Monday, October 19, 2009

Slow and Steady


One of the secrets about writing a book that no one ever tells you is that it takes a long time. I admit I'd never considered this in my pre-writing days; I just read the book. Now, every time I pick up a book, I am amazed at the time that the author must have spent researching, let alone the time it would have taken to write the monster. I've been reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series and I'm on the floor in admiration. These books are tomes. Tomes, I say, and chockfull of research that must have taken years. Yet, somehow, she is able to produce a new one every two years or so. Someone, please, give this woman an award.

I never expected to sit down and have a novel flow out of me like a river; I'm not Shakespeare. But why didn't anyone tell me how long it would take before I could look at my word-count total and not want to burst into tears of frustration? I try to take comfort by remembering the fable of the tortoise and the hare, but I suspect I'm a hare by nature. Learning to be satisfied with a slow and steady pace is a real lesson in patience; and not one I'm learning with joy in my heart.

Learning to be satisfied has never been something I've been great at. I don't want to do anything just okay, I want to do it well. This leads to me re-reading portions of my manuscript and, inevitably, to me re-writing large swathes. Trust me, this is the mother of all catch-22s. I often feel as if I'm taking three steps forward and then two steps back. Growl.

I admit I've chosen to write a murder mystery with several very complex motives and a large number of characters. I do love my story, but I do wish I could write faster. (Writing better would be nice as well.) I'm writing the type of book I like to read, so there is historical research involved (of two different time periods). It would be easier (maybe) if I was interested in writing a different type of mystery, but I'm just not. 'Write what you know' is what we're told, and I'm trying to do that.

Slowly.

Are there any other tortoises out there? Or, are you a lucky hare? I know that finish line is waiting out there somewhere. If you see it, can you tell me what it looks like?

29 comments:

  1. I have an awful feeling that the finish line is not confetti and cheers. It's a u-turn sign telling you to start on the next one before readers forget you're in the race.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  2. Helen; That's a cheerful thought; and I'm sure you're right.

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  3. Oh, I'm turtlish in the extreme. I commit the capital crime of editing while I write. I can rewrite sections time and time again. My only solace is that I think--hope and pray--it gets better with each rewrite.

    As to research do you think she has a staff of research assistance that do it for her??? Gotta wonder.
    Best Regards, Galen

    Imagineering Fiction Blog

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  4. My novels flow out of me rather quickly. I actually spend more time in the rewrites and self-editing. But the "zone" writing (where the best stuff comes out) zips by in a blaze of timelessness. I am amazed at non-fiction writers and historical fiction writers. The amount of research they must have to do is mind boggling. All I have to research is stuff like, oh - for instance a character in my last book had Lupus - so I had to bone up on the disease, what the symptoms were, meds she had to take, etc.

    Marvin D Wilson

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  5. I'm with Marvin Wilson, writing the novel comes out in a feverish pitch. I don't let myself stop and obsess. When it's finished. I won't look at it for two or three weeks. I go back, then the re-writing and editing takes place. But, (and I suspect this is a BIG BUT), I don't write mysteries. I expect all that research and plotting and clue-planting is a bit beyond my reach.

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  6. Galen; I'm relieved to find another tortoise out there! I have no idea if Ms. Gabaldon has research assistants; but I hope so.

    Marv; Wow. You're really lucky.

    Elizabeth; Two lucky people in a row! I'm so envious I could spit.

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  7. My memoir took 10 years, so I guess I'm a very very very slow tortoise. Of course, that included going back to school to finish my degree. I think now that I'm going to write fiction, it will also be slow. Ah well.
    Karen

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  8. I'm a tortoise, but aiming to be a hare. I have 2 ideas for my next books that I'll work out before I begin one of them.

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  9. Karen; You appear to be a very contented tortoise; I guess that's the trick.

    Carolyn; I never have troubles coming up with ideas; it's the writing that takes me forever. Let me know the trick of becoming a hare.

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  10. I'd have to be placed in the tortoise group though every once in a while my tortoise has a burst of speed, but not as often as I'd like. For me writing "The End" on a manuscript is an experience I find both exhilarating and sobering.

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  11. Jane; My tortoise has occasional bursts of speed as well, which is nice. I know that feeling of "The End" with my games and a short story; not so much with my book!

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  12. I'd fortunate to consider myself a hare, with a lot of patience. Which is lucky, too, because things in the publishing world sometimes take a long time!

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  13. Of course, sometimes I write so quickly I make lots of mistakes!

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  14. I'm not even a writer but i would like to. I don't think the authors of Harry Potter, Lord of the Ring and many othe titles that don't comes to mind right now, had written those books "randomly". I mean that they probably programed all the events including the last one of Harry Potters books. then they give them colors. It's like painting by numbers.

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  15. Alan; I need lessons on how to be a hare with patience. I'd pay. In cookies.

    Carlos; I think what you're talking about is outlining, something that many writers (including myself) do. I find it impossible to keep my plots and sub-plots straight without one. Thanks for dropping by!

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  16. I think I'm a hare...but I long to be more of a tortoise. I just don't write well when I slow it down. For me, once I've got that momentum, if I stop, the story goes bad...

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  17. It is amazing how, as a reader, you don't put much thought into how long it took to write the book.

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  18. I'm another turtle that occasionally makes a mad dash toward the finish line. I'm currently resting up for that next mad dash, which could happen at any time.

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  19. I think that when you're writing something as complex as your plot, it's only natural for it to take a little while.

    When I have time to read, I gobble books up greedily and think sadly how long it took the author to write the thing I sailed through.

    It takes me about 3 months from start to the end of revisions.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  20. Stephanie; I guess it's another case of the grass is always greener...

    Laura; Isn't it? I read every book with a great sense of appreciation now.

    Patricia; May you dash be long and fruitful! I'm so relieved to learn there are other tortoises!

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  21. Elizabeth; Please don't take this the wrong way, because I'm a great admirer of yours; but WOW! I may have to spit in jealousy just a little bit!

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  22. Elspeth, You are a wonderful writer. Your words are so smooth and flowing.

    There is nothing tortoise about me, but I wish there were. I could learn to slow it down on everything, including my writing.

    I have yet to finish a novel. Short Stories -all the time.

    I just need to slowwww down.

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  23. Elspeth - I salute your choice to write slower - and better. The very best novels are like a well-done stew; they simmer so that all of the ingredients flavor each other. That takes time. Go at the pace that works for you. Each dish takes a different amoutn of time to cook, too, so don't go by the "dishes" other writers "cook." "Serve" your own.

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  24. Journaling Woman; Thank you so much for your kind words; they are very much appreciated.

    Margot; I truly appreciate the wisdom of your words. I just want the stew to blend faster.

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  25. Most days I feel as if I am THE slowest tortoise in the race. I write enough words every day, and I'll go for weeks without a problem. Invariably life steps in and I miss an entire week. Same when I go to edit. I never knew how picky I was until I started on my own work.

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  26. I am a tortoise, very much a tortoise.

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  27. Carol; I never knew how much of a perfectionist I was until I started writing. Not sure if it's a good thing or not!

    Rayna; You are among friends. It appears that there be many tortoises here. I'm soooo relieved.

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  28. Such interesting comments and observations! Apparently it simply depends on the person, AND the type of book...

    I've always admired the quality you all share of creating a story, whatever the genre or topic...

    As quickly as I read recreationally, I know that now I'll never look at it the same. I can visualize myself, in addition to trying desperately to keep the editor hat off while reading (nearly impossible) reflecting on how long it may have taken the author to come up with the story I'm enjoying!

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  29. Interesting question. I write women's fiction. My mind would blow a gasket trying to plot a mystery.

    My writing proces has turned out to be a mix of tortoise and hare. The first draft was finished in 108 days at weighed in at ~92K. I did not outline althought I knew what the beginning and end were before I started writing. I also had a month's worth of notes and fragments of scenes to start me off.

    In the ensuing year and a half, I have edited and done some minor revisions and edited some more. Now, I realize that it needs a major rewrite with a possible change to first person. I have the creativity and the essence of a great story, but now it's time to work on craft.

    In the interim, I've tried to draft another novel. Nothing caught fire. I'm hoping it's because I know that I'm not finished with the first one, and I can't let new characters take over my head until I can let go of the old ones. Stephen King I will never be.

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