HELLO, friends, followers, fellow writers, aspiring writers (pro tip: drop the aspiring. You are a writer), family, and spam bots. I recently posted about productivity and juggling multiple projects and multiple deadlines as well as my own ambition. I received a follow-up question by email, and I’m going to answer it here, keeping the asker anonymous.
I saw you recent blog post about juggling multiple projects and deadlines and I wanted to ask a bit more about that. So you said you have a list of projects over the next three years. Do you find that you average the same amount of time on each book? I’m still just beginning (I haven’t queried yet) so I been finding that different books takes me different amounts of time and I’m not sure how to factor that in. And how do you account for time spent revising with CPs/Betas before you send it to your agent? And did you only put standalones/first in a series on your list or did you think about when you’d be drafting potential sequels?
This is a really really good question, which is always what people say when they are about to tell you there’s no single answer or good answer.
There is no single answer, and no good answer.
I do not average the same amount of time on each book. I’ve written full drafts in as few as 6 days (The Killing Mists, which I wrote in fall 2013, and which I’m scheduled to revise next year) and as long as…well, ask me when I finish my Sarajevobook 🙂 I think that book will be one of the longest from the start to finish, but it hasn’t been continuous work. I pick it up and put it down, partially from time, partially from frustration at not quite knowing the structure of the book yet, though I know the story itself quite well. So I can’t tell you how long it’ll take me per book. Some books come quickly, and some need to marinate longer. Some I need to close myself off from the world to write (as I’ll likely do next year to revise The Killing Mists as I wrote it in isolation), and some I need to write in bits and pieces because of the intensity of the book. Because I can’t bear the weight of the book all at once.
What does speed up my process is outlining. I wrote The Killing Mists in 6 days, and The Girl with the Red Balloon in a month, and Finding Center in about 6 weeks, because I had an outline and I never dwelled on “what’s next” or wandered (too) much in the middle. Outlining works for me and it absolutely empirically speeds up my drafting process.
The important thing to know though about my outlining process is that it has not at all changed my revision process. I still end up rewriting 30-50% of a first draft, sometimes as much as 70% (as I did in Killing Mists in the first round of revisions). I’ve accepted this as part of the process, but for me, this means that my revision process is time consuming and laborious. It’s a good thing it’s my favorite part of the entire process.
As for CP/beta time before it goes to my agent, I accounted for that when we put the deadlines in. My agent is not SUPER editorial, but she’s definitely editorial and she likes to get a couple of different sets of eyes on it. So I want my books to be as polished as possible when they get to her. So I build in an extra month before she sees it that my betas can see it and I have enough time to do their suggested revisions. I always touch base with my CPs and betas and ask if they have the time first, and sometimes they don’t. In that case, I revise as much as I can, and meet my deadline with my agent.
On my spreadsheet, I did write down second and third books in a series. My second book for Albert Whitman is on there, for instance, and my adult historical fantasy trilogy is also on there, each book, labeled by series name and book number. For example, before Finding Center got a name, we called it Serenade2 (Serenade was Second Position’s first title) or District Ballet Company #2.
But importantly, you might not be at the stage yet where a spreadsheet is a good idea. Thinking about all the writing ahead of you, without getting some writing behind you, can be paralyzing. Second Position was my 10th book written. I have at least 7 novels that will never see the light of day, and that’s okay. I could not write what I write now without those books. I think of them often. They were the rungs on the ladder. I figured a lot about myself and myself as a writer while writing those books, and it was really important that back then, I tackled them one at a time. I didn’t think much about what happened in the rest of the series, which sure, led to some gaping plot holes and worldbuilding issues.
But I did learn how to finish a draft, and that is the single most important tool that a writer can have. You have to know how to finish a draft and that is something you learn. So my advice, after explaining my process a little more, is that when you’re starting off, before you query, before you look ahead and decide how to standardize your process, you have to spend a little time learning about yourself as a writer and learning your process.
My process is not a one size fits all. I think there are things that can help most writers, but I don’t think any single writer writes exactly like the next one. And even writers who are able to produce multiple books a year always say there was one book that year that took longer than expected, or that surprised them, or that they’d been waiting to write.
So you can read all of these posts, try different things to see what works for you (I tried Scrivener, and it wasn’t for me, but other writers SWEAR by Scrivener!), adopt them, but be open to change, and be open to your process. Write one book by pantsing, and then outline the next. Which worked for you? Maybe you outline, but then ignore the outline.
Remember not to let your mind be caught up in the idea of production. Your job is to create.
Good luck! If any readers have questions, please feel free to email me!
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