For the last four months, I’ve been writing two novels simultaneously. In case you’re wondering at the effects it’s had on me, (perhaps because you’d like to try it!), these are they:
- The works are have starkly different styles.
This is in part because the second novel, the one I started in July, was planned that way (I’d like to get into details about this project but it’s secret for now, unfortunately). But it’s been such a help that the works are different – when I open the file for one I seem to take on the ‘persona’ required to write that book, and switch when I need to write the other (one is a very brave, fearless sort of writer woman who knows what she’s doing. The other is, well, me.) The lead characters are starkly different people – one an introspective, gentle man and the other a violent, unpredictable woman. Both are within the same genre, however, so as I’m living day to day picking up different crime-related facts and stories, I have the option to relate them to either text. I think writing in two different genres would be too much for me mentally.
- This is the fastest I have ever written.
And I think this is because the works are so different, I ‘take a break’ from one by writing the other, but always write, sometimes 2,500 words a day. Even when I’ve been down-and-out with writer’s fatigue, I have usually put words down on one or the other text, and the break has left me fresher for the return to the work that tuckered me out.
- I can’t sleep.
At all. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I think that the simplest explanation is that I’m in writer-hyper-drive. I have twice as many characters and twice as many plot holes, twice as many ‘next scenes’ and twice as many climaxes rushing at me, closer and closer all the time. I like to really think through the climax over and over, trying to work out what will happen in those final moments before writing it, sometimes beginning to plan it halfway through the book and sometimes, as in the case of Hades, not achieving that until the cursor is on the screen. I’m operating on about three hours sleep a night at the moment, and have been for a few weeks. I seem to be getting through it ok, but the afternoonies are a killer right now.
- I’ve started plotting.
Which is something I’ve sort of stuck to. I’ve wandered off the plot for the second novel in its last quarter, but in a general sense I could not have done this without some tight plotting. I think the dread of having two unplotted novels on my desk would have intimidated me right out of the project.
- Watching the numbers has been both helpful and unhelpful.
On my whiteboard, I’ve kept a running tally of both books and ‘words to go before December’, which at the moment stands at 54,000. (Approximately 9,500 for the smaller project and the rest for the larger one). I’m sprinting toward the finish with the project that started in July, only because that seems to be what my gut wants to do. Watching the numbers throughout this experience has been both terrifying and encouraging. I’ve reported them to friends and relatives periodically, and I remember mentioning to my mother when I had 75,000 words to go, and telling my mother-in-law when I had 64,000 words to go. At times, when the words have only shifted by hundreds in a day, wiping them off and replacing them with my small efforts has felt awful.
- I’ve realised the importance of having the right equipment.
Being someone who grew up making the best of what I had, I’ve splashed out in the last few months, and thank God I did. My partner and I have moved to an apartment where we have our own office space with a large window overlooking the water, where before now I have been a musical-chairs writer in libraries and cafes. I hooked a big old flat-screen TV monitor to my laptop and bought an external keyboard to eliminate neck and shoulder problems that have plagued me for months – and though I’ve always mocked people who use cork boards and PostIt notes (including my partner) – here I am, surrounded by those little yellow squares and colourful pins.
7. I don’t have time for uncertainty.
What a blessing that has been. As I’ve only really switched between books and not had long periods of non-writing, I haven’t had time to consider either of them away from the open screen and to wonder – as all artists do – ‘Is this complete garbage?’ From the feedback I’ve been getting from my publisher and agent, neither work seems to be garbage. But that’s beside the point. I haven’t really wondered that much if they are, and so have managed go months without feeling sad and frustrated by what I do. If only we were all too busy to have doubts. We’d only have to worry about how we’re going to deal with the inevitable end-of-project crash.
8. I may be risking everything.
I’ve left myself basically no room for error. And I suppose that’s the difficult thing about trying to do something like this on a deadline, if you’re considering it. There has been exactly no room for experimentation in either book, so I’ve had to drive the vehicle all the way there, perfectly, with no side streets or dead ends I’ll regret later. If my publishers were to come back now and say the either work needs major changes, the deadline of both, and thus, my future books, would be pushed well out. But you’ve got to risk it to get the biscuit, haven’t you? I’m at the point in my career when I need to take risks like this, and thus far they seem to be paying off. Fortune favours the bold, and all that, right?