and for inspiring me not to give up!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I do online story based roleplay (NOT the sexual kind but the alternate historic or fantasy kind.

    Many years ago in the group that I had founded (historical, set in an alternate Europe of the 1680's) I "played" two characters who were the older two-out-of-three boys and four siblings (in total).

    While the younger brother William was fairly easy to write (and since he had a perchant for being playfully goofy) was very enjoyable to write.

    The oldest brother - not so much. I'd have ideas where I wanted him to go and when the time to write them came Dacien went the other direction. He had a mind of his own and made sure I knew it.

    The group disbanded around 2008/09 and I still miss writing them sometimes.

    Kit

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't have a personal story, but another author has blogged about one of her books that was 'three months of horrible, hair pulling writing failure' that kicked her butt and put her through hell. Happily, it too had a happy ending, and Rachel Aaron managed to turn it into a positive lesson learned. You can read the full post at thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com/2013/01/learn-from-my-fail-character-edition (may have to copy and paste into browser - sorry, my internet skills are minimal).

    Here are some excerpts: "For the first half of the book, I was trucking along just fine. And then I got to the middle, where everything started going wrong" . . . "It was infuriating, because I was writing. I was following the damn plot, I just wasn't getting anything I liked and I couldn't figure out why. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't figure out what, and with a deadline looming, I couldn't stop to figure out what. Eventually, I forced myself to finish the novel and turned it in, but it wasn't until I got my editor's notes that I realized what was actually going on." [During the rewrite] "all my words came back. Writing was fun again, as it always should be, and the new book was so much better."

    I think she had to rewrite about half of her book.

    I am grateful that both of you let budding writers, and your readers, know that when obstacles come up, they can be overcome.

    ReplyDelete

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