Earlier this month I turned in the manuscript for Chantress Alchemy, the sequel to Chantress. Whew! I had only year to write it, which scared me. (It took me five years to write Chantress.) But it turns out I finished ahead of deadline. Even better, I sent in a manuscript I was really happy with.
What most amazes me is that I wrote almost the entire first draft of Chantress Alchemy in two 7-week stretches. For me, that’s a blistering pace! The rest of my time was spent waiting for reader comments and revising. I like revision, so that suited me really well.
But how on earth did I manage to write the book so fast? It’s a bit of a mystery to me, so I’m trying to look back and see what I did differently. What works for one book won’t necessarily work for another, of course. Still, here are nine things that helped me write fast(er) this time around:
(1.) It helped that I had time. Sweetpea started school last year, and much as I miss her, it’s been good for both of us. She loves school (she tells me “it’s the best school ever”), and I love having more time for writing. I pushed myself to write as hard and fast as I could while she was in school, so I could be there for her the rest of the time and during vacations.
(2.) It helped that I was willing to give a lot up. During my writing-intensive weeks, I didn’t take many days or nights off. I didn’t do much socializing. I dusted only when absolutely necessary. I watched very little television. I cooked only simple meals, and I didn’t bake. I only blogged occasionally, and Facebook and Twitter didn’t see much of me. Some of those things were easy to give up. Some of them were hard. But I couldn’t get the book written any other way. (And I learned that homemade muffins and cookies and pies taste extra good when you haven’t had them for a while!)
(3.) It helped that some things were established already. It took me years to find the right voice for Chantress. In Chantress Alchemy, I re-connected with that voice right away. It was a great joy, too, to bring some of the characters I loved best back to life. I noticed that scenes with established characters were usually easier to write than ones with new characters, and required less revision.
(4.) It helped that I had an outline. I had to produce a brief synopsis of books two and three when I sold the trilogy—a useful exercise, but there was a lot that I didn’t touch on, or wasn’t sure about. So before I wrote the book, I spent some weeks working out what could happen in it. I read old books on story structure and bought a new one (Save the Cat). I brainstormed possibilities, shot them down, and scribbled, scribbled, scribbled. In the end, I had a good idea of the story path I wanted to take, and that helped me take the plunge into actual writing. Caveat: See #5.
(5.) It helped that I was willing to abandon my outline. I wrote the first quarter of the book in a blur. Some of the book strongly resembled my outline, but there was a whole new strand to it that I hadn’t seen coming at all—and yet it just poured onto the page, a scene here, a moment there, another scene a day later. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I decided I would let those bits be for now, and edit them out later. And then I went away for a weekend and had the crashing realization that I didn’t want to write the book I’d planned. Instead I committed myself to that unexpected strand, and it became the core of the book. And because of that, riding this book was sometimes like riding a wave. It had an energy all its own.
(6.) It helped to read chapters out loud as I wrote them. I have never, ever done this before. I am one of those people who would rather die than share my first drafts. But for some strange reason I needed to read this one in Dickensian installments, hot off the press… and my wonderful husband sat and listened to each one, and made wise suggestions and encouraging comments.
(7.) It helped that I kept telling myself it was a first draft. I told myself every day – sometimes many times a day — that it didn’t have to be perfect; it just had to be done. That’s radical stuff for a perfectionist like me. But it was absolutely necessary.
(8.) It helped that I gave myself a weekly word quota. I really hate missing targets, so word quotas were a good way of keeping my perfectionist streak in check.
(9.) It helped that I had support from writer friends. I wrote the first part of this book during JoNoWriMo+1.5, and the last part during a writing challenge run by some of the fabulous members of one of my favorite listservs. I know I pushed myself harder because of our check-ins. I also had a lot more fun along the way.
Do you have any favorite techniques that help you write faster? Any other tips and tricks for dealing with deadlines? If so, I’d love to hear them.