Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Writing Process

I didn't have to do it. No one has a gun to my head. But I wanted to know-could I?

In January, I sent off a proposal to an editor...now, I don't know if you know anything about the book business, but a proposal can takes months for a busy editor to read. (I have a full manuscript on an editor's desk going on 12 months now...which reminds me I need to give them a jingle-see where it is in their process.) I figured I had plenty of time to write the complete 60,000 word book.

Then nine days ago, I got a letter in the mail...this editor wanted to read the full-if it was written, of course...could I send it? Right. Well, it wasn't written. I had 10,000 words and I had already sent her those. So, I was remembering last month's post on the creative process and Dean Wesley Smith's blog on writing fast. I thought, okay- I can do it. If I write 20 pages a day for the next ten days I'll have a rough draft by the 9th. Then I'll take four days to revise and polish and I can have this sucker off to her in 15 days. That editor won't even know it wasn't written.

20 pages a day for 10 days - straight. Dean Wesley Smith said- it's easy- do the math...how many pages can you write in an hour? For me that's between 5 and 10 depending on the scene. He goes on to say- then simply times that by the number of hours per day you'll need to make your page count. Huh- so 2 to 4 hours a day is all. Technically- if you think about it, I should get up to 80 pages in an 8 hour day. It should be a walk in the park. Bravely, I dive in. The synopsis is written so, really, all I have to do is follow the outline, I tell myself.

Day 1- fast typing and done! Day 2- fast typing and...done. Day three- typing...and...done. Day four... Can I talk about the physical challenges? I don't know why but writing a story is like shoving a knife in your gut and spilling your innards out on a page. Yeah that painful- you have to mentally tele-port to the place where the story is and hold it while your fingers type. I don't know about you, but my back and bum start screaming-then go numb. My wrists, fingers, neck and shoulders do the same. It is as if you've got blisters on your body- All I have to do now is sit down in my chair to experience pain-agony and a punishing sort of endurance-which I imagine marathon runners feel at mile 10. But logically, it's only four or five hours in a chair for goodness sakes... right? Day 5- I keep going...but have to take long hot soaks, aspirin, yoga stretches. The energy it takes to keep going is like a hot wire in my hands...I can't turn it off. I stop sleeping. I keep writing. Why? Because I'm about the most stubborn person in the world. I want to be able to brag I did it. Day 6- I am awake at 2 am, thinking about the other proposal I sent off in January- for another book I haven't written- a 90,000 word book...Crap- what if they want to read that? Day 7- my editor sends galley's for Dream Man- 400 pages to read and proof... noooo- I am on a mission. Fine- will add galleys to 20 page a day madness...my left eye starts twitching. Day 8- two rejections in the mail from agents for thriller- one form, one nicely typed by assistant-both saying-not right for us at this time. Mental editor starts whispering I'm a hack. Eye won't stop twitching-now left arm starts to twitch in opposite rhythm to eye. Day 9- must write...must finish galleys... living on coffee and pain killers... back at desk.

What Mr. Dean Wesley Smith didn't discuss in his math is the creative process. If you have ever written a full book, you have discovered your creative process. Here's mine: I LOVE the first two or three chapters- love turns to boredom about the next three chapters but I press on, then something happens that I think is cool-so I am in love again- then I hit the second doubt wall- the "this book is going no where...it's all been a waste of time" wall. I press on. Things pick up...okay- close to the end- then the Wait! I'm going to finish before the word count wall- the where did it all go wrong wall- the are you kidding me-just finish the darn story wall... ignoring said walls, I go on until I type the end and when I reread- I think-huh, it's not as bad as I thought when writing it.

That's a lot of emotional turmoil-but I've learned that happens with every book- every darn book for me. I know a best selling author who writes three endings for every book-then turns in the first every time. She thinks it's her way of letting go of the story, the characters-her creation. It's her process.

Here's the thing--writing fast does not change your process- what it does is compresses the process so that you are slamming into walls once or twice a day- day after day... I have become comfortably numb... in other words a babbling idiot outside my office. My family has been feeding me, taking me by the hand, patting me on the head... lots of funny looks and there, theres... finishing of sentences...concern for eye twitching... whispers of taking me to see "someone"...

One more day to go...that is after I write 20 pages today. What have I proven? Nothing really- except I'm stubborn...and perhaps half mad...but I think those are two qualities you need to be a writer in this mad, mad, mad world.

13 comments:

Carrie Lofty said...

Your stubbornness is inspiring. And so are cat butt faces.

Jessica said...

OH my gosh! LOL I hear you with that doubt wall.
If you come out of this alive, I'm seriously going to send you some chocolate. Wow. Good luck!

Nancy J. Parra said...

HA! Yes, Carrie, Cat butt faces are inspiring!! Thanks for the laugh.

And Jessie- thanks for the offer of chocolate. I think I may need it... ;)

Marilyn Brant said...

OMG, Nancy! You are incredible and amazing, and I'm SO PROUD OF YOU that you pushed through and did this!!!! I have absolutely no intention of trying it myself (there's truly no hope...), but I can't tell you how inspired I am by what you accomplished!
p.s. Will you be at tomorrow's meeting??

Morgan Mandel said...

When you have an opportunity, you need to grab it by the horns! I don't blame you for going for it, and I know you will succeed!

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Justus M. Bowman said...

I applaud your insanity.

~Sia McKye~ said...

It's a hard thing to sit in the chair and do it. When my creative muse is on, this is how write to begin with. I hit enough walls and break through them that I'm numb, hell I could go head to head with the guys in the reality show my son loves about demolition of buildings using their bodies.

It's a tough road to write fast, but also very rewarding. I wrote 100k in 6 weeks and 90k in about 4. Now my time is rather tight so I've taken a bit of a break. I know I'm due to go at it again. I've got a new book with the first two chapters done, but because it's a series, once I had a feel for the two strands of the story, I've been working on the underpinnings of it. But the muse is starting to yell, so it won't be long before I'm in the chair again for a month or so, everyday writing on it...

Keep us posted on how it goes with your marathon project...:-)

Pamala Knight said...

Dude, you lost me at the line that said 20 pages A DAY for 10 days. That is like WTF creativity pouring out of orifices that we don't even want to mention now. WOW!! I'm stubborn but maybe my stubborness has ADHD because I could NOT produce anything that couldn't be called plotless drivel in that space of time (I take quite a bit longer to produce my plotless drivel, hee!).

You rock babe. I bow down to your magnificence.

Nancy J. Parra said...

UPDATE:

Book done- book done- book done!

55,000 words with "the end." written after.

Thanks for all your support and friendship. I'm going to crawl in a corner now... close eyes...

Visions of revisons to come dancing in my head.

Anita said...

I can hardly wait to hear what happens with this book! The writing of it is a story in itself.

I once told an agent something about how I have another book started which might take my career in a different direction. Of course she then wanted to see the first three chapters, which I hammered away in much the same way you did...I'm still waiting to see if she wants to see the rest of the book...if she asks for it, I will be returning to this post for inspiration. :)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I'm impressed! You did it! I don't think I could have stood the pressure. Way to go!

Jane Kennedy Sutton
http://janekennedysutton.blogspot.com/

Martin Powell said...

Awesome, Nancy. Awesome.

Howard said...

Wow, described perfectly! I tend to marathon write and know exactly what you mean. I would rather work out at the gym for the same length of time--I would be less tired and hurt less!