Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Typing the 10K

Every time I start a new project I go through the same panic. That same sick feeling of dread and insecurity, that same voice in my head that asks: "What if the previous book(s) was just a fluke? What if I can't actually DO this?"

At first I thought it was just my second book blues - and boy did I have a dreadful case of them, probably not helped by the fact I was going through a lengthy and horrible divorce.

But despite the fact that I've now written and published three, soon to be four, novels there's still that anxiety whenever I start a new one that I won't have what it takes to pull it off again.

I heard the incredible Laurie Halse Anderson speak about writing a while back, and it gave me comfort when she talked about finding the right tools for each book.

I've kept those words close, because for me they're so true. When people ask me about my "writing process", the honest answer is that it changes with every book. There are certain things that have evolved and are consistent. I've learned to try to write the first draft as quickly as I can - I aim for 1,000 words a day when I'm in the first draft stage. I've started trying to outline more or at least write a synopsis - something I had to do for the books I've sold on proposal.

Today I hit the 10,000 word mark on my latest WIP, the one I'm calling The Funny YA for now. I'd been struggling to hit my 1,000 word a day stride on this one, partly because of family craziness and partly because it's told from four POV's and it took me a while to get a handle on the voices. But in the last week, as I approached the 10K mark, my characters started to come alive. And they started misbehaving, the rotten miscreants. I went back and looked at my outline and realized that they've already deviated in a big way, but I like where they're taking me, so I'm just going to hitch a ride for now and see what happens.

Looking back, it's about this point - I think it was 11,000 words - that I realized that I needed to completely rewrite WANT TO GO PRIVATE? from third person to first person. Something wasn't working, but the minute I made that decision and started rewriting in 1st person, the book came alive and suddenly I figured out a structure that made sense and added tension and suspense.

During my Second Book Blues phase I used to feel really bad about myself, because I'd hear about authors getting three book deals on a two page proposal. (That was back in 2006. Maybe things are different now.) But I need to write to figure things out. I spend a lot of time researching, thinking and taking notes before I start writing. I can try to make outlines. But it's not till I get my butt in the chair and struggle through those first ten thousand words that I have any idea where the novel is really going.

This is the one thing that's consistent through all my books, and I've learned to accept and embrace it as an essential part of my process.

How I end up getting from the 10K to the end is a another story, which I'll save for a different post.


  1. Reading this is a wonderful way to start my day, Sarah! We work alike! Second Book Blues - oh, how I feel you!

  2. 10K is a good mark. It feels like you're INTO the book, and you can start striding a little more breezily, right? Until you get to that middle muck. Is that just me? Great post, Sarah!

  3. No, that's not just you, Melissa! I'll probably having another post around 35K words where I'm crying and pulling my hair out and saying, "This is what happens when you write like I do and are hopeless at outlining and you let your characters run amok!" :-)

  4. Sarah, I'm the same way as I write. I figure things out as I go. Great post! And, Melissa, I'm with you too. Once I hit the middle, it's like I'm going through molasses.

  5. This post was very helpful for learning your style and how a potential novelist (possibly always potential unless I get off my a** and start writing) could approach the process. I'm sure every writer's writing style and timetable are different, but this is very useful and makes you seem so organized and deliberate, which is a different side of you I hadn't thought about. LOL Congrats on the 10K and all the success of the first 3 books! You go girl!

  6. I can't remember who said it, but there's a great quote: "A writer is someone who has written TODAY." Get yourself one of Nike "Just DO IT" posters and put it above your workspace ;-)

    Whenever I get asked about writing process I always make a point of saying something to the effect of "this is my process, your mileage may vary" because it's like voice - every writer has to find the one that works for them, and as I said, my process with each book is different, other than this one common theme that I have to write my way into it. I don't want anyone to think that because I've had a few books published my word is gospel for how it's done. It's so intensely personal.