Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deadlines for Books and the Writing Process

We all know the Douglas Adams quote: I love deadlines. I love the wooshing sound they make as they fly past.

Years ago I heard Sean Williams give a talk. He had a contract to write two books in two years. Then his agent called him with another contract to write two books in the same two years. He thought, can't turn it down, so he accepted. That's 4 books in two years (each over 100K). Then he had a call from George Lucas's people who wanted him to write two Star Wars books in two years. Thinking he'd be crazy to turn them down, he accepted. Now that was 6 books in two years. He set himself a goal of X number of words and wrote every day no matter where he was. And he did it.

I asked him, what if he'd gone wrong and had to scrap a couple of chapters and start again. He said, he couldn't go wrong.

Now that's confidence.

I'm bringing this up because I just read this post by Zoe Archer who has four books out this year. When that call comes and the editor says 'I want your book.' They are just as likely to say 'And is it part of a series? We'd like to release them back to back.' As they did with my King Rolen's Kin trilogy.

I love reading and really appreciate it when the whole series comes out at once. But I know for a fact that I'm not a brilliant, first time it's right, kind of writer. I write the book. I think it is finished. I go off and write something else, then I come back to it and discover I can tighten the narrative and delve deeper into the character arcs. (Make those characters suffer!).

As regular readers of this blog know I'm cleaning up The Outcast Chronicles for my publisher. I know I'm improving the books, but they are growing as I add more layers and tweak the narrative. I'm lucky in that I had the books written (in first draft form) when the publishers accepted them. The editor gave me feedback on the synopsis and I've been nose to the keyboard ever since.

Maybe other writers can write their best draft first. Maybe the editor steps in and helps them pull the book together. I like to hand in a book that requires nothing more than a line edit and maybe a 'what did you mean here?' query or two.

I just can't see myself writing 3 100K books from scratch in a year. I might get 2 written, but they would be raw first draft. I'd need another year to polish them (and in the process the 2 books would probably expand into 3 books). That's the thing about NanoWriMo. I like the idea of spending a month doing nothing but writing (banish the husband, six children and the job!), but I don't just sit down to write from Beginning to End.

I sit down and write with a general idea of where the book is going. But at some point I will hit a brick wall and it will be there because I'm trying to make the characters do something they don't want to do, or because something that happened earlier isn't quite right to motivate them to do this scene. So I'll have to go back to where the problem is and re-write. By the time I get to the blockage, I can write through it because the problem is fixed. For me the book is very organic, it just grows. So I end up with a first draft book that is really polished in the first half, then less so as I go on. Time away from a book is really important to help me bring fresh eyes to it.

What is your writing process? What would you do if you had an offer from a publisher who wanted you to hand in three books in twelve months? (After you'd broken out the champagne? LOL)


Rita de Heer said...

I do a lot of that same sort of backing and forwarding. I sometimes think of it as sketching, never writing a straight line, but getting there with series of short strokes that together make the line you intend.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Rita, it is a lot like sketching. We're filling in the details as we go.

MataPam said...

Run in circles, screaming "Help! Help! Help!"

I've got three novels out making the rounds currently. And a huge backlog of novels, most in draft form.

I think I'll never let a publisher know how many. Then I could "over commit" without a problem.

Other than they'd want sequels to the ones without any sequels written.

However flattering, I think I'd try to negotiate the second contract with a starting date six months out, and the third a year out, so it was closer to two years of committment.

And consider how much I could steal from those unrelated drafts. Fight scenes, political situations, assassination plots, romantic encounters.

Hopefully I'll have an opportunity to find out, some day.

Anonymous said...

After an uncontrolled session of riotous laughter, I'd probably get scared and cry. Then I'd pull myself up by the bootstraps and calm down, knowing that I had at least until tomorrow before everything blew up in my face. The tomorrows would eventually and painfully turn into sections of book. Then it would all look workable and I would believe it might really happen.


Sarah A. Hoyt said...

My process... um... I put off writing as long as I can, then rush madly at the fences and finish the book. Without the long silences between I could probalby write twelve books a year. As is, I can do four comfortably. The year I had to do six was he*ll. No, I can't say no to contracts. Not in this economy. Don't know anyone who can.
I think the silence time is when my brain is working on the story at a level I don't "get" yet, then when I write, I have the whole story in my head, in an organic tangle. I can't write it or sketch it or draw it in an abreviated form, so I just have to get it down fully as quickly as possible.
I don't usually go wrong unless I stop and lose that shape in my head. THEN it's a pain and a half to go back and fill it in again. Which is why I HATE doing proposals with partials. Because then I stop, and there's a thread of a story to find again.

Anonymous said...

I'd LOVE it, and not just until the champagne wore off. I like my writing to be obsessive, so I'd probably write each draft in a few weeks (after a few days of intensive planning), then focus on editing, spending a month on each book and then starting again. I once wrote a 50K novel in three days, and it's actually NOT one of the six books I've thrown away.

Of course (as if you can't tell), I don't have kids.

Louise Curtis

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam, sounds like you're int he same position as me.

I found when I went back to the book, they were really polished in parts and weak in other parts, necessitating re-writes. Then the rewrites have a roll on effect.

If we only knew which series the publishers were going to pick up, we could concentrate on polishing that one!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I believe it is perfectly normal to feel terror at the thought of major publication.

After all, it's been our goal for X number of years and suddenly it's there.

You realise there is so much you don't know.

And your book/s (babies) are going to be out there in the cruel cold world, fending for themselves.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I know what you mean about going back and having to get into the right place in your head to start again.

Wish I could write as fast as you. A bit of envy going on over here.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Louise Said:

'I once wrote a 50K novel in three days, and it's actually NOT one of the six books I've thrown away.'

Wow, did you stop to eat?

Anonymous said...

I ate at my desk, and ate a LOT of lollies, too. At the end, the sorest part of me was my little fingers. Other than that and lack of sleep, I felt okay. It's not suprising that I spend 90% of my writing time editing.

Louise Curtis

Chris McMahon said...

I have not doubt I could do it - if I did not have to work full time and manage a business on the side. Right now I think I could manage a single book in a year.

If I got asked by the publisher? I'd say I would bail out as fast as I could to make the room to do it - cutting back to half-time would be the first thing. There is not way on this Earth I'd say no!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I know lots of writers who survive on coffee and chocolate!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I agree. It's all the other responsibilities in life that get in the way.

I'm finding it hard to get back in the mental track each time I get thrown out due to work etc.