Housebreaking Your First Draft

I read a great post by Laura Anne Gilman last week on what it takes to actually make a living as a writer, and dealing with the burn out that invariably comes with it.  It’s quite simple, really.  To make a living writing, a writer must write.  Writing two to three books per year means dedicating the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair all day, every day.

That got me thinking (I know, dangerous!).  I don’t get to spend all day, every day writing.  Not yet.  Someday I hope to.  I don’t have a problem with that aspect.  I already spend nine hours a day in front of a computer doing work I don’t actually enjoy.  Then I come home and try to put in another couple doing something I do enjoy.  Piece of cake.  I’ve got the BICHOK syndrome for sure.  (Butt In Chair Hands On Keyboard)

But that’s only the first part of the puzzle.  May I repeat:  Writing two to three books per year.   And I’d forgotten, until just recently, how hard writing a book is.  Yes, I’ve been working on at least two over the past *cough* couple years.  I haven’t started a new one until now.

Hey, can I eat these shoes?

I liken it to the people who have a dog for fourteen years and finally have to say their goodbyes.  Then they go out and get a puppy.  They have to go through housebreaking again, and teaching basic manners.  Puppy teeth marks appear in everything, and several new pairs of shoes later they’re crying that their previous dog was never this bad.  In truth, their previous dog was probably just like that.  But they’ve forgotten what it’s like to have an infant canine ruling your household.

Starting a new book, even though it’s the second in a series, is a lot like that.  I’d forgotten how hard it is getting through a first draft.  I had been immersed in the polishing and fine tuning of my novel – my dog was trained and reliable and, yes, maybe needed a little reminder every now and again, but could pretty much be trusted on her own.

Enter the puppy.  Characters I thought I knew inside and out are reacting to situations in ways I didn’t expect.  The plot has taken a turn I never thought of.  And just getting the words out, making it through that puppy’s first year, is about going to kill me.

Well, not really.  But it is tough.  I want to go back and analyze every facet, every word, re-write before I’ve finished writing in the first place.  I need to settle back into the rhythm of simply putting the words down on the paper and not looking at them until I hit The End.

And I’m doing the arithmetic, which I never did with the first book I finished, because that one was just to prove I could actually do it.  Now I know I can do it.  I want to do it again.  And again.  So I need to know how many words I have to write a day to reach my goal.  What is my goal?  Do I even have a goal?  And I’m starting to panic.  Just a little.  Because my goal is to NOT take two years to finish this book, but I’ve got that pesky day job and real life to contend with and . . .

. . . just like training that puppy, it’s going to take patience.

Sit, Ubu.  Sit.



  1. And I thought I was alone. You’ve just described the “mess” I’m in with my second attempt at a novel. I’m doing the same things you are. In fact, I ignore the thing altogether for many, many days. I’ve never done that before. So although I have no suggestions for you, perhaps it will help to know that we’re not alone. You have helped me. You’ve made me see I have second-book flu. I’m going to have to go back to work and stomp the illness out by BICHOKing. Thank you.

    • Anna, glad you enjoyed the post and that it helped. I’m beginning to realize that even though writers are solitary folks, there aren’t many things we go through alone. Someone out there is going through the very same thing. So stay strong, power through, and it will happen. (That’s what I keep telling myself, anyhow.)

  2. Hahaha – what a perfect analogy. It’s very true. And I think that picking up a second in a series (or third or fourth), would probably be even more challenging, because not only will the character surprise you, you also want to add something new to their story to make it at least as good as the first one. It’s something I’m working on myself at the moment.

    I have every faith that you can do this. Like you say, it’s a just a matter of training 😉

    • 2k per day, that’s my new mantra! It will be tough with my schedule but I’ll aim for the weekly goal and try not to best myself up on a daily basis. 🙂

  3. Wonderful post! (I really enjoy your blogs.) 2K is my goal a day and I do write full-time. Hmmm. Maybe I should reach higher. Thank you for the inspiration.

    I will say that sequels are damn hard. They pose unique challenges, but they can also be a lot of fun because now you’re dealing with a teenage puppy…so to speak.

    You can do it! I encourage you to use the thread in my forum to record daily word counts. It really helps me to record my progress and it inspires everyone to see another writer’s progress.

    I am just now beginning (in earnest) the sequel to GLORY and plan to start recording my wordage there. Maybe our puppies can play together!

    • Thanks, Devin! It’s always nice to know my posts have some effect on the reader – hopefully a positive one! LOL

      2k might be a little ambitious with a 9-hr a day job (grrrrrrrrrr) but I make use of my breaks. I figure if I can do 1k1hr, then I should be able to squeeze in 2 hours of writing for 2k. I haven’t hit it yet, yesterday I came close with roughly 1900.

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