I had a book due a couple of weeks ago. I may have lamented that here. In fact I’m sure I did. It’s the fourth in my Horngate series, titled Blood Winter, so I’m well acquainted with the characters and the world, and yet somehow I had a horrible time translating that on to the page.
I started with some ideas of what exactly I wanted to have happen. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how those things could possibly connect. It seemed like they were too different and too unlikely to intersect. That made planning hard. Make that pretty much impossible. I’m usually somewhere between a pantser with no plans at all, and a plotter, with detailed plans. In other words, I usually kind of know the high points and figure I’ll get there somehow if I start writing.
Not this time. I could not make a plan. So I started writing. And it was slow. Now a lot of that had to do with life stuff and work stuff and health stuff and there’s just no getting around some of that. But it was also writerly resistance. I had a tough time bringing myself to write on the story, much less do more than a few hundred words at a time. I dug into some cool research, which although it didn’t end up being a primary focus of this book, will no doubt make it in elsewhere because it is worth using.
Here’s a fact about me. I work great under pressure. There’s this amazing thing that happens when I know I have a deadline and I know how much work has to be done. Suddenly I get motivated and just get going. It doesn’t matter if I know what I’m going to do or not, the lizard brain gets to work on its little hamster mill and suddenly things start happening.
The deadline approached. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t get myself working and again, life/home/work stuff. I got an extension. That was for March 15.
Now here’s a secret. On March 3rd I had about 40K words written on a book that needed to be around 90K. And the deadline was the 15th. You do the math. And I wasn’t going to miss a second deadline. I just wasn’t. I didn’t like missing the first one and come hell or high water, I was going to get this book done. I had spring break and another part of a week and two weekends. So I started writing. The pressure head kicked in and I wrote. And wrote. In those twelve days I wrote 55K words. And the book was done.
Now the big question is, were those good words? I think so. I had a beta reader zip through them and got some positive feedback. But in the end, it doesn’t matter if the book is broken. I can’t fix and unwritten book. I can fix what’s at least visible to me.
This was exhausting. But all my life/health/work issues faded beneath the desperate need of writing. I got words out and the story wove together. It was successful. Jay Lake tends to write his books very quickly, just like that. He says he does this because he can hold the whole story in his head and get it out before bits of it get forgotten. I totally get it. I’m just not sure I could do that without a pack of frothing mad dogs chewing my ass.
I would never recommend leaving more than half a book to the last minute. It’s not a good way to write a book.
Unless it is. And the fact is, without having that pressure to get it out, I’m not entirely sure how long it would have taken for me to get it out. Now that has to do with state of mind and that whole life/health/work stuff. Everybody’s different. Hey! I did Nanowrimo in 12 days! Better than I usually do in November. But anyhow, my point is just this. There’s no one way, or even one good way, to write a book. You do it in the way that works at that moment. Period. Over an out. The only thing for certain is that you have to get your butt in your chair or in front of your computer or in front of your notepad and do it. One word at a time, one day at a time, and if you leave only 12 days to write 55K words, then you didn’t plan well.