A writer writes, of course. Neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night…no, wait, that’s mailmen. But rather like mailmen, we must persevere, against natural and unnatural intrusions, even if Cthulu himself is bashing through the door or the Sha’Daa is scheduled for next week. Writers must write. I know a few, Ed Morris among them, who could probably hold Cthulu off by simply pointing a smoking-hot pen at him and saying, “BACK OFF! I’M ON A DEADLINE!”
A corollary to that: writers must write no matter where they are. This has been said by better speakers than myself, and all I can do is nod along enthusiastically. When someone tells me that they have to have “space” in which to write, or that they can only write at the kitchen table while sipping their morning coffee, I immediately assign the tag “beginner” to my mental file on them. This is not intended as a slam, in any way, mind you—everyone starts somewhere. As for Big Name Writers who claim to have such locational restrictions on their writing output, that’s an entirely different situation—akin to a great artist who can draw fantastically lifelike figures, yet in his later career focuses on creating puzzling abstracts resembling a five-year-old’s effort. I don’t have the words for the difference; it just is. Perhaps one of my fellow Purposefully Backwards bloggers will be able to articulate this better than I can.
Moving along and leaving the people whom I just offended to froth amongst themselves, I arrive at my point, which is to talk about the various places I have written. Specifically, where I wrote the Children of the Desert series, because that progression illustrates what I said above.
Secrets of the Sands took me about five or six years (as I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t know it would be published, so I didn’t track from the First Day Of Writing) to draft, revise, polish, revise, edit, agent, edit, revise, edit, edit, sign with publisher, then edit, edit, and edit before final publication. The agent to publication cycle took about three of those years, all told, and I’ve already recounted the story of how Secrets came to be, so I won’t bore you with that again. But I wrote that all sitting at my desktop computer, because back then I didn’t have a laptop to speak of; just a clunky ancient thing with a broken monitor hinge that my husband loaned me from time to time when we traveled together. (How old was it? Well, it took 3-1/ 2 disks. Yeah. That old.) It took me forever, even with all the time in the world available to me—I didn’t work Outside the House all that often, and I had all day available to write while my husband was at work. And yet it took a long, dreary slog to get the bloody thing to the publication point.
Mind you, by the time I started to write the second book, I had the agent but not the publisher; so there was a certain amount of overlap involved. And the second book very nearly wrote itself. I had read somewhere that publishers wanted 90,000 word novels, and the original manuscript for Secrets of the Sand weighed in at twice that (it cut down to about 140K by publication time). So I wrote book 2 very tight, very lean, and it flew out of me in three insanely intense weeks of sitting at the desk, devouring the sandwiches that occasionally appeared beside me, staggering off to bed at 2 a.m. and sprinting back to the computer at 6 a.m. (no, seriously, I did leap out of bed that early) to start on the next segment.
That 90,000 word marathon has since become two 160K books, but never mind that now. The point is that I locked my focus down and did it, and it was wildly exhilarating and incredible fun and I never want to do that again. I don’t think I got out of bed for a week after I finished that book. So I found out that I don’t want to take five years to write a book, and I don’t want to take three weeks. There’s lots of middle ground, of course, but once I locked into a contract with a publisher that middle ground became: one year. Write it, deliver it, and get moving on the next one.
Now, I’m lucky; I have a publisher who will slide timetables around and let me have the time I need to write a really good book instead of a fast one. I’m also lucky in that I have routinely been writing one to two books ahead of contract, so deadlines really haven’t been an issue for me up to this point.
Once one signs that magical publishing contract, there is a certain amount of peer pressure, if you will; an expectation among one’s readers and fellow writers and family members that the next book will be produced in the shortest possible time. That you will always, always, be working on the next one, whatever that might be. And so the landscape of location changes from my sacred single spot writing place to wherever the hell I have half an hour to finish that chapter.
When it came time to rework the second book into what later became Guardians of the Desert, I began writing on a real laptop when I traveled–or when I was ill–or when I just didn’t feel like going upstairs to my office–or when I wanted to work at a local cafe, just for the fun of it. So Guardians was written in an increasingly varied set of locations. I believe at one point I threw my back out and wound up in bed, all propped up on pillows and writing away. It was wonderful; nobody bothered me at all, and despite being in pain I got tons of work done.
By the time I started working on the first draft of the restructured book three, I’d totally gotten the hang of writing on the go. I was able to write at conventions in between panels, sometimes, or in the early morning before going to my first panel, or after I staggered back to my room at the end of the night. I wrote in hotel rooms a lot for books three and four, actually, because between conventions and traveling to visit family, I spent a lot of 2011 on the road. At one point, during a trip to Florida, I booked a hotel room for two nights just so that I could get away from my family and write several chapters on the latest revision of book three. They thought I was nuts. I got the work done. They still think I’m nuts. I have a book I’m really proud of. I call that a fair trade-off.
I wrote at least two intense chapters of Fires of the Desert while sitting in airports waiting for my flight. I wrote at the dining room table. I wrote in bed a lot. On at least two occasions, when we lost power at the house, I went to the nearby Panera and wrote for hours over endless cups of coffee and the occasional pastry. I wrote in the car (with my husband driving) on the way to and from conventions. I wrote during meetings with my beta-readers; whenever they questioned or commented unfavorably on a section, I asked them to wait for five minutes, whipped out a couple hundred words by way of correction, and read them the new version to astonished applause.
Because of the way the book revisions and restructuring have been overlapping, I haven’t written a book a year. I’ve written two books a year, when you untangle the process. My typing speed is way higher than it used to be, mind you, after that much practice; and the books have largely been revisions of existing drafts (I was working on book four, in truth, before we started tearing book two apart). And I didn’t have an Outside Job last year.
Still. I couldn’t have done all that if I’d stayed in one place to write. It’s not just the laptop; it’s the attitude that I have to write, and I’m going to write wherever I am, that’s made the difference. And that’s a positive example of peer pressure if I ever saw one, because I am by nature the laziest creature on the face of this planet (except, perhaps, for my dog Shadow, also known as “that big black puddle in the sunny spot over there”). It’s only through meeting people like Ed Morris, whose output and drive truly shames me into insignificance, that I’ve set the bar for my work so high–and begun working harder than I ever have before in my life, in ever more varied and occasionally bizarre locations.
Because a writer writes, and neither travel, nor family, nor the dark of power-outs, shall stop us going about our appointed duties…