Michelle Answers A Writing Question

Posted in Uncategorized.

Elsewhere on the Internet, I was asked a question.

How many books do you work on at once?

And how long did it take you to go from one book to two?

Since the answer to the first question is two, I’m going to concentrate on the second question.

When my kids were small, they were–no surprise to parents anywhere–very very work and time intensive. The 24/7 nature of very young children made writing a chaotic mess and an act of hopeful desperation. I had deadlines, and we needed the money from meeting them. But infants do not understand this. They don’t understand that money keeps roof over head, among many other things.

So, when the kids were young – and until the youngest was about eight – I wrote one book at a time.

I had two series, but I worked on one book at a time.

When the youngest was about eight years old, and the oldest thirteen, I had more time. The time itself crept up gradually, but – the desperation, the constant state of emergency, faded. And I realized, one day, that I … had enough time to actually get writing done without weeping at every (constant) interruption.

That, in fact, I probably had more than enough time. Like, maybe too much time. So I thought: Hey! I can just write more words and finish this novel faster. This would have been ideal.

But in trying this I discovered that my writer brain doesn’t think or work this way. So I might write 1500 words in 2 hours, and then write another 1500 words – but those words would take 4-5 hours. My brain, and my book, slowed to a crawl. If I wrote more than that, I would wake up the next day and just … stare at a blank screen and everything would be difficult and slow all of my writing day.

My natural assumption that more time = more words was proven, by experimentation, to be a faulty assumption.

But… I still had time. So at that point, I talked to my husband about either working more outside of the house or possibly working on more than one book at a time.

He was not terribly optimistic about my ability to work on more than one book at a time. I was determinedly optimistic. But optimism doesn’t get books written on time and to deadline, and also, it causes a mess for everyone involved in the process (i.e. editors, publishers) if the optimism is unwarranted.

To test this, I didn’t want to have a project whose failure could lead to those problems. So I wrote – entirely on spec – a novel while writing a West novel at the same time. If I could do both without confusion, then I could, in fact, work on two concurrent projects.

On spec was wonderful, as there was no pressure. There was no deadline. There were no expectations. It was just me and the book in front of me. And I wrote the West novel in the mornings (as I do when things are some semblance of sane here) and then that on spec experimental book in the afternoon.

I finished both books. Well, to be fair, I finished the on spec book first.

But I discovered a few things about writing two books at the same time. First: if it took me six hours to write 400 words in one book, I could switch and write 1500 words in an hour. It wasn’t that I was having a bad day and it wasn’t some sort of writer’s block – it was my hindbrain halting things on one project.

Second: When drafting, I could work on both projects until I crested the final hill that lead to the ending of one of them. At that point, that book – the one that was now on the end stretch – demanded all of my internal writer brain.

But: I finished it. And then I started the Cast novel, while working on the West novel.

The one thing that this does not take into account is the rest of the publication, or pre-publication process. I find it very difficult to revise and write new words at the same time. The mental space is entirely different, and when revising, I’m trying my best to hold the entire structure of a book in my head. So: writing new words and revising old words was not optimal.

But to answer the question: If I started writing novels in 1987, sold the first in 1989, and saw it published in 1991, my working on two books didn’t happen until 2006. So, pretty much two decades.

And here I will add the usual disclaimer: This is my process. Every writer’s process is different. There are writers who cannot work on two books at the same time. There are writers who will skip between multiple ideas–books, stories. If I can do this and you can’t, the only significance is: that I write this way and you don’t. It’s not about being better or being better organized or etc. It’s about how your brain processes both stories and structures.

6 Responses to Michelle Answers A Writing Question

  1. Karen says:

    Thanks! Love the insights into the writing process as well as the fruits of your labours (however they appear).

  2. Andrea Smith says:

    Michelle, Sorry to leave this message here. But I’m still having problems subscribing and receiving notifications. I contacted you over a year ago when there was a problem with the website.Someone from tech support e-mailed me with instructions, which I tried. I keep getting this message

    There was an error when subscribing. Please try again.

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    I’m at a loss and disappointed I’m missing your posts. I’m wanting to fan girl and cyber stalk like the rest of the club.

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