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.

0 Responses to “the full-time writerly life: the big picture”

  1. miintikwa

    *wavewave* Reading “Midnight Never Come” at the moment, and bumped into you through the “fangs, fur, fey” comm. πŸ™‚ Friending!

  2. sapphohestia

    I think you should use the last third to go out and visit far away friends and places – a great way to bump into new ideas and fun tidbits of information. Washington DC has tons of free museums (which are full of fun ideas and new tidbits). *G*

  3. lowellboyslash

    It’s really awesome to hear you talking like this. You’re a FOR SERIOUS writer now! I am completely excited for you! I get to brag to people at the office now that I know you. Squee!

    Call me when your book tour hits NYC, okay? We will go for coffee and discuss Publishy Things.

  4. sora_blue

    It sounds entirely reasonable. Perhaps, more importantly, entirely doable.

    Unrelated question: do you know if you’ll be participating in any of the WFC panels?

    • Marie Brennan

      Unlikely, seeing as how I’m not making it to WFC this year . . . . πŸ™

      • sora_blue

        Awww… πŸ™

        Well, I won’t bring MNC to get signed then.

        • Marie Brennan

          Sowwy . . . I go every year, but Calgary would have been really expensive, and I forgot to contact them to try to get on the program, and I’m going out of town this weekend for my high school reunion, and after the summer I’ve had, I decided staying home and not stressing myself was the better part of valor.

          • sora_blue

            Ha ha, Calgary is actually cheaper for me and requires no border crossing.

            I think Valentine is the better part of Valor, but relaxing and not stressing is a very nice idea, too. πŸ™‚

  5. desperance

    You already are, I know – but do be ready for it not actually to work out like that…

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, I know I’m going to end up with deadlines that laugh in the face of my attempts to organize my year in a sane fashion. But knowing what I’d like to shoot for will give me a foundation to stand on when they ask me things like “so how soon can you have a finished draft?”

      • desperance

        Oh, absolutely. I am not throwing cold water; I am throwing petals and cheering you on, wishing you all the luck in the world. That kind of organised thinking works for some people (not looking at , oh no, not at all).

        Just, stuff happens; and some of it is external and outwith your control, and some of it is internal. No book is the mirror of the one before; in the same way that no two writers have the same process, I don’t believe any two books ever happen quite the same. And your processing-speed can vary startlingly much; I’ve had years where I wrote 300K, and years where I didn’t write 100K, and there wasn’t anything obvious to point at except that the books were different, and one I could write 2K a day and the other I couldn’t write two pages.

        I’ve never had that shift from day-job to not, but I’ve known book-a-year writers give up the day-job and suddenly write less rather than more. And the other way around, of course, and any variation in between. It’s always interesting, seen from outside; from the inside – well, eek!

        • Marie Brennan

          People rarely mention it, but this is one of the advantages of not selling the first novel you write (at least not immediately). By the time Doppelganger sold, I had written six books, which meant that when my editor asked how long it would take me to write a sequel, I had actual data from which to estimate. You’re absolutely right that speed varies — my fastest draft was about seven weeks for 89K, and I did most of Midnight Never Come in two months flat — but I have a sense of my range, at least.

          Mind you, outliers happen. Some day I will try to write a book and will run into a brick wall, and that will be the day I go to my editor, hat in hand, to ask for an extension of my deadline. I’ll try my damnedest to avoid it, though.

          I’ve known book-a-year writers give up the day-job and suddenly write less rather than more

          I said somewhere else that having more free time to write has often resulted in me writing less. That’s part of why I’m making these posts; I’m hoping that if I impose official structure and expectations on myself, I can keep my productivity as high as it’s been, or hopefully push it higher. (So far it hasn’t worked, but I also know I’m recovering from what has probably been one of the most stressful years I’ve ever had — and it isn’t over yet.)

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