Twice a year, I go up to the mountains and hunker down in a cabin for a couple of days. I bundle Zoe into her carrier – yeah, she hates that part – and with luck, talk one of my writer friends into the car, and we all head to higher elevation. It’s not a huge percentage of my life. Six or seven days out the regulation three hundred sixty-five, at this point. (And no, I don’t get any extra time during leap years.) It takes budgeting during the rest of the year to make these trips possible. The sacrifices are worth it, however, to achieve the goal: to write. Sure, I write at home. I can’t get all my writing done in six or seven days. Sitting around in a rented cabin with no other point to the time but to write, however, helps me to focus. I can’t clean. The cabin comes already prepped, and part of the fee includes someone else doing all the laundry and mopping the floors after Zoe and I and whoever else I’ve dragged along leave. The day job and bills and grocery shopping and allergy shots and vet appointments and car maintenance and prescription refills and home repair and yard work and everything else that makes up my middle class existence stay at home. It’s amazing what I can get done in what, all tolled, amounts to no more than a week.
This time, I finished my fourth book.
Okay, that’s not strictly true. For a couple of reasons. My first “book” is only 45,000 words, and so properly falls under the classification novella. None of my books have gotten published, so they might still undergo big changes before going to press. The current work still needs editing, desperately. I changed my mind about the initial conflict about halfway through, so I have to rewrite that part of the novel and comb through the narrative to change all the subsequent references. I may have left a subplot unfinished. Oh, and I need to trim my word count by about 10,000 words. (Hey, I’m improving. My second novel needed almost 60,000 words chopped. Don’t ask.) But the basic structure of the book now exists.
Writing a book is a lot like building a house that way. The thing can look completely finished and still have months of work left inside. You’ve got to make sure there’s enough light and heat, and a little cover on the rough spots. You want to patch the holes so the structure doesn’t leave anyone cold. The size and shape of it might not change, but if you don’t make the inside of your little world a livable place, no one will ever buy it.
People ask me sometimes, “How long does it take to write a book?” The answer is, “It depends.” My first
book novella is called Six Years Later, and that’s exactly how long it took from first word to last. (Complete coincidence. I thought up the title when I started writing it.) My second work, my first full-length book, took a year. At that point, I thought I had figured out the process, and I’d get faster each time. Lie. The third book – my first mystery – took at least five years. I might have mixed some kindness in with the math. It might actually have been six. I took time to figure out mystery writing, to re-write my second book with help from author Amy Reichert (whose new book The Coincidence of Coconut Cake just came out, hint, hint) and to lick my wounds when the second book didn’t immediately enchant any of the agents I so generously shared it with. I started the fourth one in April and didn’t know how long the current saga would take.
Answer? Four months and two weeks.
Why the time difference? Using the mantra I discussed in the last blog – “I can fix that later” – helped considerably. I just wrote. I knew all the things I’d gone back and fixed with Book #3, so I didn’t worry so much. I used the new laptop to write this time, instead of writing things out longhand as I’d done before. Writing longhand sometimes helps jog my creativity, but writing on the computer keeps me more in tune with what I’ve achieved on a day-to-day basis. I made a point to write every day. In the beginning, I aimed for five hundred words a day, and sometimes it felt like wringing the last drops out of a washcloth that had already taken a trip through the spin cycle. As time went on, however, I found that the writing came easier. Writing a couple hundred words at a time felt achievable, and if I did that after dinner and then again just before bed, I’d gotten seven or eight hundred words down each day. Were all of them gold? Certainly not. Sometimes I’d go back the next day and erase every single one. In general, however, I tried to let the words rest overnight and read them the next day, to find out whether they really did stink or if I had judged myself too harshly in the moment. Lots of things look different a day later. Oh, and getting away from my normal vista helped immeasurably. Even getting away just a couple of days a year made a difference.
Thanks to all these tips, at the moment, you could say I am done with Book #4, and I am not done with Book #4. Somewhere, Schrödinger’s cat is laughing right now. (And a good thing, too. After spending its life in a radioactive box, it deserves some chuckles.)
Once again, I feel like I’ve learned something. Here’s hoping I really have, and that Book #5, whenever I get to that, doesn’t take another six years. I’ve achieved the lightning-fast average of a book every four years, and I don’t want to ruin it.
Kimberly will write more blogs, now that Book #4 is done. Well, you know, not done done, but, well, done.