I’m due to deliver my novel Heart’s Blood to the publishers (one Australian, one English, one American) at the end of November. Over my next three monthly posts to WU, I’ll be sharing the countdown to that deadline.
Ideally, by now I’d have finished the manuscript. I’d be setting it aside for a few weeks before coming back to it with fresh eyes for a final revision. But this has been a tricky book to write, and I still have a way to go. However, failing some cataclysmic event, I will have the ms finished to my satisfaction by November 30 and submit it on time.
This is my second book for Roc (Penguin) in the US – my first novel for this publisher is Heir to Sevenwaters, coming out in November. Prior to this 2-book contract I’d never been given a maximum word count for an adult novel. My editor at Roc requires the ms to be between 140-160,000 words, significantly shorter than any of my previous adult books. Heart’s Blood has quite a complex story in which the protagonist, a scribe, unravels a mystery via a collection of old papers. The narrative is in first person, but relies considerably on the device of documents such as letters, journals, botanical notebooks etc to tell a past story that runs parallel with the present one. The plot involves a family curse that has shadowed four generations. Telling the story in 160,000 words is a challenge.
So where am I currently? At 137,000 words, with two or three chapters to go – just entering the race-to-the-climax, tie-up-the-loose-ends stage of the book. My chapters come in at around 10,000 words. I’m on Chapter 13.
If it shocks you that I seem to be still working on the first draft with the deadline looming, note that I don’t write a series of complete drafts of any book. There is no set process for writing a novel, no requirement to produce a certain number of drafts. Some writers do thirty. Some do one. I can’t tell you what draft I’m on. After the control freak planning stage, which includes writing an outline, synopsis and chapter plan, my process involves almost continuous revision.
I work a few chapters at a time, writing then revising and polishing. Write Ch 1-3. Revise Ch 1-3. Tweak the plan. Write Ch 4-6. Revise Ch 1-6. Tweak the plan. Write Ch 7-9. Revise Ch 1-9. Tweak the plan again, and so on until the ms is finished. Then one big editorial sweep through the whole book, usually after a complete break. As you can see, most of the ms will have had numerous revisions by the time I’m writing the final chapters. The initial planning takes time but makes the later stages of the writing much quicker. So it’s not as horrific as it seems that I still haven’t written the end of this book. Chances are, those earlier chapters won’t need much revision.
That’s not to say I’m completely calm about the situation. I’d like the ms to be closer to completion at this point. Here are a few rules I’m following to help myself get it done:
1. Impose a word count. I’m currently working to a set page count per day.
2. Move away from the PC and write with pen and paper for part of the day. Word process after thinking time. The animals believe I should sit on the couch or out in the sun to write. This means they can lie right next to me, or on me, and impart a sense of calm. A switch between writing methods or a change of physical setting can spark creativity.
3. Disconnect the PC from the Internet while writing. Saves masses of time.
4. Reduce television viewing. Not so hard for me as I don’t watch much anyway. If I’m satisfied with what I’ve written during the day, I may watch a program later as a reward.
5. Keep fit. Get good sleep. Take time out, even when desperate to work on your manuscript. I’m especially proud of having joined the gym and maintained a regular exercise routine for the last few months. Animals provide a model of how to relax. The picture shows Outlaw and Sonia, both aged 14, enjoying some quality time together.
On the first Thursday of October I’ll report on my progress. My aim is to have the last chapters completed and be ready to begin a revision of the whole ms.