I Hate My Process

on January 22, 2009

I am the bane of my own existence.

Rocki had a post the other week about her process and how it’s evolved after writing 20+ books. I just finished the revisions for book #11 and I did an all-nighter because I was late. First, I’m going to be 40 this year. I didn’t think about it until Jan 1, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m going to be FORTY. I’m too old to stay up all night. I took the kids to school Wednesday, came home and crashed until I woke up barely in time to get the kids at school.

I had plenty of time to write SUDDEN DEATH. Months. So I hemmed, hawed, and revised the first 120 pages a half dozen times. I wanted it to be perfect, after all it was my tenth book. I should know more now, I should write cleaner, tighter, better. I had two great characters (Jack Kincaid and Megan Elliott) and I had two great villains and I just loved the premise.

The book was NOT working. I was stuck on my initial set-up, that Megan and Jack had a past relationship. But every time I put them on the same page, it did not work. They did NOT know each other. But this was my premise, dammit, and I would not give it up.

Flying back from Thrillerfest, I saw that their past relationship was the fatal flaw in the story. So I deleted everything but the first chapter and speed wrote a completely new book. Same story, same characters, same villains, but without that past relationship. It worked. I turned it in right before RWA — yep, just under three weeks. But it was a rough draft and I told my editor it was rough and that was fine why? Because we had plenty of time!

My brilliant editor came back with a great revision letter. We talked, in fact, while I was at RWA and I started revisions there. We planned on two rounds–the second would be the details. Why? Because I always, always, always seem to write two completely different books for every book I write. My editor never knows what’s going to happen, who’s going to live or die or even when they’ll have sex or meet or separate. The first round of revisions took twice as long to write as the first draft. A full month. Then the second round took two weeks–really minor stuff, but whenever you make massive changes in a book you need to go back and clean it up.

None of this was a problem. Why? Because we had the time. And, in fact, when that was done I had plenty of time to write FATAL SECRETS. Except for the copyedits and page proofs of SUDDEN DEATH . . . and two sick kids . . . and a sick me . . . and suddenly, I was behind. And the story sucked big time.

Fortunately, my editor didn’t hate it like I did–she pointed out the two flaws in the book (a minor plot point that didn’t work and the backstory of my heroine that was convoluted and overdone, plus some minor stuff like a character that didn’t need to be there) and I went back with the idea that the revisions would be light . . . except that plot point that I thought was minor? It changed the entire book.

Same characters. Same villains. Same story. Completely different book. Completely. I didn’t keep anything except the first chapter. But when I rewrote it, I ended up liking it so, so, so much more than the first version. My heroine was stronger, my hero smarter, my villains more evil . . . and it felt right.

I’m now behind. I won’t have as much time to pass through the copyedits or the page proofs. And I have about six eight weeks to write the next book. I can picture the first chapter, I know I can knock it out and it’s going to stay pretty much as I write it the first time. (Okay, okay, I started it last night. I know, I’m sick that way, but it’s only two pages, pretty much just setting the scene for me . . . and I read somewhere that if Nora Roberts finishes a book in the middle of the day, she starts the next. I feel like such a slacker if I take an entire day off. And I’ll probably delete them.)

But what about the rest of the book? The only saving grace on this one is that I introduced the hero in FATAL SECRETS. I already have a sense of his character and his backstory and how he’s going to react to the crime in chapter one. I think one of the problems with FATAL SECRETS was that I’d never met my hero and heroine before. They were completely new characters and I had to get to know them. But Duke Rogan is charming, funny, incredibly smart, honorable, and the most important thing to him is family. He’s the second Rogan brother (I think . . . I haven’t introduced them all yet. I think there are four, but there might be five . . . ) and the one who everyone gets along with.

And tonight I’ll be going to an FBI briefing on the unabomber. I am so, so, so excited about this because my killer in CUTTING EDGE has a little bit of the Ted Kaczynski syndrome–brilliant but socially isolated and a psychopath. I’ll be meeting one of the agents involved in the investigation. So by next week, I should be well off into the story . . .

But what’s going to happen then? Will I be fated to labor over the beginning only to realize my deadline is nearing, then panic? I’ve tried everything–the “XX pages a day” and the “XXXX words a day” and the “X hours a day” and the book doesn’t get done until I start to panic and go into what I call “deadline mode” where my productivity increases directly proportional to the proximity of my deadline.

Ideally, I would love to write 5 hours a day 5 days a week, producing 15 good pages a day (3 pages an hour–it seems so easy) thereby having my on-average 500 page manuscript done in @ 7 weeks, giving me one week to edit and clean up. Then 2 weeks for revisions. That’s 10 weeks, plus a week for copy edits and a week for page proofs. That’s an ideal world.

My world is not ideal.

When I worked in the legislature, I had a supervisor once who was an anal micromanager. If a project was due on Friday at 5 pm and would take 8 hours to complete, she’d expect me to spend 1.6 hours a day working on the project. Me? I’d look at it Thursday around 4 in the afternoon, realize that her estimate was wrong and it would only take me 3 hours, and start it after lunch on Friday. Every morning she’d nag me. “Have you started this? Where are you on that?” And I’d just smile and say it’ll be in 5 pm Friday or whatever the deadline was.

That’s just the way I do it. I don’t think I can do it any other way.

I’m going to keep a log for CUTTING EDGE and be honest with myself about how many hours and pages I write a day. I sense that I average a net 3-5 pages a day when I start a book, and that increases to 20-30 pages a day as the deadline nears. I’ll share my log when I’m done with the book. We’ll see how I do. I also have a bit of a breather because I’ll have more time for the first book of my supernatural series . . . which doesn’t launch until Spring 2010. I’m glad on one hand because it’s a new genre and it’s meaty and complex and there’s a lot more world building . . . but on the other hand, I know me. I write faster as the deadline nears. I can’t seem to help myself. I’ve been like this my entire life.

Stephen King says he writes 2,000 words a day. He sits down and that’s the first thing he does. If he gets them done in the morning, he can go do something else for the rest of the day. But if it takes him all day, or into the night, he sits there until it’s done.

I don’t have a problem writing 2,000 words a day. My problem? Deleting 3,000 the next day. I’m destined to write three words for every word I keep. No wonder I wear out the letters on my keyboard after two books . . . my poor laptop looks like it’s been beaten with pebbles, and my beautiful new iMac keyboard that I’ve only written one book on and revisions for another . . . my “s” “d” “e” “c” and “n” keys are all faded. I don’t get the “c” . . .

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

And because I’m in a relatively good mood because I AM done with the book and it doesn’t suck the big one (though I’m sure there will be people who hate it) I’m giving away an ARC of SUDDEN DEATH. Comment for a chance to win. I got extras, and so I want to share. 🙂