Writing Life #4

Welcome back to Writing Life!

I have very little to talk about this week. I was under the weather for a little while last week, so I haven’t been as productive as I would like. I suppose I shouldn’t worry about that — after all, I’m not currently under the gun on any of my deadlines. In fact, my soonest contractual deadline is somewhere around Thanksgiving.

But note I said “contractual.” I’ve imposed some deadlines on myself that are much closer than Thanksgiving.

Why would I do this to myself? Why would I add stress to my life?

Are you at all familiar with the Bob Dylan lyric, “To live outside the law, you must be honest?” I love that bit. (I first encountered it as a kid in an ad for the Batman and the Outsiders comic book.) It basically means that if you’re going to be lawless, the only way to survive is to adhere to your own set of rules, even though no one is compelling you to do so.

Well, in my case, “To write four books in one year, you must be honest (with yourself).”

Given the sheer number of words I need to write this year, I can’t afford to let the publishers’ deadlines guide me. I need to get certain projects finished far in advance or it’ll come back to bite me in the ass later in the year. For example, the first book of I Hunt Killers isn’t due to my editor until late in the fall, but I have given myself a personal deadline of finishing it earlier than that. This is so that the Killers deadline won’t end up conflicting with anything else.

It is also so that I have some built-in float to my schedule. Let’s say something disastrous happened with my graphic novel, which is currently being drawn. Suddenly, I lose a month working on Killers because I’m working on the emergency graphic novel situation. Well, if I’m already two months ahead on Killers, then even with that unanticipated hiccup in my schedule, I’ll still be all right. But if I’m working on Killers exactly to schedule and that month disaster still happens… Yuck. I’d be screwed.

So my rule of thumb these days is: No matter when it’s due, work on it NOW. Which means working on Killers(due, as I said, in late fall) along with some other projects.

I’ve found that I actually enjoy working on more than one project at a time. I have a friend working on a series and she’s waiting to hear from her editor about the first book. Since she hasn’t gotten feedback on the first book yet, she’s hesitant to start the second one. I asked her if she has something else she could work on instead. “I considered it,” she said, “but I want to focus on one thing at a time. And right now that means this series.”

I understand and respect that position. But for me, working on two projects at once (sometimes three!) means that I’m constantly stretching new and different muscles. Believe me, there are no two books on the planet more different than I Hunt Killers and The Monster. Yet every morning I write a big chunk of words for one and then in the afternoon I work on the other. It’s really helped me avoid burning out on either one — just when I get to the point that I can’t abide putting down another word in one, the other one is there. And it’s all fresh and new different and fun, and suddenly I don’t mind pounding the keyboard a little more. It’s like getting to the finish line…and suddenly the caffeine afterburners kick in and you’re ready to run another marathon.

Quick status update for those who are interested in such things: The Monster surpassed 150,000 words the other day. I had something of a crisis of faith at that point because I realized that I’d hit a point in the book where I had to make a decision about how to proceed. I could, it occurred to me, take the story in a certain direction that would add even MORE bulk to it. The worst part of this realization was knowing that adding all this new material would make a lot of sense and not seem extraneous.

But you know what? It’s already 150,000 friggin’ words! And I still have a ways to go before I can sleep. The new material would work just fine, but the book will be no worse for NOT having it. So I decided not to go in that direction. (Future bookstore employees are grateful that the cartons of this book will now be that much lighter.)

I actually have very few decisions left in The Monster. I mapped out the endgame years ago and I only have one or two smallish choices to make before I get there. I would like to say that it’ll be strange to get to a point where I’m not working on this book (after all, I’ve been working on it for a VERY long time), but the fact of the matter is that even once the first draft is done, I’ll still have a lot of work to do on it. I’m going to be living in his book for a long, long time.

As to Killers: It’s still early days and I’m still feeling my way around. I have the plot all figured out (though a very cool twist occurred to me the other day and I’m going to figure out how to jam it in, come hell or high water!), but I’m still groping around for the voice of the characters. That’s fine. It usually takes me 20,000 or so words before I get the feel for the characters, at which point I plow through to the end, then resculpt those early words as needed. (The only exception I can think of is Goth Girl Rising, where I slid into her voice on page one…but then again, I had already written Kyra before, so that’s probably cheating.)

If you live in upstate New York or will be traveling there this weekend, be sure to check out my Travel Calendarfor two events thereabouts this weekend. It would be great to meet you!

OK, that’s it for this week. As usual, the comment form below feels awfully lonely without your words in it. Please — take pity on a hapless comment form!

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