Like most beginning writers, I took a long time to write my first book. I had a rough draft in 14 months, and spent the next 3 months editing based on feedback from my critique group. Then more revisions stemming from other input. Then further revisions once I signed with my agent, and even more from my editor. Altogether, I spent 3 years writing and marketing my debut novel, Night Hush, before my publisher accepted it.
Then came the contract, and Book #2.
Suddenly, it wasn’t solely about the creative process. I couldn’t wait until the Muse struck, or until it was convenient to sit down to write. I had a deadline, and it wasn’t for 3 years into the future. The deadline was, in fact, a mere 6 months away. My publisher wanted to capitalize on initial reader enthusiasm by providing several more books in short order, so all 3 of my books will be released in 2015. How did I handle such a compressed timeline?
- I panicked.
- I realized I didn’t have the luxury of panic.
- I established a routine. Mondays I sprint with other writers. Tuesday through Thursday, I write or edit from 11:30 to 4:30, varying my locations so I won’t become bored. Friday, I join my critique partners from 1:00-4:00 to write. Weekends are for blog posts and tweets.
- I created two spreadsheets — a Word Count Tracking Spreadsheet and a Timeline Worksheet. The word count tracker does several things for me: It tells me how many words I write in any single day; what my total word count stands at; and the percent of the book I’ve finished, based on a 300-page draft. I can then backward-plan, so I know that if a book is due October 1st, I need to be halfway through it by about the beginning of June.
- The timeline tells me if I’ve struck a good balance between POV characters (I color code each POV character, so I can see at a glance if chapters are balanced), if I’m varying the length of my chapters, and gives me a very brief overview of what happens in that chapter.
- I learned to sprint. Author V.S. Nelson holds a sprinting workshop periodically, both in Arizona and online, in which she teaches writers to ignore their inner critic. I learned not to stop typing, not to correct grammar or spelling, and to write non-stop for a set period of time (15, 20, or 30-minute sprints) and then take a break. My productivity skyrocketed! From 500-750 words in about 5 hours, I began producing 2000-2300 words instead. Yes, the prose is rough around the edges. I ended up with more passive voice and telling rather than showing. However, you can’t edit what isn’t written, and those things are easily fixed.
The biggest message I took away from writing Book #2 is that it’s possible. I did it once, right? Or, if you’re like most authors, you’ve done it 3, 4, or 5 times already. While those early efforts probably shouldn’t ever see the light of day, each manuscript teaches you valuable lessons about your craft. The most important of these is: “You can do it!”
While the prospect of writing Book #3 is no less daunting than books 1 and 2, at least I now have some tools in my tool belt that will help me stay on track.
Have you established a writing routine? Share it with us!