I had a moment of personal clarity the other day.
I’ve often thought that I was pretty Zen about my position in the writing world. I don’t have an agent or a publishing contract with a big press, but I don’t lie awake at night comparing myself to others who do have those things. If I did, then I’d have to look no further for angst than Jay Kristoff, who I’ve known for more than a decade. He’s been very successful with his Lotus War trilogy, and was able to quit work to write fulltime (basically every writer’s dream ever) after he signed the contract for Illuminae. Another good friend of mine, Stacey Nash, has a three-book deal (yay!) with a Harper Collins digital imprint. (And one of her books came out a few days ago.)
The thing is, I’m genuinely happy for these people, both of whom are entirely deserving. I don’t even feel a twinge of jealousy — I actually find it inspirational. Back when I was at uni, I had a very dour lecturer who told all the wannabe writers in the room that, as Australians, we’d never ever be able to quit work to write fulltime (unless we wrote romance).
I’d like to be able to rub Jay’s success in her face. Maybe with a copy of Endsinger, which is 600 pages and rather heavy. 😉
But then I realised when I was chatting to someone a few days ago that there is one thing that I am really jealous about. If I dwell on it, it actually makes me a little depressed. It’s not the end result of the book deal and the agent that triggers this reaction me.
It’s the speed at which some people write.
I’m a slow drafter, although I’m getting better. Isla’s Inheritance took over a year to draft; I was averaging maybe 2000 words a month and, because it was the first book I wrote, I was still feeling my way through the process. That means I wrote a couple of chapters that were ultimated scrapped (sob). With Isla’s Oath, I doubled my word goal, but it still took the better part of a year. With my most recent manuscripts, Melpomene’s Daughter and Lucid Dreaming, I set myself a goal of 2000 words a week and finished the first drafts in around seven months. These were also much cleaner drafts than my debut was, meaning there was less work to do in the editing stages.
Still, that’s just a first draft. Looking at all the reading and re-reading, and re-re-reading that happens during the editing process, it’s more like a year for me to produce something polished. And by comparison, Chuck Wendig – who is a fulltime writer – writes 2000 words a day.
When I see people who are releasing two or three books a year, the envy is strong in this one. I’ve got three books coming out in 2015, but that’s because Isla’s Inheritance and Isla’s Oath were done before I signed with TMP. I definitely won’t be maintaining the “several books a year” schedule after 2015.
It’s even more sobering when I see articles and posts by indie authors who talk about how you need to release at least two books a year to maintain momentum, keep your fans keen. I try to do the things “they” say, but this one’s beyond me. There’s not a lot I can do to write faster than I am now. I work thirty-five hours a week and I’m a single mother, which means the only times I get to write are after my son goes to bed, or occasionally on the weekend if I decide to let him have a “lazy day” in front of the TV or on the Wii. (I feel guilty when I do that, but a wise friend once told me that it’s important to let your kids see you pursue your goals.)
The other factor in my jealousy is that I have other book ideas I’d love to be working on. I went through my plot bunny notebook the other day, and there were ideas in there for four novels, two novellas (both for my Tammy Calder pen name) and a short story. One of the novel ideas is actually plotted out, down to character details; the rest are in the embryonic stage but could get there with a little bit of time and energy.
It should be said that I’m happy for others who are able to publish more than one book a year. Delighted. Being crazy jealous that they can do it doesn’t make me less pleased for them! And I know that the mere fact of having written a book — more than one — and then seeing it published it is a massive deal. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved to date and look forward to doing more of the same.
Thinking about it, I suppose jealousy can actually be a good thing. It’s a kick up the backside, a goad to action. And even though I’m not sure what else I can do to increase my productivity, it does at least keep me thinking about ideas to do so. It’s also an awesome spur to get my butt in the chair to write when I do have the opportunity.
So that’s my confession. I found my green-eyed monster: it was down the back of the couch this whole time!
Also, I realise this post is a bit of a ramble. It’s more me thinking aloud (well, on screen) than anything else. But I thought putting this out there might help other writers who feel the same way I do.
Some of you do feel this way, right?
I finished my work in progress last night. Which makes me feel like this.
This book (working title: Melaina, which is the main character’s name because I suck at naming things) is 73k words and took me seven months to write.
By comparison, Isla’s Inheritance was about 80k words when I first finished it, and it took twice as long. I cut about 10k words from it in the editing process.
The difference in my writing speed is not that I have more time — I’m still a single parent with a little boy, and I can still only write after he’s gone to bed — but because I’ve learned that FIRST DRAFTS SUCK.
When I was writing Isla’s Inheritance, I obsesssed over the beginning. I knew you really had to land the beginning or your potential writer/agent/editor wouldn’t get any further to discover what your writing was like once you’d found your sea legs. And I knew there was something wrong with the beginning of my book, but I couldn’t fix it.
It wasn’t until I’d done several rounds of edits, received a bunch of agent rejections and had feedback from a pitching contest that I finally amputated the first couple thousand words from the start, and deleted an entire chapter in the first 10k words. It took me that long to gain perspective on it and see what the problem was.
And that’s why it’s not worth wasting a lot of time analysing your book in the drafting stage. You don’t have the perspective.
Also, drafting (despite what anyone tells you) is HARD. It requires dedication, finding the time to sit down when you’ve got washing to do or would rather be reading or sleeping. (Sleeping figures pretty highly for me.) I personally find dialogue easy and a lot of fun to write, but transition scenes? I have to make myself write them, and reward myself with cookies.
I’ve learned to cut myself some slack. Sure, what I come up with (especially during transition scenes) may be clunky and not flow properly. But I don’t let myself get too tied up in trying to fix it as I’m drafting. I will do one read over of what I wrote the previous session, and edit as I go. Then I move on. So far the only additional editing the bulk of Melaina has seen is when I’ve had an idea later on that’s involved a bit of foreshadowing; when I’ve edited that in I’ve often tinkered with the section I added it to.
There are hokey cliches in there (“my heart thundered”, “my pulse raced”). There are ridiculous phrases (for some reason I seem very fond of writing things like “my eyes roamed the room”, despite the anatomical impossibility of such an act). But that’s what editing is for.
It’s clunky but it’s done. The bones are there. You can’t edit nothing, and now I have something to polish.