the full-time writerly life: the big picture
So what do I do with myself all year?
(I figure this is the biggest scale on which I can usefully address the question of how I will be organizing my life. Once we start talking about multiple years at a time, too many of the variables are out of my hands.)
Historically, the answer has been that I write a novel every summer. I missed a couple in there, and sometimes I wrote one during the winter, but on the whole, novels have been summer things, because I’ve been in school.
This has also, to some extent, dictated my pace: it takes me about three to four months to complete a draft. At 1K a day, which is my standard pace, I get about 30K per month, so 3-4 months is enough to produce an average-size fantasy novel. In practice, that’s usually an under-estimate, though I miss days, I treat 1K as a daily minimum rather than an average, so over time I build up a margin of safety. I also tend to speed up as I get closer to the end of the book.
I think it’s fair, then, to divide the year into thirds: three four-month periods. It’ll do as a rough guideline, anyway.
Here’s where it gets fuzzier, because I don’t actually know what I’ll be doing for the next couple of years. In Ashes Lie is the second book of a two-book contract, so other than the revisions (which I’m working on right now) and the rest of its production process, I’m not under contract for anything at the moment. I have some educated guesses as to what I’ll be doing next, but no guarantees yet, and so I’m going to restrict myself to more general terms here.
I can certainly write a novel a year. I was able to do that even while in school full-time; I can do it now. So that’s one third of the year dedicated to writing a novel. What about the other two-thirds?
After years of having nothing much in the way of YA ideas in my head, I’m starting to grow some. So it’s entirely possible I’ll find myself publishing for both adults and teens in the future. Which works out well: a YA novel is maybe half the length of an adult one, depending. Can I write a novel and a half each year? I think so. (My average while in college was slightly better than that, in fact.) I even think I can handle prepping for an adult book — research and so on — while writing a YA. So my ideal yearly schedule would have me writing the YA in the four months preceding the block in which I’m working on the adult novel.
But of course we have to figure in deadlines, which will be dictated by my publisher’s schedule for putting things out. My own order and timing will have to shift to meet reality on the ground.
What about the last third of the year? Odds are high — one might even say certain — that I’ll be revising and copy-editing and page-proofing during that time, since it will follow on the delivery of one book or another. But that isn’t four months of daily work. And while I may be prepping for the next book, it’s hard to imagine that being a full workload, either.
And that’s fine, because I need some time to play. My hope is that the remaining portion of the year, the “vacation” in which I am not drafting a contracted novel, will be spent on playing with new ideas. It’s rare for me to produce a book from a dead halt; usually I’ve got anywhere from a few thousand to forty thousand words already squirreled away in a file by the time I officially sit down to write that book. (Okay, 40K has only happened once. But 10K, sure.) So the last third is for spec projects, things I’m not contracted for but am maybe interested in pitching, or even just stuff I want to do for the hell of it, with no certain expectation of what I’d do with that book if I had it. I’ll be a lot happier if I have a stable of such things, so that when a given contract ends and an editor says, “what would you like to do next?,” I have a bunch of little saplings ready to be turned into full-grown trees.
So the thirds are, in adjustable order: Write YA while prepping adult. Write adult while processing YA for publication. Write whatever I feel like while processing adult and prepping YA.
I think that could work. I like the sound of it, anyway, because it allows me to keep up a book-a-year schedule in both fields while still having some time for work-fun.
We’ll see what happens when I try to put this into practice.