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Friday, June 1, 2012

What happens after you write a new manuscript?

Just the other day I sent the draft of a new novel to my literary agent, to see what he thinks about it. Maybe it's good; maybe it's not. Who knows if you'll ever see it?

Anyway, I know a few writers who are very productive souls are also very good at making use of the time just after they write a book to do what they need to do to get onto that next one. I noticed this, once upon a time, and tried to come up with my own method of handling the post-partum times. After I wrote LAST DRAGON, I didn't do any of these things, and it took a long time to get the second book really going. By the time I wrote WHEN WE WERE EXECUTIONERS, I had figured out a system that helped me keep myself on track, as a writer and a human, without burning out.

You see, starting your next novel right, right away is a terrible idea. Short stories, maybe, if they're really off of what you just finished, but even then, I'd hesitate to allow it for a while. Give your head a chance to rest - a week, minimum. Maybe up to a month. I'm going to make a list out of what I do. I like lists. In college, I was teased for spouting off lists all the time. Lists are fun.

Here's what I did this week, and what I am continuing to do, after turning in a novel manuscript to my agent earlier this week.

  1. Clean the house - because you know how messy it will get when you are pushing through to the end of your book. And, particularly if you do not live alone, you've been spending a lot of time doing something alone, at your computer, that your family does not like when they are doing the laundry, the dishes, the yards, etc. Cleaning the house, the whole house, and every part of the house, is a great way to show your appreciation for the people in your lives. Make dinner, too, for a week. Give the people around you a sense that it's their turn to relax, and that you truly appreciate their sacrifice for your obsessions. 
  2. Check your planned projects database and reorganize - I use business tracking software as if this writing thing were actually a job. I have a list of things to do, with deadlines, that e-mails me when the deadlines are getting close. White boards are great, too, if you have some wallspace! But, take time to really check and plan out what you did, how long it took you to do it, and what you think you can accomplish on your list of projects next, in an adjusted timeframe based on how you did. So, this book I turned in has been kicking around in various malformed drafts for years, but when I figured it out and prioritized it, I know how many months it took to write. I know when I started this big draft, and when I finished. I have an approximate look at what slowed me down when. I can use this data. I can plan, as if I were actually working in a day job, to manage my time and projects effectively. After writing a manuscript, turning it is, I think it is valuable to spend some serious time checking the numbers and times of things, and planning ahead the next projects that are do.
  3. Read More - Your head will need a chance to rebuild its sense of reality. For at least a week, maybe more, heal your head from noveling by reading. I think it is better to do this in paper or eInk, not in backlit website or PDF, because your eyes could probably use a break from the computer screen. Give yourself a week or two of just reading like mad. You earned it. Go you!
  4. Check your physical health and well-being - Writing is sedentary, and when you are thrilled to be nearing the end of a large project you might be like me and sacrifice your physical activity time for more writing time. So, don't do that for a while, and maybe sacrifice computer time for exercise time. I've gone for a long walk every morning since turning in the manuscript. That, plus the housework, means I'm getting a lot more exercise, and I'm feeling so much better already. Eat good food. Take time to prepare it. Drink lots of water (not coffee, not alcohol, not soda) or healthy, caffeine-free tea. I've seen a direct correlation between my health and the quality of my writing. I bet you will, too.
  5. If You Have People In Your Life, Remember Them - Are you married? Do you want to remain married? Take time to really spend time with the people you love, because you've been lost inside your head for quite a while. Take your special someone out and do what you do together. Vacations are nice, if you can afford them. So is just going to a fancy market to buy ingredients to make a special meal together, which is cheaper than a vacation, and also lots of fun. 
  6. Set a Firm Date When You Will Get Back to Work - When your head is ready, and your outline is ready, and your heart is ready, write another book. Don't stop. Never stop. The time you spend resting your head must not become a permanent repose. You know how you feel when you finish the book, and how your head feels. Plan the day, right away, when you will start writing again. I'm waiting only a week, for this one. When I finished the revisions in a crazy, crazy schedule for NEVER KNEW ANOTHER, I needed a month just to get myself back together. Every project is different, but don't let any project be the one that finishes you. Set a date, and stick to it. My business tracking software helps me stay honest. 
I hope that helps. You know, the planning is really more useful than you'd think. I'm still not perfect at it, but I'm getting better at it, and it really is nice to sit down and know how long things took, and about what I can expect next time. It's never perfect, but it's generally close enough. What it does is create a fuzzy sense that no matter how deep into the quagmire my elbows have extended, I know when things should work themselves out. And, they generally do. It's a nice feeling to have, in the back of your head. Also, there's no confusion about next projects, so I can quickly spin my head around into something planned and outlined, instead of floundering about looking for something that interests me. Having things that interest me in line already, I've found, is a very useful thing.

Oh, I poked around a little bit for software to use, and I settled on the free version (because it's only for one person) of Producteev. It works. It's cross-platform, and it e-mails me my deadlines. I like white boards better, but I don't have the space for one at the moment, where I'm staying. The only real advantage software has over whiteboards is that they will e-mail you when your self-set deadlines approach. In a perfect world, I'd probably use both software and whiteboard.

This post is about six times longer than it really needs to be, but there it is. I hope someone finds it useful.

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