I finished my latest book this weekend (DIAGNOSIS: DADDY, Silhouette Special Edition, August, 2009). At around 9 p.m. Friday, I typed the words, “The End.” I’ve been worthless ever since.
Almost every author has a different process of writing. I know at least one who gets up every morning, dresses professionally, goes to her office and works an eight-hour day complete with coffee breaks and lunch hour, taking off weekends and holidays.
I hope it doesn’t disappoint you to learn that I’m not nearly so disciplined.
I’m a binge-and-purge writer (not an original description, I heard it from someone else). I can go several weeks without typing a word on my work-in-progress. Part of that is pure procrastination; writers are notorious for trying to find anything to do other than write. It’s not that we don’t love our job; it’s just so darned frustrating/exasperating/heartbreaking/mind-blanking/add your own description here. Characters won’t cooperate, ideas that seemed so clever at the onset suddenly either go south or dry up entirely, we find ourselves under or over word count, we worry that the editors/readers/critics won’t like what we’ve done. We spend too much time hunched over computers, resulting in neck/back/arm/wrist pain, eye strain, weight gain. It’s not a hard job when compared to so many others — but it has its own challenges. And other things just seem more fun than sitting down to work. Doing laundry. Dusting behind the refrigerator. Going shopping (my own guilty temptation I have to resist).
I once read that a certain writer’s agent had to lock him in a hotel room and refuse to let him out until he finished a book; I think that story was told about Douglas Adams. I can’t be sure if it was even true, but it sounds believable to this binge-and-purge writer.
When I’m between projects, I read the books that pile up on my to-be-read pile. Before I was published, I read all the time. Three or four books a week, easily. I reread my favorite books over and over until I had them almost memorized. Now I find it harder to read just for pleasure, for several reasons. When I do start a reading “orgy,” I tend to read four or five books all at once, finishing one and immediately picking up another. I don’t read as many new authors as I once did; I find it hard enough to keep up with my favorites. There are lots of times when I miss just being an avid reader.
Even when I’m not actually writing — I’m writing. In other words, the next story is always at the back of my mind. I live with the characters in my head, slowly get to know them, play out possible scenes between them as I lay in bed at night. Sometimes I have two or three stories building in my mind at once; the next book that’s due and then connected books, perhaps, or an idea I’m letting develop slowly for a future project. I’m constantly filing away mental notes based on something I read in the paper or see on TV or overhear out in public (I’m a shameless eavesdropper and people observer). Sometimes I write those notes down in one of the notebooks that is never far from my hand (there’s one in my purse, one in my car, at least one in every room of my house); usually I remember ideas that seem particularly workable.
Eventually, of course, I have to get to work. Deadlines approach (and bills start arriving) — and, well, I like to write. Most of the time. I’ve said before that I tend to create in my recliner on a laptop computer, with music playing in my ears and a cup of hot tea close at hand. I like to be comfortable; when I come home with a comfy new pair of “jammies,” my husband teases me about buying new work clothes. During those first few days — or weeks — on a new book, I don’t get a lot done. I’m still getting to know these people, still trying to decide exactly what they want and what’s stopping them from achieving their goals. I’m still easily sidetracked. I give myself a daily page count goal, but don’t often make it at first.
As a deadline approaches, or when the story really takes hold of me, I can spend twelve to fourteen hours at the computer (eating over the keyboard, taking breaks only to check email or refill my tea mug). Laundry piles up, dust begins to settle, meals are of the take-out or freezer variety. During the last week or two of each book, my family has resigned themselves to accepting that I will be distracted, inattentive — and maybe just a little cranky (no comments here, kids!).
During those last few days of completing a book, I find it difficult to sleep. I work until late, fall unconscious, then am up at daylight with the driving need to get back to the computer to finish the story. I’ve been known to type “The End” at one in the morning, after being at it since 6:00 the morning before. Crazy. But that’s the way I work.
After finishing the story, I’m aching, tired, brain-fried. I have no idea whether what I’ve written is good (though I always hope it is); by this point, I’ve lost all objectivity. The idea of starting the next book overwhelms me; how can I possibly go through all that again? Some people point out that I’m “only” writing romance, so how challenging can it be? I often wonder if those skeptics have ever actually tried writing a complete book. On a deadline. For a living.
I always tell myself I’m going to write the next book differently. I’ll get up at a reasonable hour, dress professionally, work six to eight hours with coffee breaks and lunch break, relax and read during the evenings and weekends, and produce a set amount of pages per day so that there’s no risk of being late or rushed at deadline. DIAGNOSIS: DADDY was my 94th book, and I haven’t managed that sensible schedule yet. Maybe the 95th will be different …
I’ll start writing my next Special Edition in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’m working on another project that’s been developing in the back of my mind for several months. A somewhat different idea for me. Exciting, but intimidating. As I said, I’m always a writer, even when I’m not at the computer. At this point in my life, I can’t imagine doing anything else.