How Long Did It Take?

Image of cactus and typewriter from Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

“How long did it take you to write that book?”

This is something I hear from people often. They ask how long a book took to write, and regardless of what you tell them, there’s usually a nod and an unspoken understanding. What they take away from the answer depends on what they’re really asking. Sometimes they ask out of curiosity, but sometimes it’s because they’re trying to decide if their work is worth trying to complete. Sometimes they’re judging themselves for writing too quickly or too slowly for what they see as a standard speed.

Let me just take a moment to say: it doesn’t matter.

The speed of your first draft does not determine how good it is or whether it’s worth publishing. You can take thirty days or thirty years to write it, and it will still need to be edited, proofread, and formatted. It will still need to be shopped around to publishers, reviewed, and marketed.

One of the things I love as a reader and as an author is that every book has its own story from inception to landing in your hands. Sometimes its been written in fits and starts over decades. Sometimes it was trunked, or buried away somewhere and abandoned, before being dusted off and given new life. Sometimes it’s written in a month and given a few months of editing before being published. All of these methods are completely valid and absolutely normal. There is no right speed for crafting a book.

Do you know what every book has in common? It was finished.

Now, I don’t mean it’s perfect because there is no perfect book, but it is pushed as close as it can be before being allowed to fly on its own. Art is all about striving for that impossibility, for making the story match the pictures you have in your head, but it will never completely match up, and that’s okay. As long as you can create a similar story in the heads of your readers, that’s the real win.

So to all those people working on a book slowly over time, or to those hopping from one partially finished manuscript to the next, remember that finishing it is the only real requirement. Even thirty minutes a day, or even a week, is all it takes.

You can finish it, I promise.

Tough Decisions

A few weeks back, the weekend before KamiCon in Alabama, I found out that a good friend of mine had passed away. I had been friends with her for over 10 years, but we still kept in touch. We would encourage each other on writing and talking about work that we loved. She had fallen in love with my work in progress, The Seeking, that she even offered to beta read it for me. Outside of my close family, I had never had someone offer that. It really gave me motivation to continue and I kept her in mind whenever I struggled with how to proceed in the novel.

When she passed, my work on The Seeking came to a halt. My work on it came in fits and bursts, and I just couldn’t get anywhere with it. Thinking of the novel made me think of my friend, and I struggled with working through the already complex plot line.

Today I finally sat down and forced my way through. I wrote through the tough scene that I had been struggling with for weeks and finally got the plot moving again. It was hard. The words didn’t want to come, and since it had been weeks since I worked on it, the characters and their motivations weren’t as clear in my mind as they had been before. I thought of my friend’s disapproving face at allowing her death prevent me from writing a novel that she knew would be good, and I just kept going. It’s just a draft, I reminded myself. If it’s down on paper, I can at least work with it. And I knew I wanted to finish it. I had to finish it now. She would have been horrified if I had stopped writing on this because of what happened to her.

Here’s my progress today, and I think she would have been pleased with where it’s going.

Project: The Seeking

Each Seeking, the magic that protects the city of Carra must be renewed, which means the children of the High Family must go into hiding. Whether it be through disguise or bribe, through trusted friends or perfect hiding places, every child of the Priest family must avoid capture for the full day.

When things go wrong with the renewal, it’s up to seventeen-year-old Dahlia, the middle child of the Priest family, and her girlfriend, Bisa, to escape Carra and find the magical beings responsible for the protection. They must learn who would require such a cruel game to be played every year and if the protection of the Gray People is really worth such a deadly cost. What they will discover is far worse.

THE SEEKING is a YA dark fantasy novel

Words Written: 2,155

Current Word Count: 41,604

Escaping the Safe House. Sometimes the monsters outside are safer.

Next Up:
It wasn’t easy getting out the door, and the next steps won’t get any better.

I finally got past the halfway mark for this novel! I can’t believe it. It’s got a long way to go before it’s done, but I think it’s going to be quite an interesting ride for our characters. I don’t even know how they’re going to get to the ending yet. As a part planner and part pantser, I like to let the story dictate how it finishes itself toward the end.I have an ultimate goal in mind, but other than that, the characters get to decide.

I’m grateful for my little book of monsters. I think it’ll be very useful moving forward…

Stuck in a Plot Bind

Much like your characters, you have to be creative and resourceful.

On the drive home today I had a brilliant idea of where to go with my story. I realized how I could make the villain more of a character and less of a stereotype of a character, and I discovered how I could move the plot forward. Although I write some of my best stuff as a “pantser” (read as writing by the seat of your pants), it’s always tough when you hit a road block in the plot. You know where you want to go, but the street signs are blurry, the road is full of fog, and you’re not sure that this road is even in the right cardinal direction.

The only way out of a trap like that is brainstorming. Much like your characters, you have to be creative and resourceful. You have to think about your supporting characters and how they would react, what they might know, and what they don’t know. For this particular plot bind, I thought of where the villain might be at this point in the plot while one of my MC’s was sneaking about. And that lead to not only a fingernail-biting scene, but to a major character development in both the villain and the MC. It’s always nice when things wrap up well like that!

Terry thinks he’s being cautious, but he might as well be walking around with trash can lids tied to his feet. Brakkis terrifies him and then shows him something that completely blows Terry away.

Summary: Leekston is an unassumingly quiet southern town, but it hides many secrets. An unusual government entity that studies the strange supernatural activity in the area is only one of many. Six years after the incident at the Kayak Hills subdivision, Suzie once again must protect her family from the creatures of the night and help to prevent a bloodthirsty werewolf pack from tearing her friends and family apart.

Project: The Secrets of Leekston (Working)
Deadline: April 2012 (Updated Deadline)
New words written: 2,578
Present total word count: 55,970

Total Word Count for 2012: 3,740
Photo by Emily Barney

Writer’s Block: Subtitles please

What is your favorite foreign film? Do you think there should be an American remake?
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Horseman on the Roof! And Amelie: the ultimate troll film, though Horseman is by far my favorite. I just love the period way that they deal with disinfecting cholera – fire to the hands! I end up showing that film to all my friends eventually, and I’ve never heard a bad comment about it.

Pan’s Labyrinth is really high on that list as well, just because the special effects and fantasy/horrific world are an incredible combination. I watched people walk out of the movie theater for this, until the guy got his face graphically smashed in with a glass bottle. That made them turn around to see more!

And no – no remakes are needed! These movies stand up just fine on their own. =)

Scenes are not “Set in Stone”

It’s been a busy, busy weekend.

Yesterday I ended up having to recuperate after a late night watching Fellowship of the Rings on Blu Ray Saturday night. It was lots of fun, but by the end of it we were all wiped. So yeah, no writing done yesterday, but I did have a kind of “eureka” writing moment last week.

I’d reached a mental block about my original novel (Suzie’s Nightmare) in how to rewrite the first chapter. Then I found an interesting idea that got me inspired to figure out how to do it. One day, when I’m a famous author (haha, I know, get the laughter aside now…), I loved the thought that the biggest challenge I would have to deal with every day would be problems that characters would have in my books. That’s it. The hardest, most stressful problem I would likely be plagued with on a daily basis.

Sure, there are definitely things associated with that problem that could make it even more stressful. I’m sure when J.K. Rowling was trying to write her final book, she had quite a bit of stress regarding the characters and the storyline. But for me, compared to the daily trials and tribulations of work, such a problem seems far better to deal with. Fictional characters in a world entirely controlled by me. Then I realized, that the mental block I’d come to regarding my first chapter was exactly that problem.

That was the thing I was truly stressing over, the step that was preventing me from being able to re-write that section for my first readers. This was the ultimate problem I was saying would be wonderful to be my only daily stress – so why was I holding myself back? Why was I preventing myself from moving forward with a novel I certainly want to see in paperback one day?

So with that mindset, I found the courage to brainstorm this scene which I had mentally “set in stone” before, and was able to see a new scene for it. A new environment. Even adding a few characters that will need to be weaved into the plot for the entire book. But I felt that adding them will add a new level of intrigue for the book, and add another subplot/foil for my heroine Suzie.

Once I was able to get past my initial fear of changing it around, I was able to move forward mentally. Last week I sketched out outlines for several new characters that will need to be introduced, but will also be quite useful in the following books as well. Including the 2nd book which I’m working on at the moment. Once I get my Lucius Big Bang out of the way, I’ll write my quick Zombie Bang piece, and then leap back into Book 2 of my series. Maybe I’ll take a few minutes to re-write Chapter 1 of my first book as well. But I’ll certainly have a lot more confidence this time.

After all, they’re all my characters, and I can do whatever I want with them. Isn’t writing wonderful?