So between books, I had this very good plan. Clean out my office–I mean clean it–files, books, old papers, old manuscripts, notes, office supplies–well you get the point.
And then once I had streamlined the operation, I would move the kids out of their small bedroom into the larger room that was my office. They’d outgrown their shared space, and I was willing to downsize to accomodate them. It all was so magnanamous of me. (Mostly because to go down to the smaller room I would have to get new office furniture. Oh, poor me. Have to go shopping.)
So I dumped a recycle bin full of old notes and handouts and papers. I got rid of probably 100 books. Cleaned out old office supplies. The mismatched envelopes, the jumble of papers, the odd power cords, the broken scanner. And I was feeling so good about it. Downsizing was good! Packed up the rest, painted the office, and moved the kids in.
Then all I had to tackle was cleaning their room, paint it and move in. Sounds easy, huh? After all, I’d just knocked out painting a room for the kids in a Saturday… Then I met my Waterloo. Their room proved to be my Chapter 7. I had to clean and clean the walls. Patch the walls. Remember, room that once housed 2 boys. The paint slid all over the walls, necessitating 2 gallons of Raspberry, not the one I’d planned. Another trip to Home Depot. Another coat of paint. Then another. Another trip to Home Depot for primer for the rest of the room, having learned my lesson from Walls A and B. C and D are going to be Pineapple Fizz and I wasn’t going to let this Fruit filled haven of mine turn into my own personal Smoothie from Hell.
My two days of cleaning and painting have turned into 5. And here I sit, with a half painted office, no furniture and working on the dining room table, surrounded by boxes. And last night, as I was peeling back the blue painter’s tape and the paint was also peeling like a banana up the walls, I wondered at my sanity. I mean, what was I thinking? All this hard work, and I was behind schedule, the Behr paint was being a real bear to get up on the walls (and to get it to stay there) and I just wanted my old office back. My old life. Change was not the golden ticket that I thought it was going to be.
Right then and there I realized how much I have learned by writing books. Books take months to write. They take planning, they take inspiration, they take sweat equity to get through the tough parts. AS I said above, I’d hit Chapter 7. The smack middle of the book where the story stops looking appealing, the characters annoying and the story nothing but a pile of jumbled ideas that make no sense.
And so I did what every writer does when they hit that point. I got up this morning, took a deep breath, and remembered why I’d wanted to do this so badly. Because the boys needed the space. Because I wanted to clean out and have a smaller haven. A spot in this house that was my girlie bit of heaven in this land of men that I live in. I remembered that bit of inspiration I had in April, and that wonderful feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know you are on to something. So with a roller in hand, I put up the primer I hadn’t planned on, and continued to say good things to my new office.
Ah yes, the infamous Plan. Be prepared to be dazzled, awed, shake with fear in your creative boots. I know I did when I committed to doing this. And now it is your turn.
I suppose you might like some background on “The Plan.” Well, I’d write my books and my husband would ask, “When is it going to be done?” As in, are you going to make your deadline, OR how much longer do I have to spend the weekends with kids in tow so you can finish that $#%^$ thing. You get the idea. And worst of all, my books would be late. Weeks late. Not a good thing. Never a good thing in publishing.
So last fall while the Dh and I were out at dinner and I was fussing about the tight deadlines Avon wanted from me, he offered to help, because this is what he does for a living. Big project management. How hard could getting me on course be? If ever a writer felt the cold hand of death on her shoulder it was me. I mean how could this go well? The last thing I wanted was my writing to be was managed by my husband. But in the interest of marital well being, I agreed. Oh, his project management heart sang with joy. And thus was born The Plan.
And I have to admit, it works.
So without any further ado, let’s get started.
1) Get out your calendar. All of your calenders. Work, kids, family, domestic slug who interferes. And then print out a blank calendar from Outlook. Or get yourself your own writing diary. Take a good, honest look at everything. When do the kids have school holidays? When are going comitted to going to your cousin’s wedding? Vacation? Work projects that will keep you at work longer hours. Now mark off every day you WON’T be writing. This is were you really need to be honest. And no “I’ll make up the time in October.” Believe me, you won’t have the time.
2) Now count up the days and approximate hours you’ll have to write. Again, be honest. Even though I “write full time,” that never means a 40 hour week. More like a 10-25 hour week. Because I have small kids who need to be chauffered. Constantly. So you have to be very honest about the time commitment you can make.
3) Now factor in how many pages you know you can write in an hour. Now this is where it will get tricky. Because last fall I told Terry, without any hesitation, I could write 5-7 pages an hour. And I can. When it is all mapped out and I am rolling along. On a good day. What I failed to factor in, and had failed for years to consider, was the time I spend pre-writing. Sitting down with what I have written and my outline for the story and mapping out the next 20 pages, the next 10 pages, the next scene. Oh, yeah. That time. After five months on The Plan, I made the wretching discovery that my actual page production was 2.8 pages per hour. Not even a full three pages. Remember that cold hand? Feel it now?
I know, I know. Honesty in writing. Such a novel concept. But you have to be very honest about your process to make this all work. And I’d been kidding myself for years because I never counted the plotting and planning and prewriting time as “real writing.” But it is as much of my process as the time I spend tapping away on my Alphasmart.
Since you probably can’t get as accurate as I finally did–the only way to start off is to give it your best guess, and then track all your time and pages in the next few months and you’ll have you per hour rate.
4) With all that in mind, consider how you write. I burn though a first draft, and then, on average spend 8-10 weeks revising and reworking those pages. Going through about three full edits before I am satisfied with the book. Some people like to write along and edit as they go, so that when they get to The End, they are truly done. So when I look at the calendar and start to map out the time I need, I start in December and start counting back. So I need to be done with the draft by the end of September. Between now and September 30th, I need to get about 300 pages written. Not perfect pages, just get the story down and written in a cohesive fashion.
4) Now, let’s put it all together. Open up a spreadsheet, or draw yourself a chart. In the first column, (DATE) put every Sunday between now and December 1st (or whatever deadline you prefer). In the second column, (HOURS) using your calendar, commit to the number of writing hours you can make for that week, and in the third column, (PAGES). Now make three more columns, under the heading ACTUAL. This is your check in. You have to log in what you actually got that week, and the moment you start to fall off, you have to catch up. That next week. No ifs, ands, or buts. I make myself get up an hour earlier until I am caught up. Believe me, that alarm going off at 5 will really motivate the pages out of you so you can sleep in the next week.
And there it is. The Plan. Simple, straightforward, yet horribly daunting. But be not afraid. Just get your Plan together. And share here what are the things (or people) that keep you from writing. What obstacles stand in your way over the next 6 months? Come on, be honest here. Unload your excuses so we all can myth bust them together and get focused on writing.
It was time for a big update at ElizabethBoyle.com. My site had been up and running for nearly 6 years without very much tinkering and like my office at home (which I am also redoing–pictures coming next week!) it was time for more than just paint and new curtains. It was time for an entirely new approach.
So I decided to make my entire website revolve around a blog. This blog.
A friend emailed me this week and asked a good question. “Why a blog? Are you crazy?” She went on to remind me of the one the thing I’d said in the last few years about blogging: time spent blogging could be time spent writing.
And she’s right. Or rather, I was right when I said it. Time spent blogging is time that could be spent writing. But in the last year, I’ve sort of found some balance in my writing life and starting reading blogs when I had a chance. And I was hooked. So when I decided to redo my website, I decided I wanted to build the new site around the blog. To make my website more interactive, to give readers a chance to have a voice on my site, as well as for me to have an open and running dialogue with writers, readers, booksellers and anyone else who wanders by.
Other writers are building communities with bulletin boards, and group blogs, but I tend to like coffee with friends. BBSs are too busy for me and group blogs–well, I tried it once and didn’t like it all that much. I knew what I wanted to do–chat and yak and gossip with my good friends. Share the news when I get it, not once a month in a website update, and hear what you all have to say.
All this, while starting a new book. And school letting the kids out. And my office all in boxes as I rearrange the house.
As I said to my friend who called me crazy, “Of course I am. But I’ve got a Plan.”
Next up: The Plan
Right now I am starting a new book. I have the go ahead from the Powers in New York, and I’m itching to start writing again. I haven’t written a word since the first part of April when I turned my last book in–well other than the proposal for the next one and the blog entries here and on my other blog, Knit the Stash. Oh, and the content for my new website. So perhaps I have been writing, just not on a book.
But anyhoo, I thought I would share the process with you and if you are just starting a book or have thought about starting one, we could have a write-along.
My process of writing a book works for me (usually) and, like many other writers, is filled with the little rituals and trials and benchmarks that move me from Page 1 to The End. In a nutshell, I’m going to walk you though the prep work (which I’ll start talking about today), the notebook, the pre-writing I like to do, extra research, working out our writing schedule (or as we call it in our house, THE PLAN), the actual writing, revisions, and then the celebration when it is done in December. Yes, December. So if you are game, let’s get started.
I actually like starting a new book. I have this entire ritual about getting a book going. First and foremost, I get a composition notebook out and ready. I started using lined composition notebooks a few books back and I love them. I used to keep all my notes on notecards, but discovered that I like having the notebook for my WIP because it is easier to carry around than a bunch of loose 4×6 cards. With all your notes in one place, you always know where to look for that idea you had for Chapter 7.
So that is your first assignment. Get a composition notebook. You can find these at Staples or even your local RiteAid or Target. Grab one, and all you have to do for now is put a working title on the front (Mine is When A Star Falls), then write your name and email on the inside cover.
Inside this book will go every bit of notes, research, character ideas, names, pre-writing, plotting, scene notes, dialogue bits, revision notes, and anything else that you need to remember about your story or characters. So make friends with your composition book. It will be your new BFF for the next few months. Inside those pristine pages will go your scattered thoughts, moments of brilliance, and if you are like me, highligher and lots of red pen as I scratch out things that aren’t working and begin brainstorming for a new ideas. But all that anxiety can wait for the future, say like September, when our Deadline starts looming in the near horizon. Right now the book is new and shiny and perfect. And don’t let anyone point out that is because you haven’t written a single word.
Whew! After all that work, all this anticipation of the words to come, I think I need a latte. Besides, I need to get geared up for making The Notebook.
So what is your working title? How do you like to start planning your writing project?
When I sat down to write this first post for my new blog, I realized beginning a blog is much like beginning a book. You sort of sit there and try to think of something brilliant to open with, something to dazzle the reader, then you realize that probably won’t happen right out of the chute. So you start writing anyway. That’s when you know you are a writer. When you grant yourself the hall pass to write something less than brilliant and just get on with the story. Because if you sat and waited for inspiration, that “Aha!” moment, you’d waste a heck of a lot of time. Lines that shine like gems, perfect pieces of witty, searing dialogue don’t happen when you haven’t even had a chance to finish your first coffee or your computer is barely booted, they happen after your fingers have been flying over the keyboard and your focus has finally let go of the laundry and shopping and the [insert your own form of nagging here] that follows each of us around.
In other words, when you get down to the business at hand and just write, then the good things start to happen. That isn’t to say editing isn’t also a huge blessing in disguise. As is rereading those pages the next day after you’ve had a chance to sleep on your ideas. But those are discussions for another day.
So I suppose you want to know what I am going to do here. My first hope is to entertain, as it always is when I sit down to write. I know I am not writing the great American novel that will change the face of a generation. Heavens, I don’t want that responsibility. It is hard enough to write a book that one hopes will make people laugh, some people cry (because honestly, not everyone is as prone to tears as I am–which is why I have banned myself from taking Debbie Macomber books on the plane) and for anyone who needed a break from life, a few hours to escape. I write fiction that is meant to be read, enjoyed and then, if you liked it enough, you tell everyone you know to read it, including your mom, aunt, BFF, coworker–oh, you get the point.
So how do I plan on entertaining you here? That is the big question. I won’t be able to help myself, I’m going to talk about writing. Nuts and bolts advice about getting words together and those pages down. And I currently plan on doing that at least once a week. So if you are an aspiring writer, or just curious about “The Process,” make sure you subscribe to my feed.
So you aren’t a writer. No worries. My interests range far and wide outside the writing world. Luckily for you, you missed my recent American Idol frenzy. After that, there’s celebrity gossip, which I am a bit of an addict. And then there is my other notorious addiction: All My Children. What was that kiss with Krystal and Derrick? And this new Greenlee? I’m not sure yet. Music, movies, pop culture, movie stars that now seem to be half my age. Not that I consider that a bad thing.
If you don’t like AMC or any of the above, there’s always whatever I am reading. Currently on the nightstand: Mary Reed McCall’s book, The Templar’s Seduction, and after that? Lara Adrian’s Kiss of Crimson. I’m not usually a vampire girl, but the first book, Kiss of Midnight really caught me up. And I’m a sucker for a good series which this promises to be, though I have a hard time reading vampire books after sunset.
So there you have it. The beginning of my blog. Maybe after all these words, the better question would be, what would you like me to blog about? Burning questions about writing? How Paris Hilton will ever endure 23 days in jail without her Blackberry? Did Zach sleep with his ex to give her a baby? What do you do with too much rhubarb? Let me know and I’ll be more than happy to put them in queue. But don’t forget to subscribe over there in the sidebar!
P.S. Happy Birthday, Mom!