« Last post by mmflores on Today at 12:50:52 AM »
Hi, Heather. I stupidly didn't hit "quote" before I started writing, and I'm on my tablet which makes copying and pasting difficult when I'm sitting here with muffin crumbs on my hands and a cup of coffee beside me. So bear with this wall-o-text reply.
What I do:
I write 100,000 to 120,000 words per four weeks. Whether that equates to a single novel or four novellas depends on the month. (I have my main pen name, and currently two smaller pen names I'm experimenting with, to see whether I have the potential to break out in other genres, so each pen name currently gets four months per year for production. I rotate months, so it goes Pen name 1, Pen name 2, Pen name 3, 1, 2, 3, etc. throughout the calendar year.)
Obviously, being able to do this full-time is key. It took me about two years of writing as a second job to get to that point.
How I avoid procrastination
The book business is also the sole income for my husband and me. He recently quit his job, too, to take over portions of my business (and it has been very, very helpful!) so the fact that if I don't produce my 100K words per month we might not be able to pay our bills really keeps me focused. Now I have the opposite problem to you: I get too tempted to work all the time and have to focus on taking enough days off that I don't burn out and/or go totally crazy. We are stable, but any self-employment gig comes with a fair amount of unpredictability, so the small but constant threat of losing our shirts keeps me working hard.
How to not nitpick forever
How do I let go of a book? I guess I've never had that problem before, so I'm not sure i have any good advice there. The fact that I find typos and awkward sentences in works by authors I admire like crazy (Nabokov, Dillard, Mantel, etc.) keeps me real about this: my books will never be perfect. If Vlad's and Annie's and Hilary's aren't perfect, Libbie can't expect herself to be perfect.
I am careful to work with good editors, whether they're the freelancers I use for my indie stuff or the dev editors at my publisher, and I trust the majority of their suggestions. I do one draft on my own, and one with the book's editor, and I call it good. (Though my publisher puts their books through more types of edits--copy, proof, advance read, etc.) It does help that all my editors have commented on how "clean" I tend to write, so the fact that I usually have fairly coherent sentences, tight story structure, and minimal typos speeds up the process all around.
My out-of-control confidence
Confidence has also never been an issue for me--at least, not where my writing is concerned. I know I'm a strong writer with a good grasp of many aspects of craft. I know I produce books people want to read. I don't get the jitters about my books; I have a sound process for developing a story before I begin to write it; I've tested it through 15 novels; I know it works reliably. I trust my method and my own skills.
As for how you can know that you'll finish a book a month--well, if you write five days a week, seven hours a day (eight-hour workday with an hour for lunch), that's only 714 words per hour. It feels downright LAZY when you break it down to that level. And it kind of is. If writing is your only gig, and you don't have health issues or whatever that prevent you from just DOING IT, you should be able to exceed 100K in a month without breaking too much of a sweat. 100K per month is quite manageable.
Is it a drag sometimes? Hell yes. Any job is a drag at least once in a while. Sometimes I just need to finish a few books because they're under contract or readers are expecting that sequel or whatever, and it's 100% NOT what I'm excited about writing right now. But it's on the agenda, and I can't move on until it's done, so I just have to haul my ass through it. The ONLY book I've been excited about writing since November 2014 is still ahead of me--I don't get to start it until November 1, 2015. You can bet I'm counting the days until I hit that book. And I think all the passion I have for it will make it my best book ever. Meanwhile, I'll have written 10 books I wasn't passionate about, but they're making readers happy and earning me money, so I can't complain. But I'm really looking forward to November.
For me, being able to switch between pen names, genres, and even series within those pen names has been great. I like knowing that each month I'll be in a different head space, writing with a different voice, etc. It makes things less monotonous than I think they would be if I were just doing one brand all the time.
How I manage research
A lot of my books require a ton of research, because historical fiction is my primary brand and it's tricky that way. It's lucky for me that I love to read history nonfiction anyway; I spend most of my free reading time getting lost in history books about subjects I find fascinating. So I soak up a lot of research about my chosen topics at my leisure, then do supplemental research (looking up specific dates, finding out how crinolines work, etc.) "on the fly" as I'm writing. Good old Google.
For example, I told my trad publisher I want to pitch a book about Calamity Jane this spring. Started reading biographies about her in July, and will keep reading about Calamity through the winter just because the topic has grabbed me. By the time I actually sit down to write that book, most of what I need to know should be in my head already.
Just Do It
How do I mentally give myself permission? I wish I could offer some advice to you there, too. I've never had that problem. My identity has been "professional writer" since I was a child. Everybody around me knew that I intended to become a full-time writer when I grew up. Even my bosses at my various jobs knew that I was a writer first and foremost, and only did those jobs because I had to. It meant I never had a long-term career before writing, but I didn't care: writing was always my long-term career, and I just hadn't landed there yet.
In addition, I come from a family of professional artists, so creative careers were par for the course in my experience. That is unusual, though. Most people don't get to grow up with "painter" or "yarn spinner/weaver" (which my sister does) or "actor" or "opera singer" or "writer" as perfectly valid career options. Most people are raised to believe that creative pursuits can't pay the bills and must be hobbies. I'm sure it's very difficult to break out of that mindset, if you've grown up with a family/community that expects you to put a "real job" first and creative production last.
But I think you do it this way: it's considered very normal (in the USA, at least) to put your career front and center. This is your job. Everybody has to get up in the morning and get dressed and go do their job until the workday is over. Just because your job is writing books doesn't make it any less jobby. You still have to do it. Every day. You still have to hit 100K words per month (or whatever your goal is.)
I love working with pen names. I think you should use them for branding purposes, not necessarily for concealing your identity--mostly because it's just not that hard to figure out who's really behind a pen name. But for branding, they're great. Use them where you don't expect much crossover between audiences.
Currently, I have a pen name for historical and literary fiction (those genres see plenty of crossover between audiences, so no need to separate those brands, though I do indicate whether a book is more commercial or more literary with its cover. My beautifully illustrated covers below are obviously more commercial, as they hearken to classic fantasy and sci-fi novels, but with a distinct historical feel. The more esoteric Baptism for the Dead has a cover that feels less commercial.)
I also have a pen name for paranormal and contemporary romance--which Paul and I begin promoting/attempting to break out on October 1, yay! There isn't a lot of crossover between HF and lit fic, and the romance genres. Therefore, a new pen name was needed.
The third current pen name launches in February 2016 and is focused on young adult sport stories: mostly equestrian sports (i.e. HORSEY GIRLS!!!) but I'm also planning a series based around a summer camp. Obviously there wouldn't be a lot of shared interest between teens' horse/summer camp stories and steamy paranormal romance, or literary fiction. (I'm super excited about this pen name, because I've wanted to write books about horses since I was a wee child.)
As for marketing consequences of different pen names--it's a lot of balls to keep in the air, for sure. Having an assistant has helped TREMENDOUSLY with this. But I had two pen names before Paul came to work for me, so it's manageable without an assistant--you just have to be a little more organized and focused. Being aware of what promotional efforts actually work well, and which aren't giving high enough ROI (whether your investment is money or time) helps a lot. Then you can cut out all time-wasting efforts and streamline your promo hours so you're only putting effort into what works.
You can't be afraid of letting readers down. You WILL let some of them down. It's not a reflection on you; it's just that you and that reader didn't make a love match. You haven't loved every author you've ever read, right? Same will hold true for readers of your works.
What has worked the best for me
Outlining. Specifically, outlining the way I outline, which puts a sharp psychological hook into the reader from the first chapter and pulls them inexorably along to the end of the book (or better yet, the end of the multi-book series.) Outlining before I write saves me a ton of time, so I never enter the dick-around phase, where I fiddle with the plot and characters and have to go back and delete days' worth of work because I wrote off in the wrong direction.
I go over all that in Take Off Your Pants. If you do want to increase your speed, it might be a good book for you to check out.
If there were a writing Olympics, you'd be in them. Bravo!