Next to “where do you get your ideas?” the question I am most asked is how long it takes me to write a book.
That question is asked a variety of ways. Some people, when learning I’ve published more than seventy novels, seem to believe I walk into my study every morning, press a button and a new book shoots out of my printer as I finish my first cup of coffee. Writers struggling with their own books want reassurance that someday their own books will be finished. Readers hungry for more in a series or simply more of my writing want reassurance I’m working hard enough.
The honest answer to the question is this: A book takes as long as it takes. Some come quickly. Some take years of starts and stops, hair-pulling and foot stomping, far too many moments of elation and despair.
And the truth about that? The hardest to write are not necessarily the best. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises took barely two months to write. Nobody’s complaining about the finished product.
Writing is hard work. So is not writing. In the past few months I’ve done a lot of the latter. Here’s how that’s gone.
Before I turned in No River Too Wide I brainstormed the next book in the Goddesses Anonymous series. And since that time?
- The story has percolated.
- New bits and pieces have magically appeared to round out the ideas I took away from BSing.
- New insights into the lives of the characters have appeared to me
- Characters from past books have stopped by to give me their thoughts
And finally? Finally, last week, almost five months after that brainstorming week, I sat down and wrote a nine page proposal for my editor, explaining who the characters were, how the story begins, what the major conflicts are, the most important plot points and of course, the ending.
Five months went by. I could have done this four months ago, or even immediately following my brainstorming session. Instead I let it sit while I finished No River Too Wide, moved back to Florida, had knee surgery, worked on my new website (coming soon) and responded to and checked/rechecked final edits of River. By then my editor was ready for the next book and I was ready to begin it.
Did having those extra months to consider the novel help? Was I aware of the story at every given moment? Making mental lists, constantly trying on new backgrounds for characters? Truthfully? No, I wasn’t.
But every once in a while something major would occur to me. I would read a piece in the paper that reminded me of one of my new characters, and I would deepen my perspective. I saw several items online that encouraged me to go in a different direction in one important place in the story. I paid close attention to anything in the news about an issue that affects the story. In short, while I wasn’t consciously thinking about the novel at all times and in all places, it was still simmering on the back burner of my unconscious, growing tastier, meatier, and more complex in flavor and texture.
Writers all work differently. This is is my way. Now I wait for my publisher to decide whether they want this novel or any novel. In the meantime the story is no longer simmering. Now it occupies a front burner. My editor likes it. I like it. Most important I think you’ll like it. I’m ready to write.