Thursday, June 01, 2006

Writing in a Post-Katrina Life


Even under normal conditions it takes me a year to write a book. I don’t have a day job—writing is my day job. I’m just painfully slow.

Coming up with the idea, building it to outline stage, then writing the synopsis and first 30-50 pages is the hardest part. That usually takes about three months. Even though I’m now writing a series, I’m always doing research. I enjoy research. More time. Once I start writing the book itself, I try to write 5 pages a day. Theoretically, that works out to 25 pages a week, 100 pages a month, so I should be able to finish the first draft in another 4 months. It never happens.

Some days I can sit at the computer for 6-8 hours and produce less than a page of usable text (a lot of unusable prose goes in the trash or simply gets deleted). But even when the writing is going well, other stuff gets in the way. I always have revisions on my previous book to do, and those can take a month or even two. The first time I read through my editor’s suggestions, I usually feel like slashing my wrists. Impossible! I can’t do that! Sure it would make it a better book, but how the %$#@ am I supposed to do it? After a while, I calm down as it all becomes clear. But implementing that vision takes time.

Then, just when I’m back into my Work In Progress and things are going well, I get another package from New York: the copyedited manuscript to review. Then come the galley proofs. Both take a surprising amount of time to review carefully (and it’s an agony, because at this point I think, If I have to read this book again, I’m going to throw up).

And then there’s my family. I actually think I had more time to write when my children were little. I hear about writers who lock their office door and tell their kids, “Don’t interrupt me unless you set the house on fire or someone is seriously bleeding.” Maybe they have boys. With girls, there are times when the need to talk is far more important than mere blood. And then there are the lessons and practices. Lots and lots of lessons and practices.

I also have a garden that needs to be watered, weeded, and trimmed (it’s my therapy), and a mother who goes to the doctor a lot (and she’s healthy). I have cats that throw up, piles of laundry that can swallow the house if I’m not diligent. Sometimes I think, how do other people hold down real jobs and still manage to get all this done? It’s a mystery to me. It’s one of the reasons I love my job. Yes, I stress about print runs and reviews and covers, but I’m also doing something I love, and I’m doing it on my own schedule.

The problem is, in this post-Katrina world, my schedule is upside down. I had a goal to reach page 100 of WHY MERMAIDS SING by May 31. I made it to page 103, so I’m feeling pretty good. It’s not polished—I gave myself permission to turn out what writers call “a shitty first draft.” But at least it’s sitting there, all printed out. Today, June 1, I start my second hundred pages. It’s also, by the way, the beginning of hurricane season.

The book is due 1 November.

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