I get fatigued with stories quickly. I power through the early stages of a book as though I’m on cocaine. Then I start to mellow out and after about three weeks I’m bummed out that it’s taking too long to write, that I’m not writing as quickly as I was at the beginning, and the story isn’t fresh any more, and I’m starting to see the flaws in the story. I know exactly what I need: a distraction, something that is the opposite of what I’m writing right now. Conveniently, I have a half-written book that was put on pause last year because I didn’t know how to finish it. But, now I do know. So I should go and work on that for a bit. Nothing too serious, just a couple of days if I can manage it. Maybe a week. Or two weeks.
And then I run into a problem. The ending I originally had is no longer appropriate. The characters have evolved and wouldn’t fall for such a simple finale as what I had in store for them, and I’m stuck. I don’t want to go back to the story I started last month, because I still don’t know how to finish it. Luckily, I have another half-written story lying around, and I just figured out some key element that would make it read a lot better. I should work on that for a couple of days. A week, even. Maybe two.
Somehow, this process continues, until I have the most epic of awesome ideas, and I must right this new story NOW NOW NOW. And I do, because the now now now story is so intoxicating that I get carried along in the rush of things. And because I don’t actually have a career yet, I can write for my own pleasure, so I have no penalty against me if I drop a half written book in favour of something that excites me.
Believe it or not, this time last year I had eleven works in progress. These were not short stories, but full blown novels. I have managed to complete five of them, but having eleven in the back of my mind was something of a juggling act. I knew exactly where I left off with each of them. I remembered the characters and I remembered the problems I had in dealing with a resolution. I bounced between all eleven, writing here and there, and managed to get the ball rolling enough to finish seven of them in the year, and begin two afresh.
Like I said, it’s not the ideal way to write a book, but it stops it from becoming a struggle of impending doom. If I focus on just one thing, nothing would get finished. If I allow myself some options, then I’m not concerned if I’m stuck on Book A, because I have a pretty good idea for how to move forward with Book B.
I know it’s nuts. But, writer’s rarely choose how they are able to write, they just stumble onto a process that works for them, and they are usually aware of how ridiculous it is (like only being able to write in a café, or only while standing up, or in the attic during a thunderstorm). This is just how I write – in complete chaos!
Editing, though, is a much smoother process. I start editing a book and I see it through to the end with no distractions. I can sometimes see the jumps in writing as I’ve taken a year or two off between one chapter and the next, and it’s up to me to now polish them as though I wrote the whole book in one sitting.
So if you’re ever curious, I tend to write the first draft in 40 – 50 days of actual work. That would probably be 15 days straight, then a few months off while I’m working on something else, then another 15 days straight, then more months off, then a final push of 15 days to reach the finish line. The first draft may have taken a year to finish, but the actual daily count isn’t too shabby. It’s also good to know that I can write four or five first drafts in a year. The downside is that now I have to edit four or five first drafts, twice, before I can let other people read them, and while I know I can write a gargantuan number of books in a year, I tend to forget to include the editing process in my thinking, which bums me out because I end up either with two or three good books a year, or five shitty ones.