For reasons both boring and complex, I currently find myself under obligation to deliver four novels before the next twelve months are out. Two are written, but undergoing revisions. A third has started. The fourth has nothing on paper; only in my mind. Is it an accident that my shoulders have been aching, as if I had been carrying bags of cement up a ladder?
When friends hear of this they ask, “How you going to do that?” The answer is, by sitting in front of my computer and working from about seven AM until seven PM. I’ll take Thanksgiving and Christmas off. Joke.
There is something to be said for deadline writing, especially when you make your living that way. Yet, I suspect the term “deadline” came about because when you reach the finishing line, you are dead. Then again, one of my sons is a journalist, and he has daily, sometimes hourly deadlines. I admire that, from a distance. He considers my pace “leisurely.”
That said, working obsessively has its own rewards. You do not put up with your own nonsense. Prolixity means more work. Repetition is to be dreaded, and cut. Lean, sharp writing flows. Bad writing is a like a wash-board road. You become so immersed in your story you think about it all the time, which can be very productive. (Wait! What if she does this? Shouldn’t he say that?)
You can, if you write a lot, move quickly on to the next project because you have no choice. You can’t fall in love with your work because you are not engaged in a life-long relationship. Honestly, when I read about the writers who spend ten years (or more) on a novel, my heart goes out to them. Groundhog Day was a funny, clever movie, but I for one would not like to live my writing life that way.
Moreover, if you are always writing, it is hard to feel riveted to the outcome of your just-published work. Sure, it’s fun to read the reviews (the good ones that is), but by the time that book is being published, I am so involved in the next book, it is not so very important. I feel sorry for the writer who cannot move on until the full cycle (writing-revision-publishing-response) is complete.
And yet … and yet, I have the responsibility (to my readers, my publishers, and myself) to make each book good, as good as I can. This is difficult because no book is ever truly done. I can always find ways to make it better. Not so long ago I picked up a just-published book (I had worked on it for more than a year) and read the first paragraph. Instantly I realized I should have added an element to the plot that would have made it a much better book. Too late.
Would I rather work on one book at a time, work on it from start to finish, before moving on to the next? Sure.
But no matter how you do it, writing is rather like carrying bags of cement up a ladder. The real problem is—I love doing it.