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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Writing Life


In a perfect writing world, I would write up a pristine outline incorporating all the required elements. I would then proceed to write my first draft over a couple of months at which point, upon finishing, I would set it aside for a month. Clear my head. Take a breather. After that, I would read through my work, make notes and then revise at leisure, pouring over every nuance, word, piece of dialogue and character motivation, spiffing it up until it shone like a…uh…well, something shiny.  Ahh, the writing life.

In theory, it sounds so wonderful. In reality…well, in reality it can be an entirely different beast as I discovered while completing my first manuscript under a publisher’s deadline. I had six months to write and revise a manuscript from scratch, about half the time I had been taking. I started chanting, “Failure is not an option.”

Things started fine. I had a great idea, breezed through my outline and started writing. It was awesome! At least until the original plot idea decided to implode one month in. Deep breaths. No problem. I can do this. Failure – still not an option.

I revised the idea. Re-outlined. Re-wrote. Reverted to the fetal position while hyperventilating into a paper bag when the second outline fell apart in spectacular fashion. Another month lost. Four months left.

Back to the drawing board. I pared down the plot. Did yet another outline, buffed up the character motivations and conflicts. Started writing. Okay…this is good…this is working…this is…total utter crap!! Ack!




I bypassed the hyperventilating and went straight for the wine. Major changes were made. Three months to go. I made up a writing schedule to determine how many words I had to complete each day to leave myself time for revisions.

I told my husband to remember me fondly and I would see him again after my deadline date.

I typed like a woman possessed, finished the first draft and jumped into revisions. Realized halfway through revisions I’d made a fatal error. Banged my head against my desk until my husband suggested a brain injury would not facilitate the process. He also suggested putting in a car chase despite the fact the story takes place in 1876.

I fixed the error and kept going. Three weeks left. I wrote mornings, lunch hours, weekends. Then, two days before my deadline I had a major epiphany. Or a brain bleed. They were becoming hard to tell apart at this point. Either way, there was no time left to implement it. None. Nada. Zippo.




I sent my manuscript to my editor meeting my deadline. In my email to her I described my epiphany and hoped she didn’t seriously question why the publisher had signed me. A day later the doubts crept in: Had I gone too plot heavy? Did I tie up all the loose ends? Did the motivations hold up or fall apart? And why didn’t I take up basket weaving instead??

Then I jumped into writing my next book.


Ah yes…the writing life.




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10 comments:

  1. Kelly, just reading that stresses me out. Best of luck with the next book - hope it's a little less stressful.

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    1. Me too! At the very least, it was a learning experience.

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  2. Been there, done that - and it is NOT fun. On the other hand, you now know that you can write under major stress, with huge doubt, and with very little time. :) I have the exact same motto on my fridge: FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION. I picked it up at the Kennedy Space Center. Kind of puts it all in perspective. :) Congrats on meeting your deadline AND sending your editor a book that she feels is "brilliant".

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    1. Thanks, Pam! Glad to know I can do it but sure hope I can do it cleaner the next time. :)

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  3. This is a great post, Kelly - because basically, everything you experienced will just continue in some form with every book. It's the building up of stamina and the gathering of writers' tools that feels like floundering in quicksand at first, no matter how prepared we feel when we approach a new project.

    Considering you're one of the most disciplined writers I know, it amazes me that there was ultimately no escaping the getting-used-to-it phase of writing to a publisher's deadline. I really loved how you wrapped up your post, because no matter how hard it is, there's more stories, and they have to come out. The writer's life, indeed.

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    1. I think that's what makes writers a bit crazy. You go through all of that and then can't wait to jump in and do it again!

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  4. So painfully true! And so good to know I'm not the only one. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. No problem, Janice! Glad you enjoyed the post. :)

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  5. Kelly, that book was quite a rollercoater ride. Congratulations on hanging in there and meeting your deadline. You've inspired me to greater discipline.

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    1. It was a bit more of a rollercoaster than what I'm used to, Magi!

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