Monday, December 10, 2012

Writing leaner and meaner

As we gear up for the release of Nobody's Damsel, I'll be the first to admit that I wrote it in record time, and I understand if that makes people nervous. Whenever I see an author start to churn out books fast, the quality always seems to go down. Also, in the world of indie writing, there is a lot of pressure to write fast. The bigger your shelf of work, the more copies you sell overall, even if you don't sell all that many of each.

This is not my strategy.

When I researched indie writing and the market norms, I did take note of how some people release a novel a month and suchlike, and that got me thinking about my writing process. I have no desire to churn out volume for the sake of writing volume, but I did wonder, what inefficiencies could I cut from my writing? These are the ones I found:

- I could stop worrying so much about word count and whether the book was the right length. The book should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story. Hence when Damsel came in short, a mere 60,000 words, I decided not to panic. Previously I would try to jam in another 20,000 words of subplots or something. That was a mistake, it bloats the book, and it slows me down. It's unnecessary. The events in Damsel take place primarily over the course of one week. The plot is tight and focused and there are no subplots in there just for the sake of having subplots. This book didn't really lend itself to more than a couple of subplots, given the structure of the story. The novel I'm working on now looks like it may be a long one. Again, I won't stress about it being too long.

- I could write the books I want to write rather than obsessing about what I should write. If I'm writing the book that I can't stop thinking about, I am much more productive every day. For the novel I'm working on right now, I've exceeded 10,000 words a day on several occasions. Those aren't 10,000 words I'll keep, but they're still nice big chunks of novel that I wouldn't be able to produce if I was working on a project I felt I "should" write.

- Along those same lines, I could devote more back-brain daydreaming to my plots, as that's where my novels germinate. Whenever I attack a novel cold, it's difficult and takes a ton of drafts. If I've worked much of it out in my mind beforehand, it goes much faster, and I'm also learning that the books that captivate me are the ones that captivate readers. My enthusiasm comes through. Now I have an excuse to daydream every waking moment!

- I could just keep going from book to book rather than wasting time after the end of each project to see how well it sells and beat myself up. If a book doesn't sell well, I assume this is much easier to deal with if I'm sunk into writing another book. It gives me something to look forward to and less time to dwell. Hence, no more time-wasting breaks between projects.

- I could spend less time wallowing in self doubt. My books are all a little quirky. Each one has at least one major element of absurdity. When I was shopping Someone Else's Fairytale around to agents and publishers, they all thought (and rightly so) that a chick lit novel with a hot actor and an abstinent honor student was just weird. It doesn't fit in the marketing category for chick lit. But I can either write this quirky stuff, struggle with de-quirking my stuff purely to please other people, or not write at all. I used to do a bit of option 2, but from now on I'll be sticking to option 1.

Now here's what hasn't changed:

- My obsessive rewriting and redrafting. There are barely any first draft words in any of my novels. I rewrite like crazy, tearing out 40,000 words or more sometimes. While it may seem obnoxious of me to give my own books 5 stars on Goodreads, I don't mean this to tell the world I'm just so wonderful. It's to tell the world that none of my projects go live until I put in 5 stars worth of effort to make it the best it can possibly be.

- My setting my own deadlines. This is one of the huge advantages of indie writing. No editor/publisher breathing down the back of your neck. I can release the novel when it's ready, not when it meets someone else's production schedule. Hence, one novel might take four months and another eight. I'll set a deadline once I know for sure how long the project will take, so every time you see a new book cover go up on Goodreads and a preorder button pop up on my site, you can rest assured that the novel is most of the way done and well into the editing phases, so it will release on the promised date. But there might be some long gaps without new covers popping up, because it's not worth releasing a book until it's the very best I can make it.

- My interaction with fans. While I now have less time to spend babbling away on Twitter, I always respond to personal tweets and messages and emails. If someone takes the time to reach out to me, they deserve a response, and if they've taken the time to read my book, they deserve a personal thank you. I do know authors who've gotten so famous they can't afford the time to respond to all their fan mail. I don't bother worrying about this happening to me.

So, yes, Damsel will be out a mere four months after Castles on the Sand. This isn't because I felt like I had to get it out this fast. It's because I got to write it that fast. I gave myself more freedom to write as many words as I wanted and to polish it exactly the way I felt it should be. While it'd be great to produce a novel every four months, I make no concrete plans to do this. At all. My books will continue to release when they're ready, but with a few tweaks, I now can make them ready a little faster.


  1. Your article speaks to me: it IS time to stop obsessing and just get on with the job in hand, and I shall think about your methods when I'm next obsessing about word length etc.

    Good luck with Nobody's Damsel. Sounds awesome.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I wasted way too much time caring about superficial things that don't serve the story I'm trying to write, and it feels *so* good to put all that aside.

  2. I really liked what you said about not de-quirking your stories. We must write for ourselves first. If WE love and are intrigued by our story, chances are good that other people will be as well.

    My current WiP, for example, has had my Inner Critic (his name is Barney) screaming his head off.

    But as I've been writing, I've felt like a reader watching the story unfold. It's a wonderful, thrilling, though often harrowing process.

    All of the reasons you cited, in fact, are sound. Write as quickly as you write. As long as you're putting in a solid effort each day. I know of one writer who puts out a book every couple of months, but he also writes 12 hours per day. Same hours, just less time. Although you do make a good point that a story needs a certain amount of time to germinate. I agree.

    Ultimately, each writer is different, and each book is different. Go with whatever works for you.

    1. True words! My internal editor doesn't have a name, but I have to understand that she's mean to me, not just my work. She's the voice telling me it just isn't worth trying, so I have to pick and choose what advice of hers I listen to.