The editor working on my next book (I don’t like saying, “my editor,” as I believe owning another person was outlawed in this country a while back; on the other hand, I don’t say, “the woman who chose to marry me,” so maybe I’m a hypocrite about that–I’m sorry, what were we talking about?) made an interesting request this week. In an email right before she left for another continent, she asked if I would mind if the deadlines–and therefore the publication dates–of the second and third books in the series that hasn’t started yet were moved up, a month in one case, two months in another. I’d been working pretty rapidly at the revisions on the first book; she assumed I’d be able to work with the same type of speed on the others.
The reasons for doing so were all good–it’s easier for a publisher to generate excitement about a series if the books are coming at a (slightly) faster clip; it helps build momentum and keeps people from forgetting that I write book they might have enjoyed in the past. But it was an unexpected request.
I had to think about it, hard. After all, I’ve never written fiction on a deadline before.
Let me repeat that: I’ve never written fiction on a deadline before.
It’s a daunting proposition. Even the years I was busying myself with setting the Guiness World Record (and since when does a beer company get to determine what’s a world record?) for Most Unproduced Screenplays, I never had to worry about when the work would be finished. I’m a pretty fast writer, once I’m ready to write, but I’ve never had to consider the idea of a deadline before.
Later, when the Unproduced Screenplays became Published Mystery Novels, I was still operating pretty much on my own schedule. The first book was written “on spec,” as we Hollywood wannabees like to say, so it could take as long as it wanted (which turned out to be less than two months of actual writing time), and the second and third in the Aaron Tucker series were written with the understanding that the publisher would accept them whenever they were ready, which was usually pretty soon–again, no deadline, so no pressure.
The book currently being edited in preparation for publication in (get ready) October, 2007 was also written without a publisher attached; that is, I wrote it as a way to find a new publisher, assuming that the search would be futile. When I was recommended to a wonderful agent, who found a home for the Comedy Tonight series in less than a month, boy, was there egg on my face! Well, no. There really wasn’t egg on my face. I don’t eat eggs much. Cholesterol, you know. Not to mention, eggs aren’t really anything special, in my view. But I was sure surprised, I’ll tell ya.
My writing pattern is usually something like this: I get the idea for the basic plot, and after letting it cook in my head for a while (which can be anywhere from 10 minutes to five years), decide it’s time to write. I start off like a house afire (although I refuse to believe that a house on fire has ever written a decent novel), strong in my belief that this book will be done in roughly a week and a half.
Then, for reasons I’ve never fully understood, I stop writing. I never know when it’s going to happen. I finish writing for a particular day, knowing full well what’s going to be written tomorrow, and then the next day, I don’t write anything. In some cases, I don’t write another word for months on end. In others, it’s been weeks. But there’s always this huge break in the middle. So when I say that my first novel took less than two months to write, that’s accurate: the time I was actually sitting and writing was no doubt two months or less. But it was probably closer to six calendar months before I got to type “The End” at the bottom of a screen.
In other cases, the break has been shorter, and sometimes, about the same. I don’t believe in writer’s block–I always know what the next sentence will be, but somehow, I put off typing it–but it’s undeniable, and now it’s gotten to be A Thing.
So given the question, I have to wonder: can I write fiction on time? Or will the very fact that there is a deadline intimidate me to distraction? Is it possible for me to have a draft done when my contract says I must? To be fair, even if The Break were to last as long as it’s ever lasted, there would still be plenty of time before my deadline hit. Assuming I was starting today.
And I do have about two pages of material written. I expect I’ll write more next week.