Writing Faster, Writing Better

In today’s competitive world of romance publishing, where many authors seem to put out a book every month, I am a slow writer. Not the slowest, I managed to put out three books of a four-book series last year. And each book is 80,000 words, so that’s not too shabby… except…

By the time I got to the fourth book, I had to delay the publication date because I was so tired. It felt as if my brain had turned to molasses. And then, when I finally wrote that fourth book, I didn’t like it. So I wrote it again. And I still didn’t like it. Up against my deadline, I wrote it again, putting my poor editor into a very stressful situation because I got everything turned in so late.

She’s an amazing editor. She deserves better. My family, totally neglected while I tore my hair and pounded my keyboard, deserves better. My readers deserve better. And I deserve better, because working in such a frantic manner was so stressful, I think I may have taken a few years off my life!

When I finally hit send on that thrice-rewritten story, I was completely exhausted and miserable. So I took some time off. It was Christmas, so I focused on enjoying the holiday with my family. And then I spent January, and a lot of February, reworking my entire writing process. I knew I needed a new way of creating my stories, that would, hopefully, help me write better books, faster, on a more sane schedule, without last-minute rewrites.

I first looked for a book or a resource that would help me develop my ideas. Did I mention that I was tired and had molasses-brain? Ideas for new books weren’t exactly flowing.

Luckily, I found Got High Concept: The Key to Dynamic Fiction that Sells, By Lori Wilde. What a great resource! It’s full of questions to inspire your imagination and help you develop a vague idea into something complex and interesting. There are questions to help you develop characters, plot, setting and SO much more. It really helped me shove the brain-molasses aside and come up with some new ideas. Happily, I found an idea that really resonated with me and started plotting it, and eventually, an entire new series.

And that was fun… until I started to feel stuck again!

Fortunately, next I discovered Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels (How to Write Kissing Books, Book 1) by Gwen Hayes. This book was fun, witty and really thought-provoking for me. I have always followed Michael Hauge’s plot structure when planning my books. But Gwen adds another layer to that type of plotting, adding in specific, key moments that are essential for compelling romance novels. Her ideas helped me discover places where I needed to add more tension to my plot. And just like that, I was unstuck!

Maybe my brain wasn’t molasses anymore, but my fingers still were. I was procrastinating, plodding along, stopping and revising when I knew I should be drafting. Luckily for me, someone suggested 2k to 10k: Writing Better and Writing More of What You Love.

What a great little book! The author, Rachel Aaron, has such an inspiring outlook. She says that if you’re not excited about writing, there must be something wrong. Then she takes you through some possibilities of what that wrong thing could be. The problem might be anything from not keeping to your writing schedule, to writing at the wrong time of day, to a lack of conflict in your story. After discussing all of these possible problems, Rachel gives you ideas about what you can do to get yourself back on track

One suggestion she made, that I really valued, was to make a very detailed list of every single scene in the book before you start writing. The semi-panstser in me rebelled a bit at this. How could there be room for creativity if every single moment of my story was already mapped out? But I gave it a try, and oh my goodness, it was a revelation!

Making the list helped me see where my story was weak. And the plan took all the stress and pressure out of writing for me. There is no more staring at a scary blank page. I know exactly what I’m going to write before I open my computer. And as for creativity? One of the first scenes I wrote from my scene list didn’t feel good once I started writing it. A different idea came to me almost immediately. So I used that new idea instead. Just because you make a scene list doesn’t mean you have to follow it exactly. But for me, having a scene list in place freed up my brain from stress, so I could think of that new, better idea for my story.

I haven’t put everything I’ve learned to the real test yet— completing a book I’m happy with, in a shorter amount of time than usual. But I’ve completed the first four chapters, about 16,000 words, in a much shorter time than usual. And more importantly, I’m really happy with what I’ve written so far! I’ve also written a six-page synopsis of the book, and it went so much faster than normal because I had – you guessed it – my amazing scene list.

I’m sending this book proposal to my agent this week. And while I’m waiting to hear back from her, I’m going to keep writing. Because becoming a faster, better writer takes practice. Every-day practice, as Rachel Aaron stresses in her book. And hopefully, with enough practice, I’ll finally get a handle on this writing life. If nothing else, I hope to never have the kind of stress I felt with my last book, ever again!

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