I’ve been writing a book under a terribly tight contract deadline, and much of the time I’ve been working on it, I’ve been afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish the book. At least, not a very good book. When first given the deadline, I marked off the last two weeks for revisions and allocated word counts for every day of those earlier eight weeks for first draft. It all looked impossible—writing the first draft in so few weeks and revising in merely two weeks. I am, after all, a confirmed reviser of manuscripts. I tell my students that good writing is inevitably re-writing. And how can I make this book good with only two weeks to rewrite it?
It’s been a high-stress time, and as real life tends to do, other parts of my life have not lain down in submission to this overwhelming deadline. Serious health issues have dogged my daughter. My youngest son needed help in returning to Kansas City from eight years in Iowa for grad school. The other freelance and teaching commitments I’d already made wouldn’t vanish into thin air for me, either. And it’s been the prime time for traveling to promote the book just out, Every Broken Trust. So I’ve had to write in the spaces around these things.
But, last week, I finished that first draft of Every Hidden Fear, the third Skeet Bannion book, and I’m solidly into the revision process now. And lo and behold! My first reader feels I’ve written a good book—with, of course, some weak areas that I’m currently working on in revision. After a couple of days off to let it rest and do some marathon freelance work sessions, I read it straight through, making edit notes, and agreed.
So now my anxiety is not about being able to write the book, but can I revise it to make it as strong and complex as my other books in this limited time. I’ve written new scenes that were needed to make it structurally stronger. I’ve cut and changed other scenes for the same reasons. I had to make substantial changes in every scene in the book where one character appeared or other characters discussed her. I’ve beefed up a couple of secondary characters. Now that the structural, big picture stuff has been mostly taken care of, I’m going through the book scene by scene, making sure all the details that bring a place, people, a story to life are in place—weather, landscape, the five senses, emotional reactions, and more. When I’ve finished with this, I’ll start at the beginning again, doing line edits to compress and tighten and make the language sing.
It’s pretty intense work, and I’ve been putting in ten- to twelve-hour days on this book since I got this deadline when I only had two chapters and a two-paragraph synopsis written. I lose track of the date and time and weather. While I was writing the final scenes in a frenzy last week, I left my house for a SinC meeting and was almost overwhelmed by the heat and sun because I’d been living and writing a blizzard so deeply that the real weather came as a shock. My email inbox is a disaster area. I wake in the middle of the night, dreaming the book. I have hardly any other conversation.
But it’s happening. Just as the draft took shape in a time frame that I never would have thought possible, so the revision is moving along. If nothing else, this experience has taught me that I can do more than I believed I could. That’s valuable information to have. I never want to have to write a book to final form in such a short time again, but if necessary, I know I can do it. That will certainly take away a lot of fear from any longer deadlines I end up facing in the future. “Heck, I can do that. I’ve done it in half that time.”
I remember Agatha Christie writing in her autobiography about the book she had to write immediately after her first husband left her and she had a nervous breakdown, leading to her highly publicized disappearance. She had a child to support and a book contract she had to meet. Even though her life had crashed down around her ankles. She never felt less like writing in her life, she said, but she had to go through with it. She always said that was the book that made her a real professional writer, and she learned a hard lesson from it—a professional writes whether she feels like it or not. I feel like I’ve learned the same lesson Agatha learned.
Have you had an experience when you learned you could do something you would have thought was too difficult? Was there a time when you knew you were a real professional at your writing because you didn’t give up and came through?