DR: Birthing a Novel in Less Than Nine Months
Recently a writer friend compared birthing a book to birthing a baby. Indeed, when I first started writing, it would take me at least nine months to write a book from “once upon a time” to “happily ever after,” not counting some major rewriting after my editors got hold of it.
So I was shocked to realize that I’d finished my last novel in just over three months. When I turned it in, I feared I’d given birth prematurely and that my manuscript would require some serious time in the neoliterary intensive care unit. But my editor was pleased—very pleased—and according to her, the quality didn’t suffer one bit.
In exploring how I’d pulled that off, I discovered several reasons why I’ve thankfully become a faster writer, apparently without sacrificing quality.
• After a dozen years of writing and studying the craft of writing, I’m more confident of my ability now. I don’t second guess myself so much, and I now know the conventions of writing, and recognize mistakes much sooner than I used to. Thus many things get fixed in editing-as-I-go mode, meaning my rewrite process is also far quicker than it used to be.
• I’m teaching writing at writers’ conferences now, and as anyone who’s ever taught knows, the teacher often learns more than the students. Every class I teach is a refresher course that benefits my own writing.
• I now have a critique partner (also a published author) who reads my chapters and edits with as sharp an eye as any professional editor I’ve worked with. She edits as I go, which means she catches things early on that might have necessitated a complicated rewrite before. That means much less rewriting from my end before I send my book to my editors. In addition, I have absorbed so much from my critique partner about writing well, especially since she’s strong in areas where I am weak.
• Now that I’ve had a few books published, my family and friends are starting to view me as more of a “professional” and are better at acknowledging my working hours as “legitimate.” Add to this the fact that last summer we moved to a new neighborhood a few miles from where most of my friends live, so I don’t get dropped in on quite so often.
• Now that I’ve had a few books published, I’ve started to view me as more of a “professional.” This means I’m giving myself permission to spend some of my writing income on things that make my life easier—office furniture and storage that work for the way I write, a one-day-a-month housekeeper, sending the ironing out, more convenience foods and eating out more often, etc.
• (This is a biggie!) We only have one child at home now and she’s in high school. The other three are all out of college and living out of state, so my “mommy” time has gone way down, is much less stressful and takes up much less brain space than it used to.
• I’m beginning to realize that much of the story/plot process for me starts before I ever write “once upon a time.” The book I finished in three months was conceived two years earlier when my husband treated me to a weekend at a bed and breakfast to write. I’d been mulling over the idea ever since, so a lot of the story was already inside me, well formed and just itching to get out. I think that’s why I could get it on paper so fast once I finally sat down to write. When I come to the computer not knowing my story yet (because I’m a seat-of-the-pants plotter) it takes much longer. But I’m learning to consistently let my next story incubate even as I work on the current book. Often I’m able to excavate ideas that have been there without me even being aware of it.
• Another big reason I think I’m writing faster these days is precisely because I’m writing faster. When the writing of a novel is condensed into a three- or four-month time frame, when my thoughts are concentrated on my storyline every day, I waste far less time trying to play catch-up, backtracking to refresh my memory about what I wrote the time before. I am steeped in my story and thus all the elements fall into place more easily.
Birthing a book is still a long and grueling process, but I’m happy to report that as the years go by, the delivery itself has become—if no less painful—at least much shorter lived.
Deborah Raney is the author of A Vow to Cherish (Steeple Hill, June 2006) and Remember to Forget (coming from Howard Publishing/Simon & Schuster). She has until July 1 to give birth to her next book. http://www.deborahraney.com