Monday, April 12, 2010

Tick tock

I read an article last week about Nicolas Sparks, who started his most recent novel this February 17th and needs to have it done by May to keep it on schedule for getting it published this Fall. He says he’s not happy working under such time constraints, but he can get the work done. I’ve heard of people writing a novel in six months before, but three? Then again, it’s Nicolas Sparks.

My point is, my only completed book took almost seven years, and that was just for the first draft. Granted, for the first four years almost nothing was written. The characters’ names changed, even the most basic elements of the plot changed, and only a few threads remain that identify it as the original story (the prison scene at the beginning is one of the only parts that has been included from day one). Only when I was a senior in high school did I begin to make any sort of real progress on it. By my first year of college, a definite draft was coming together (previously I had only had a collection of scenes without transitions, or the first chapter written over and over again). And by my third semester, I was about two thirds of the way through. That New Years, my resolution was to finish a draft by the end of the year. The draft was finished by the end of February.

It’s funny what a little momentum can do. Once I knew where I was going, nothing could slow me down. The next couple of years were spent revising, but that was much more sporadic and happened in fits and starts.

I sometimes wonder how fast I could turn out a book if I had nothing else to do but write. No social or professional obligations, no life stressors, just me and my computer. In my experience, though, this hasn’t worked very well. It used to be something of a joke to me that every summer vacation in high school my writing would stagnate. No matter how much progress I had been making during the school year, once I actually had the free time to sit down and burn through a major portion of the plot, writing was suddenly loathsome to me.

I’ve overcome this to an extent, but it still remains true that I want to write most when I don’t have time for it. If I were on a deadline, like Sparks is, and the thing that I didn’t have time for was not writing, but other life obligations, I’m not sure how I would rise to the challenge. As this is probably not something I will ever experience, I may never know. Could I write a complete novel in final draft form in a year? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be very good. My plotlines change gradually over time. I revise them based on the people I meet, the places I go, the things I read. If I had written Arylle in high school, as I had hoped to, it would have been a very different story. And it would have been almost unreadable.

My point is, I don’t see any good reason to rush a story (unless you’ve got a six-figure contract to, as Sparks probably does). It will be told in its own time, and it will probably be better for the pace.



drea moore said...

you know... it doesn't work that way :( I wish it did. I've been reading a lot of authors' blogs and some talk about 1-2 books a year and holding down a day job. Life will always be stressful. There was a breakdown of the proceeds from a best-seller (forgot the name of the author, it's an old post on Nathan Bransford's blog) that stated, after taxes and all she made 24k from a bestselling novel (this includes an advance). I think we take more time with unpublished novels because we can. It's nice taking it slow. But I think, especially with last year's Leafkin as an example, you'd be surprised what can be achieved on a deadline. Authors do have flux with deadlines, however, as a few posts on Magical Words indicates. And with editors... the responses seem quick. There are also agents who do some revising... depends on what you like and need.

I think the author changing too much over the years (we all change, right?) can be detrimental to the story. A story, to me, is best when it is in snap-shot form. Sometimes too many changes of approach/idea concerning the manuscript throw it off kilter, and make the project a little too vague because there are too many paths it could walk. This, I think, has been my largest problem with my first projects. I love them, but they are too scattered.

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