The most common question I am asked as an author is how long it takes me to write a book. You’d think I would have a simple answer to this question, like “Six months.” But it’s not that simple.
I’ll think I’ll try to tackle the subject now, because I’m approaching a deadline and I’m driving toward the climax of the current work in progress. How long will it take me to finish? I wish I knew. Two weeks ago, I said two weeks, but now, I’m still two weeks from the end.
At the same time, I’m proud to say I’ve never missed a deadline, and I’ve even delivered books early. Sometimes they pour out of me, other times it’s a struggle. But I do have strategies that keep me on track.
When I’m writing a book, I set a weekly goal of 30 pages, and I try to average 5 pages per day, 6 days per week. When I start the book, I write the page numbers on my kitchen calendar, so I know exactly where I should be each week and don’t let myself fall behind. Some days don’t go well, and I will only do 3 pages. Other days seem to fly, and I can do 10. But that 30 pages for the week is not optional. Even if it means I have to stay in my writing chair until midnight, I will get those pages done. Some days are heavier than others, and of course I have to schedule around my family life, so that’s why the weekly goal is better for me than a daily goal. It gives me flexibility day-to-day.
I revise as I go. I spend the first couple of hours of each day going over the previous few scenes, rewriting and polishing. I’m not much of a morning person, which is why I edit early in the day. The real creative juices don’t usually flow until after lunch, and for some reason, they don’t even flow very fast until after 3pm. Anyway you put it, I spend a lot of hours in my chair.
Occasionally, maybe once every couple of weeks, I go WAY back, about 100 pages, and read and revise some more, and it helps me to get a feel for the overall pacing of the romance and the characters’ emotions. I get more of a sense of where their hearts should be, and where they should go next.
I exercise five days a week (I run outside or on a treadmill, about 30-40 minutes). I know this isn’t a writing tip, but it keeps me fit, and I really believe it helps my brain function. I also think about my story while I’m running, and I seem to solve plot problems and come up with a lot of great stuff when the endorphins start to party. I usually run late morning, before lunch.
Another non-writing tip, but very important for me. I stay away from sugar and heavy carbs until dinnertime. If I have pasta for lunch, it puts my brain to sleep, and I will need a nap mid-afternoon, and that really cuts into my writing time. I NEVER have pasta for lunch. I often have a sandwich, but with only one piece of whole wheat bread, and stuffed two inches thick with turkey or tuna and lots of lettuce.
A very important goal – I aim to have the first draft done a month before my deadline. That gives me time to hand it to my critique partner and get some feedback before doing an overall rewrite – AGAIN - after all the revising along the way. I revise and rewrite A LOT.
Then I turn the book in, my editor reads it, and sends it back for more revision. I usually get 3-4 weeks to do that.
In the meantime, I am thinking about the next book and plotting it and researching, and eventually getting to a synopsis. Once that gets approved, I start all over again and mark my weekly goals on my calendar.
My contracts are usually 2-3 book deals, so I have very little downtime between books, but I do try to take a break and stay out of my office for a few weeks at least between books. It’s like refilling the gas tank for the next big trip. It’s only when I’m between contracts that I get a true vacation, because that’s the only time I have no deadline looming.
I do love this life, and though it can be stressful sometimes trying to meet deadlines, I feel incredibly blessed to be doing what I love, and being my own boss, setting my own schedule. And nothing is as satisfying as typing the end and feeling good about the story.
So here is my question: If you have a creative project to get done, or you are a writer, how do you manage to get it done? Do you set goals for yourself? Do you have any tips to share? If you have a day job – I would think it would be a whole different ball of wax…
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Julianne is giving away a copy of When a Stranger Loves Me to one lucky winner. Please leave your e-mail with your answer to her question :)