Please welcome Karen E. Olson!
Do Not Try This At HomeI turned a manuscript in to my editor only about three months after I started the book. This is not normal behavior for writers, who like to do quite a bit of navel gazing (i.e., procrastinating) during the actual creation process. I mean, we’re writers. We are supposed to be angst-ridden as we form perfect sentences once, twice, maybe even five times over until we get it right. We are supposed to imbibe a lot of alcohol, maybe drugs (i.e., caffeine) while we work. I mean, we’ve all heard the stories about Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Faulkner and Joyce and countless other writers whose angst is clearly evident on each page.
I had no angst. I had maybe a glass of wine here and there, but not while I was writing. Caffeine in the form of iced tea was my drug of choice. I ate popcorn out of a big, red plastic bowl left over from our Christmas party. Except on the days when I took my laptop to the pool club, barely noticing where my daughter was as I tried to tune out splashes and laughter and people just plainly having fun while I sweated in the heat, not allowing myself to jump in the pool until I wrote my obligatory five pages.
That was my routine, my goal: five pages a day. I had a writer friend (a writer who is amazingly prolific, even now that he’s in his 80s) tell me once that if I wrote four pages a day I’d have a book in three months. I did the math and, by golly, he was right! So when, on May 1st, my editor asked me when she might see the manuscript for the book I had yet to write, had yet to have a formal contract for, I did the math in my head, added an extra page to my friend’s formula and figured I could have a first draft by July 1. Because I figured I’d need time to have someone else read it and I’d have to make some changes, I stretched my deadline to Sept. 1.
I got sick. Really sick. The first week in June. But I was halfway there, halfway to my destination. I forced myself to get out of my sickbed and write those five pages. Not all at once, but a little at a time. Then we went to Las Vegas. Because the book is set there, and since I’d only been to Vegas once about 12 years ago for two days I figured I should go. I lost four days of actual writing, but the research was invaluable. I came home and wrote six or seven pages a day until I caught up.
When I wrote the last sentence, I knew I was done. I sent it to four friends, other writers who would tell me if it truly sucked. I still had two months to rewrite it if I had to. But shockingly, all came back and said it was good. Really good. Better than the other books I’d already had published. I began to wonder if being angst-ridden is all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, just writing, not taking breaks, not going over what I’d read before but just forging ahead every day seemed to have paid off. I had dreams about this book, about those characters while writing. I was immersed in that world. I can’t even tell now when reading it where I’d gotten sick. I thought for sure I would, but I was on auto-pilot.
I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to write a book this way. But I have to say I’m tempted to do it again. To see if it was a fluke. Granted, I was a print journalist for 20 years. I never waited for a muse to tap me on the shoulder and tell me when or what to write. I just wrote. And I write better with a deadline. I’ve got to write a second book by May 1, so I’ll have time in case it doesn’t work this time. But what if it does? That’s the question that’s teasing me. It’s worth a shot.
(The book discussed here is THE MISSING INK, the first in my two-book contract with NAL/Obsidian, and it will be released in July 2009. The protagonist/amateur sleuth is a tattoo shop owner in Las Vegas.)
Karen E. Olson Author of the Annie Seymour Mystery Series
SHOT GIRL, NAL/Obsidian, November 2008