This past year has been a difficult year.
I've (now) written eight novels. I know how it's done. I have a system for writing novels and piecing stories together - one that involves a collision of plenty of pluck and pretty careful planning. I have never written a book that has not been marinating in my brain and in my writing journals for at least two years. I am deliberate and intentional, and I have a knack for knowing what works and what doesn't in a story. Writing is, for me, both a gift and a discipline. And that is why this year was so, so frustrating, because no matter how much all of my above-stated "ducks" were in a row, I simply could not make the time to get the sequel to BREEDER written when and how I wanted it to be written. Even though I felt like it shouldn't have been, CRIMINAL was criminally difficult to write.
It started with burn out. In March of last year, I wrapped writing on the first draft of BREEDER right on the heels of having finished the first draft of The Bone Whistle. So, from October 2013-March 2014, I wrote two novels in two different series in two entirely different styles and totaling about 290,000 words (That's more than the length of the first three Harry Potter novels combined). I only took about two weeks off in those six months, and while I was finishing writing BREEDER, I was also starting edits on The Bone Whistle, which was set for publication in September 2014. When I turned in BREEDER at the end of March, I sat back and took a break from writing while I continued to work with my editing team on The Bone Whistle, but I fully intended on picking myself up after a couple week break and beginning to write CRIMINAL so as to have it complete before my baby came in October - because, oh yes, I was also pregnant with my fourth baby.
And... It just didn't happen.
I was so tired. I look back on last summer and wonder why I couldn't make myself write, and I can only guess that I was just beyond burned out. The story was in my head, all my planning was done, but my creative juices were gone. I think the toll of basically completing six NaNoWriMo challenge equivalents in a row had caught up to me, along with the mental strain of those books - the last in a long series that had to tie up every loose thread, and the first in a series that was untested and unknown. Every week that passed last summer, I told myself I would get to work on CRIMINAL, and every week I didn't. And then school started, and I went back to teaching full time, and my time and energy diminished even more. And then I had the release of The Bone Whistle to manage, and then one week later, my fourth little baby boy decided to make his entrance to the world three weeks early. I'm sure everybody knows, or at least has heard, how exhausting the first few months with a newborn are, and so after Edmund's birth, all possibilities of writing productivity dwindled even more. November arrived, and with it, the Time of Much Sickness. Between Thanksgiving and Easter of this past year, between myself, my husband, and my four boys, we did not have more than a single week where everyone was well. We experienced the flu, RSV, bronchitis, pink eye, croup, ear infections, strep, asthma attacks, migraine headaches, and more. It was bizarre and awful and dispiriting, and... I couldn't find the time or the energy to write. I was nursing my baby, too, which takes hours of every day, and between that, working full time, cooking, taking care of sickies, being sick myself, being wife and mother, and all the other general things in life, I despaired at finding any time to get down to writing CRIMINAL. There were even a few dark moments where I wondered if my writing career was over because I simply couldn't balance everything in my life anymore.
I am the sort of writer who needs time to write. Perhaps that sounds like a "duh" thing to say, but let me explain. If I can't carve out a couple hours to devote to it at a time, it's hard for me to even bother. A half hour here and there is not enough time for me to get my head in the game. At least, that's what I'd always thought, because that's how I'd always written. I'd always started a book and knocked it out in 6-12 weeks, working several hours each day to get it done. This year taught me that if I was going to practice was I preach about the discipline of writing, then I would have to change the way I write books in order to fit into my new schedule with four little ones instead of three (that fourth one really does make a difference!). I would have to write in the stolen half hours - fifteen minutes - five minutes - in between diaper changes and staggered naps. I would not be able to stay up half of each night for a month to get a book written, because I just don't have the energy for that anymore, and it's not fair to my family! I would have to adapt to my new life, or my writing career would be over. So I did.
Sometime this past year - I think it was February - I opened my document (that I'd created last summer) and began to pick at CRIMINAL. There were days where I only got a hundred words on the page, but at least I got those hundred words on the page. But I lost track of things far too easily. The benefit of writing novels the way I usually write them is that because it happens so fast, I don't forget much of what I've already written as I go. But with CRIMINAL, sometimes it would be weeks in between scenes, and I couldn't remember which story elements I'd already included. This made for a lot of rewriting as I went along, and for a painfully, criminally slow writing of the first draft, but I got it done. I got it done! And then I did a complete revision, and that took a few weeks, too, because there were a lot more rough edges than I usually have, but that is now also done. It took me six months, and I think it was an important six months. I don't know if I'll ever again be able to write novels like I used to, but now I know I can write novels like this - with baby steps rather than marathon strides. I got to the finish line, beta reader feedback is already starting to come in (it's positive!), and I hope to have publication info soon. It still has a long official editing process to go through, so I don't know if it will squeak in before the end of 2015, but if it does, it will be a Christmas miracle! All I can promise at this time is, it's coming...