My Second Book Syndrome: Change of Process

So I was trying to think of something to write about today that has to do with the writing life. I should have a ton of stuff. I feel like I learned a ton of stuff as I worked my way through Heroes ‘Til Curfew. There were a lot of times I said to someone, one thing I learned while writing this book is that… And right now I’m having trouble remembering what any of those things actually were.

Okay, here’s one: Be willing to change your “process.”

Once upon a time, I met a fellow amateur writer online and we exchanged work. I immediately saw potential in what I was reading, but I could also see reasons why it wasn’t ready yet. Some feedback I gave her was that there were scenes that didn’t seem to advance the plot. (I don’t think that’s how I put it because I didn’t always know the right terms to explain what I meant back then–still don’t.) Or there were scenes with a bunch of details that didn’t seem to matter. There was an “and then…and then…and then…” quality to these portions of the story that slowed it down and made me wonder why the author was spending my time this way.

My new writer friend took this very well, which, to me, was another flashing neon sign of great writer potential. And after a bit of back and forth she explained to me that this was just “her process.” This sticking with the character, recording her every action as she went along, this was how this writer found her way through the story. (Because, yes, she was a pantster.)

As we moved along, this writer was ever willing to cut things that didn’t seem relevant, but she was spending a lot of time writing things that got cut while complaining that she needed more time to write. Eventually, I started a campaign against her process, in the name of efficiency.

Today you know Kait Nolan as a kick-ass writer of tight, fast-paced, action-packed fiction, as well as a staunch supporter of plotting and, yes, even outlining! But this is not actually a post to tell you how she owes all her success to me (joke!); it’s about how part of being professional is about seeing what’s holding you back and being will to change it.

I wrote the draft of Hush Money in 30 days. Of course I did a lot of prep work. I had a strong structure in place and an outline that gave me most of the basics while allowing me to discover the details in the writing. I was writing a series that had been on my mind for years, characters who had been living in my head for a while. I had months and months of not writing bottled up, words just waiting to spew out, and two close indie friends with actual sales and readers making me excited, envious, and chomping at the bit to get something out there.

No wonder it came out so fast.

In contrast, I think that once the outline was really in place, it must have taken at least nine months to write the draft of Heroes ‘Til Curfew. People, my daughter was seven weeks early. I don’t even put in nine months baking a baby let alone a book! What the hell??

The hell was my damned process. This idea I have that it should always be easy. If it’s not easy, if it’s not freakin’ inspired, it’s just not ready to come out of my head and it’s just not going to be good. Of course I didn’t say these things to myself. I didn’t realize that this was in my head. If I had, hopefully I would have bitch-slapped myself a long time ago. But in retrospect, I’m sure this was part of the problem.

But things were so different setting out to write this book. I now had something established. I had places I wanted to go, and this book had to fit where I’d been as well as where I wanted to take the series. I had readers. Readers who liked the voice, the characters…readers with expectations. Expectations absolutely kicked my ass on this thing. The pressure I put on myself was ridiculous, and the fear of living up to something I built up in my head was a big issue.

Anyway, the point of THIS post was that I was not in the same place for this manuscript as I was with the last one. Of course it wasn’t going to come out the same way. But if it wasn’t just going to come out, then what was I going to do?

I was going to have to change my process. I was going to have to accept that there might be serious rewriting involved. I was going to have to push through and put something on the page, even if there didn’t seem to be any words on my fingertips that day. If there was just a big blank spot in my head where the scene was supposed to be, I was going to have to make it be there–because I couldn’t keep sitting around and waiting for it to appear by magic like it has in the past.

Imagine that.

And the end of the story is that it was still good. I dragged my way through that book knowing that when I got through I’d have this horrific pile of uninspired schlock and have to start all over again.

But I didn’t. Did I make changes? Yeah, I did. I’m still pretty new at this actually finishing work, getting to and getting through the editing phase. This was probably the first manuscript that I made radical changes in, went back and added in whole scenes, or cut most of a scene and rewrote it in a different context.

And when I finally read it, I loved it. In the final product, I’m not sure if you can tell the difference between what parts were inspiration and what were perspiration. Would I say I’ve got it down now? That I’m good at this business of just pushing through and doing the work, inspiration or no? No. No I wouldn’t.

But at the same time, I’ve seen this problem for what it is. In psychology there’s this thing called “reality testing.” When you have an irrational fear of something, like pushing through a story when you’re not inspired, you have to go out and do it anyway. This is in order to prove to yourself that whatever horror you think will befall–like coming out with a nicely formatted file of pure crap–won’t actually happen. So I’ve been through the reality testing phase of treating the syndrome on this manuscript. Now I just have to continue to practice the new behaviors, the new thoughts, the new process.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “My Second Book Syndrome: Change of Process

  1. Stacey Wallace Benefiel

    Great post! I also suffered from thinking it should be easier than it was because some days it is easy. When I say that chapters 11 and 19 of Glow almost killed me, I’m not exaggerating. (Okay, maybe a little. ha.) I really felt like I was wrestling with my computer to get the damn words out of my head.
    I’m glad you pushed through the fear! HTC is awesome and I can’t wait for EVERYONE to get to read it!

  2. I’ve never figured out why you have so much fear when it comes to writing. And that’s because what you write is just absolutely awesome. You mentioned something about a “nicely formatted file of pure crap”. Nothing that ever comes out of that head of yours can be crap. Ever. It might not always be exactly what you want, and you may have to change a thing or two to make it BE what you want. But it will never be crap. Because you’re that good. :0)

  3. I’ve spent the last 5 years training myself to finish a draft, while at the same time trying to learn from my beta readers and editors what to cut out before I even write it. It’s been a long process, but I’m getting better and better, and the copy I turn over to them is cleaner than ever. Just the finishing part of it took years (31 years, to be exact) to finally master.

    I understand the pressure you feel once you have readers who want more. I think, though, that you will do just fine turning out the book in whatever time frame it takes to get it done–some do take longer than others–because you’re good, and readers are fairly loyal; they may wander to another author’s stuff, but if they like you, they’ll come back when you have a new offering. 😉

  4. Thanks for sharing your trials with us Susan! You plotters always surprise me – I’ve never been able to write like that; always barrel through drafts and then go back again and again for major rewrites. Never say never, though, right?

  5. @Stacey- Thanks!!!!!
    @LL- Aw, shucks. Thank you.
    @Sharon- Thanks for sharing your thoughts. That really helps. I guess it’s going to be a while before I’ve built up enough self-confidence that I can stop being surprised when people like my stuff–people including me.
    @Deniz- One thing I realized in my early days of working with Kait was that even if I didn’t make an outline, I was still a plotter. I still had things basically mapped out in my head before I started the story. I didn’t write out outlines because there were massive holes and I needed to pants my way through those, because I didn’t know what went there. But when I started to learn about story structure, in my head I kept going yes! yes! yes! because it was all stuff I had sort of half-understood and just needed it clarified for it to click into place. Now that I know what kinds of things the middle needs and how everything’s supposed to fit together, I love that plotting phase. Another thing with me is that I have a lot of trouble making changes. Once I’ve got something set in my head–or especially on the page–it’s hard for me to axe that and make it be something else. So it’s a lot easier for me to see it all work in outline form first and write it mostly right the first time, rather than go back and try to rewrite it into something else later.

  6. Whatever works for you, do it. No one would care about your writing process as long as you deliver a good book. 🙂

  7. Pingback: Blog Treasures « Gene Lempp's Blog

  8. Great post, Susan. I also sometimes have that fear of “but what if it’s CRAAAAAAP??” i used to be really bad about letting that get me down to the point of stuffing my face and watching mindless TV until I went to sleep and didn’t have to think about it anymore. Now, like you, I’m learning to push through it. Getting stuff DONE is the name of the game. Getting stuff GOOD (aka, edited, rewritten, etc.) can come later.

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