Tuesday, July 2, 2013
If Only I Could Just Write …
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to write a mystery novel if that was the only thing I had to do. Like most first-time authors, I wrote my first book, The McHenry Inheritance, when I could find the time outside my day job. It was a short book, about 200 pages, and the first draft took about six months. I started it in July and finished it Christmas Eve.
That’s not to say that it was written at any sort of steady pace. I pay the bills by being a freelance public relations and publications consultant in a mid-size market. Essentially, I work when my clients have projects for me, and when they don’t have projects, I don’t work.
For reasons I’ve never been able to figure out, the business oscillates wildly between feast and famine. It seems that I’m either working until nine o’clock every night or else doing nothing but making sales calls and drinking coffee. Maybe two months out of every year I have a normal workload: enough to keep me busy and profitable, but able to knock off at five o’clock every day.
Start and Stop
The year I started that first book, I had an insanely busy spring and plenty of money in the bank at the end of June. I’d planned on starting the book in April, but suddenly clients, most of them new, were coming at me from all directions, and I had to do justice to the work for which they were hiring me.
At the end of June there was a sudden drop-off in business, and I decided to concentrate on the book. July and August were relatively slow for the business, and I was able to make good progress. I probably had 40 percent of the first draft written by Labor Day. At that point the business gods smiled on me again, and things got busy again until mid-November. It wasn’t as crazy as April-June, but less work was getting done on the book.
For me, at least, writing fiction isn’t something I can do in 15-minute bursts. I have to have a block of at least a couple of hours, where I can really get into it and start feeling the characters and the story. I was busy enough that those blocks of time weren’t reliably there, and I began to despair of my goal of finishing the first draft by year’s end.
The Holidays to the Rescue
About a week before Thanksgiving, a couple of projects ended at the same time, and suddenly nothing was on the horizon, work-wise. In a project-driven business such as mine, the rule of thumb is that if a client doesn’t start a job before Thanksgiving, it will be postponed until after Martin Luther King Day.
My days were open again, and I got back to the book with a fury. There were a couple of slowdowns along the way, where I had to work through a story or writing conundrum, but I was really ripping, with almost no distractions. At 4 p.m. that last day, I typed the final sentence into the computer, hit save, did a double fist-pump, and headed home where my wife, son, and mother were waiting for my arrival so they could start the Christmas Eve dinner.
So what if I’d been able to start in July and had nothing else to do? I have a sinking feeling I know the answer. Parkinson’s Law (Work expands to fill the time available) would have kicked in, and I would have dawdled over it, daydreamed more, and drunk more coffee. The last sentence and the fist-pump still would have happened at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.