The Midwife’s Confession will be out in late April and I can’t wait, but it’s hard for me to believe that I need to turn in another book before then. As my faithful blog readers know, I spent a couple of extra months revising The Midwife’s Confession, and while I’m absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out, those revisions cut into the time I have to write my current, still untitled, book. I knew I was going to need to find a new way to work or I’d need tranquilizers to deal with the panic of the next couple of months. Sooo…here’s what I did.
I’d read an article by author Laura Resnick in a recent NINC newsletter in which Lynn discussed her consultation with a life and writing coach to help her reach her deadlines. I contacted the coach, April Kihlstrom, and wow, what a help! First, I have to say that every writer is different and is dealing with different issues and has different ways of working, so what was suggested for me may not be right for another writer. But here are the basics that I took away from my consultation with April.
By the time I contacted April, my book was already outlined within an inch of its life. I’d worked on the outline for a couple of months because the more clear I am on what happens, the faster the writing will go. (In theory, anyway. My characters are still surprising me on every page). So I was ready to begin the first draft and knew I had only about a month to devote to it. My books are about 400 pages/100,000 words long and a rough draft is usually about 300 pages. My schedule has always been to aim for ten pages a day, but often I didn’t make that goal. I’d get sidetracked. Some of the interruptions I couldn’t help: doctor’s appointments, vet appointments, grocery shopping, balancing the checkbook, etcetera. Then there’s keeping up with this blog and guest blogs, staying in touch with my readers through Facebook, and doing author events. And finally there’s the stuff I consider self-sabotage: computer games and getting caught up in Internet research for an element of my story–things that are so much easier than putting words on paper. All of the above equals one big giant horrible word: GUILT. Maybe it goes back to my Catholic upbringing, but I was always feeling guilty if I wasn’t writing. Therefore, I rarely planned anything fun in the few months prior to deadline. I am sure that my friends and family are sick to death of hearing me say I can’t go to a movie or out to dinner or chat on the phone because I have to work.
Anyhow…I explained all this to April. She made many suggestions, but the following three have made the biggest difference for me.
- In the evening, jot down exactly what I need to work on the following day so that in the morning, I know exactly what I need to do.
- Aim for twenty days of fifteen pages a day instead of thirty ten-page days. That allows wiggle room for those days when I just don’t have the time to do ten pages (or I want to do something fun instead) and allows me to have those days without feeling guilty.
- Work in hour long increments without interruption. No zipping over to Facebook. No picking up the phone. When I think of something else I need to do, jot it down so I don’t forget it. Just keep working for that hour. I bet this sounds like a no-brainer, but to me it’s been a revelation. After an hour, I can catch up on phone calls and Facebook and play a game or two. Then I start a new hour.
I made an adjustment to this schedule by changing “pages” to “words”, because a page of dialogue feels like cheating to me. So I need to write 3,750 words a day for twenty days to reach my rough draft goal of 300 pages. I’ve been at it a week and a half and have reached my goal nearly every day. Sometimes I’m over. Sometimes, like today when I had two medical appointments, the dog groomer, and two blog posts to write, I’m under. But I’m taking it one day at a time and it’s amazing how that eases the guilt. I’m discovering that if I don’t allow myself to be interrupted–and I know where I’m going–I can write nearly 1000 words in an hour.
Now,I have to admit that these are bad words. As Anne Lamott says, this is a “shitty first draft” as my first drafts always are. I will have a ton of work to do by the time I reach the end of it and I’ll need to come up with a whole new process to do the first and second rewrites in a timely manner. But at least right now, I’m not feeling anxious and I’m not feeling guilty.
I’ve just described the mechanics of writing a novel and they are important, but I haven’t for a moment forgotten that it’s all about the story. My characters need to be real, the suspense needs to be electric, the pacing needs to be tight. All of that work was done during the outline stage so that now I’m able to focus on the writing. Next draft, I’ll figure out what’s missing in the story. Third draft, I’ll pretty up the writing. Then it’s off to my editor and at least one more draft will follow.
I just hope by then this poor book has a title!