Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sweltering and writing thoughts.

I am not a summer person. Give me fall or winter any day. This heat is drenching me and the sky is like a big wet washcloth, making it hard to move and even harder to breathe. We have two kinds of ice pops in the fridge here, air conditioning everywhere, and when I think of going outside, I think of icy movie theaters.

But what I really want to talk about is the writing process. I had lunch today with a really interesting person (I'm going to blog about him next week), and we got to talking about how long it really takes to write a novel. Or, how long it takes me to write a novel.

I always tell my students that before I even gave my most recent novel to my agent, I had rewritten it about 7 times. She called me to tell me she loved it, and then she had me rewrite it another five times. (This is no joke--and because she is so brilliant and astute, I was happy to do it.) She sold the novel to Algonquin within weeks, and guess what? They loved it...and they wanted rewrites. And I was thrilled to do them, because this stage--seeing the novel stretch its legs and start to take on a life all its own--is transcendent. It's actually my favorite part of the process.

Now, I'm in first draft stage. It took me, as it always does, about six months from my initial idea, just to figure out a general idea for the story. I know, of course, it is all going to change. I know, too, that I am going to be doing 8 drafts, then more for my agent, and more for my editor. I know I'm in it for the long haul. Three years, maybe four.

And nothing makes me happier.


Elspeth Futcher said...

I'll take cold weather over hot weather any day of the week. My rationale is if you're cold you can put on a sweater; if you're hot, you're just hot.
As for how long it takes to write a novel, I am the prize example that it takes far longer than it should. I've done my research. Oodles of it. I know my characters. I have written and then rewritten, and then rewritten. I get epiphanies just as I settle my head into my pillow - 'wouldn't it just be better if....' which sets off more rewriting.
My mystery games are a cat of another colour entirely. Those I can write in a week, send to my editor and they're for sale a few days later.
Glad to have found your blog by the way! Much easier to communicate than through Twitter!

Leora Skolkin-Smith said...

yes! What a miraculous and yet frustrating process...I really appreciated this post! The amount of time, the amount of rewrites...yes, it's overwhelming but also, like riding the most exciting of tidal waves...

Gina Sorell said...

I am still finding my process, although I know that I stew and ponder and angst and dream the opening of my novel for months, or with this one, years, before I ever put anything down.

Then it is sheer agony to get past page 35, 50, 85, and middles are crippling. After middles I can write with much more flow.

My latest book has been on the page just since the beginning of this year, and it was in fits and starts until about April.

I am in awe of your tenacity and ability revise!!

And as for the heat...well, it's sunny California, and I have discovered gardening :)

Jeff Lyons said...


Thanx for this post. Like Gina I'm still finding my process with novels... but screenplays are just as daunting, just fewer pages so less time. But I have the same experience with those you do with your novels. I don't care what the bloody form is... writing takes time, space, blood, gristle, and sometimes a limb. And if anyone thinks poets get off easy... not a chance. I have a friend who is a poet and he took a year to get seventeen lines right.