Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Post Where I Explain My Crazy

So, remember that time yesterday I finished writing the first draft of a new book I had started exactly a week before?

Yeah. I remember that time. So do my fingers. And my wrists. And my incredibly messy house.

I never know quite how to explain these things. I am aware that I make writing look a bit like MAGIC. I sort of wiggle my fingers and POOF! A NEW BOOK EXISTS! Which is true, sort of, and also very not true.

Most of the time writing for me is work. It's work I am passionate about and that I love, but I have to carve out the time for it, I have to set goals for myself so that I actually meet them, I have to make my friends hold me accountable. Like any self-employment, it's about discipline, and most books, most writing, most editing is a force of will. I will finish this chapter. I will have a completed manuscript done by [x] date. I will do another read through even though I never want to see those pages again.

ENDLESSLY was a hard book to write. I was not in a happy place, and I did. not. want. to write Evie's rather perky voice. So I set ridiculous, insane word count goals for myself. I made Shannon Messenger and Scott Tracey, two author friends, have competitions with me every single day so I would have an external motivator. I needed to write the book, so I sat down and I wrote the book.

And you know what? It's probably my favorite of the three. There are parts of that book that are magic. And even if it didn't feel like magic while I was writing it--it felt like a whole lot of work--the magic found its way in anyway. When I was listening to Neil Gaiman speak last fall, he said the days when everything flows and the writing is easy and the days when everything is hard and he has to force it all look the same in the finished draft. (Of course he said it more eloquently and with that accent and that hair, so please just imagine it that way.)

In the comments of the last post, Gennifer Albin asked, "Do you feel like you refilled your creative well when you just let the voice drive you? I'm hard at work on the book I owe my editor, but it's slow going and frustrating, and there's this other book that keeps popping into my head. I keep wondering if maybe I need to write it to remember why I like writing, because navigating sequel-writing is proving frustrating."

I honestly don't know. I don't usually allow myself to cheat with other ideas. When you are slogging through a difficult sequel, pretty much any idea sounds more appealing. I think it's because a new idea is pure potential. Sequels have a good deal of pressure associated with them, and you're working in a voice and a world the rules of which you have already established. There is less room for the sheer giddy PLAY aspect of a new idea. But I know myself, and I know that most of those ideas I think would be so much more fun crap out at about twenty pages.

But this time something happened that made it impossible to work on the sequel I was writing that day. (It was a traumatic event that ended up being fine, but left me really shaken and unwilling to deal with the themes of that book.) I needed to cleanse my palate, so to speak, and so I wrote the sequence that had been playing in my head. And I knew that this idea, this voice, was probably going to be one of the magic ones. So I let myself go crazy.

But not too crazy. Because I knew I could write it fast, and that I wouldn't be taking too much time away from the things that should have been slated before it on the work calendar. If this book had been a matter of committing months, I would not have pursued it. I would have taken notes and tucked it away. Fortunately I know myself and I knew that I could chase this, that it would be worth it, that losing myself in the mad giddy rush was okay because I would not be lost too long. I knew I would be cranky and obsessive, I knew when it was over I would crash. I accept it as part of my writing process, just as I accept those books that take consistent, determined work.

So, I don't know what to tell you. Sometimes taking time away from a project can refresh you and let you go back to it excited. Sometimes it can remove you even further from it and make more difficult than ever. Sometimes the writing is magic, and sometimes the writing is work, but our job is to put in the time we need to so that when it gets into the hands of readers, it always reads like magic.

No pressure.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I Have No Words Left for a Title

So, in the week since I last posted I went ahead and wrote a book.

You know. Start to finish. A whole book. One of those things.

It's number ten for finished drafts. Ten books. Wow.

You will excuse the choppiness of this post. I wrote 60,000 words in seven days. I need to go to the store and stock up on some more; the word cupboards are quite bare.

I don't say this to brag. It's crazy, even for me. Only two of my ten manuscripts have been written comparably fast--PARANORMALCY and MIND GAMES. Both came to me in a deluge, the stories spilling out as fast as my fingers could manage.

SUPERNATURALLY, ENDLESSLY, Isadora's book, and the sequel to MIND GAMES I was working on (before this story descended like a swarm of locusts onto my brain) all took significantly longer. I had to set aside time to write. I had to force myself to plot, and work at it, and be disciplined enough to choose to get the writing in instead of napping or watching television or sitting on the couch staring at the wall.

But sometimes I get an idea and a voice that demands I do nothing else, and I have learned to oblige. My kids get to watch a lot of movies, and my friends ask if I've been sick, and I do not sleep and I forget to eat and the days pass in a mad blur with one foot in this world and the other foot in a world that exists only in my head.

Have you ever tried to stand with one foot shoved into your own head? IT ISN'T EASY.

Anyway. Now comes the crash where I sink off the story high and begin to wonder if I was out of my mind to think it was as special as I felt like it was when I was writing. I have pages of notes on what I already know needs to change, and I'll start at the beginning and read through and make those changes and hopefully find something magical.

This all has to be done quickly, of course, because locust-swarm-books are inconvenient things and I have copyedits for MIND GAMES needing to be done and a few other very pressing projects waiting, not to mention the book I am actually supposed to be drafting right now.

I used to do a sum-up of books when I finished. I'm not sure how to do that with this one. It's a strange book. I hope it will be the Mysterious Fourth Book of my most recent deal with HarperTeen, but you never know. All I will say is:

Howl's Moving Castle + Pride and Prejudice.

Plus imperialism and sexism and romance and a mathematician heroine. Do with that what you will. I will be over there. Asleep.