People are very curious about the length of time I spend writing a story. How many words? How long does it take to write something like that? Do you write eight hours a day? Do you write on weekends? In fact, “how long does it take to write a romance novel” is one of the top search terms that bring people to this blog.

It still surprises me, because after years of writing, I can’t give an easy answer to this question, and I’m amazed that people think there’s some schedule-of-events that if followed will produce a work of art. It is art, people. It’s creation. (I’ve never attempted to write a novel other than a romance novel, so I don’t know…but I imagine these questions are universal across genres.)

I’m 5,000 words away from finishing my second rewrite of a manuscript. When I say rewrite, I mean changing 99.9 percent of the words. Basically, I keep the characters, keep a couple concepts and write a brand new story. With this manuscript, I’ve don’t it twice.

Now, I know not every writer does this. Some write the first draft, set it aside, reread, make a few changes, pass it off to beta readers, make changes again, and then the manuscript heads out on submission. If it’s rejected, the writer tosses it under the bed and never skipping a beat continues with whatever new project has caught her eye.

Yeah, that’s not me. I’m a hopeless optimist. I see value in everything. I want to take another crack at it, change this scene, delete that. And while I’m aware that this mentality slows my writing progress, I’m loath to try it any other way for fear of giving up too soon.
So when you ask me how long it takes to write a romance novel, do you want the sanitized answer or the truth? Sanitized: I can write a first draft in three months—easy. Truth: I’ve been working on this current manuscript off-and-on for over a year.

See? No easy answer.

Regardless of what you write, how long does it take you to write the first draft? How long does it take you to prepare a manuscript for submission?



Telling Stories

September 26, 2011

As a non-fiction writer, I’ve always considered my rewrites to be where the “real writing begins.” I work with an outline, then write a first draft, then as I edit I craft, rewrite and try to give my piece energy, color…life.

My process for fiction has been very different. I’m not working from an outline, the story pours from my pen as I scribble onto wide ruled spiral notebook paper. The next morning I type the previous day’s work…do some light editing as I type, then print a hard copy. I forced myself not to edit or rewrite until I finished the end of my first draft, primarily because I was pretty sure that if I started doing rewrites from the first or second chapter, I would never finish.

Now as I rewrite, it’s more like hearing my father tell stories of my childhood. The story is already formed (it already happened) but he tells it with a little more flair, more energy and often more humor than the incident actually had when it happened. I think to some degree my kids would say I do the same with stories about them.

My book is like one of my kids. I gave birth to it. I’ve watched it grow and develop. And now that I’m rewriting, I’m telling the story a little differently than it “actually happened,” a little more flair, a little more energy…maybe even a little more humor than there was in the first draft.

This is not to say that my boys need me to tell their stories with more energy or flair…if you know them, you’ll know that their lives are filled with energy, brilliance and wit, and that they are all great story tellers without any help from me. No, I’m just making an observation that I think happens a lot in life. As we retell our stories (true or fiction), we often give them (whether they need it or not) more drama, more humor, more energy…

So I’m going to get back to work retelling my story (hmm, I think I like that…less intimidating than rewrites…I’m just retelling my story) and maybe this time it will be even more exciting than what “really” happened…

I’m working on the rewrites of Randi, my WIP, (I call my manuscripts by the heroine’s name until they have a title) and learning monumental amounts as I work. I’ve always loved rewrites. In fact, I’ve always said that the real writing happens in the rewrites. (I’m sure I’m not the first to say that.) Up until now, however, I’ve never finished the first draft of a fiction manuscript.

I have one draft that is nearly complete. It’s over five hundred handwritten pages. Okay, there are more like two thousand pages to Angela, but that’s because as I wrote that draft, I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, and at this point have not finished the manuscript.

I have several other stories that have made it to ten or fifteen thousand words. Again, there are thousands of words—and pages of rewrites—but no finished drafts. There is Emily, Ashley, Katie…and two where the heroines don’t have names. (I hadn’t gotten to the point where I knew their names.) They’re all in the bottom drawer of my desk. That’s where I hide my shame, my unfinished manuscripts.

So what is different about Randi? Why did I finish the first draft, and why do I believe I’ll finish my rewrites?

Two things: I finally believe I can do this, and I’m approaching this more like I did my non-fiction. In some ways approaching this project like my non-fiction has given me the confidence to believe I can do this.

Now, when I say that I’m approaching this project like I did my non-fiction writing, I don’t mean voice or even organization. As I’ve said before, in my non-fiction I outline and I know exactly where I’m going, and in my fiction I’m a total “panster.” I let the characte’s tell the story. No, what I did this time—differently from previous fiction projects and more like my non-fiction work—is give myself deadlines, and I didn’t begin my rewrites until I’d finished my draft.

I can’t tell you how difficult it was to make my pen move forward without going back. Oh, I allowed myself a little post it pad that I made notes on and could stick to previous pages, but I didn’t allow myself to do any rewriting. I kept that deadline in front of me (even though self-imposed) and as many of you know, I actually beat my own deadline…twice.

As I work on my second draft, I’m doing much the same. I’ve given myself deadlines and I’m forcing myself to finish rewrites for each chapter on time. I know my writing still isn’t perfect, but I know I’ll finish the project. Randi will not end up in my drawer of shame.

One more thing that has gotten me further this time, and I can’t say this enough…I’m taking this seriously. Because I believe I can do this I no longer feel guilty about spending my time writing and not dropping my work when someone else wants me to do something. Other people are beginning to take my writing seriously as well.

So I know I’ve asked before, but how do you keep yourself moving forward? And do you have a “drawer of shame”? More importantly are you taking your writing seriously and expecting those around you to do the same?