The way I write has changed a lot over the years.
When I was writing my first novel, I was pretty chaotic. I’d start at odd times and for odd durations and it’d be a complete toss-up whether I would or wouldn’t go back to the book in any given week. Often I’d go for days or even weeks without making any progress. Of course, a lot of that was because I didn’t really know what I was progressing to: it took me fifty thousand words before I even figured out that I was writing a book in the first place.
My second and third books went more smoothly (which is is usually the way). Still, I wasn’t particularly organised about it – writing wasn’t my job, just something I juggled in between all the other things I was doing in my Gap Year and at university. After I graduated I started experimenting with different writing methods, some of which worked well and some of which worked . . . less well. I went through a phase where I’d work from 12 to 3, AM and PM – as in, 12 noon to 3 in the afternoon, then again from midnight to 3 AM. The fastest I’ve ever written a book was during this period – I finished a young adult novel in a little over two months. On the other hand, to get that kind of speed I had to make some major trade-offs, and the schedule didn’t do my social life any favours, either.
It wasn’t until Taken that I started trying out a more methodical way of working (not coincidentally, this was around the point I shifted over to writing full-time). I calculated how long I had until my deadline was up, then worked backwards to figure out how fast I’d have to write to make it. As things turned out, I didn’t make the deadline, partly because my law finals happened to arrive just a little while before the book was due, and partly because while my arithmetic on the timing had been right, I hadn’t budgeted for any unexpected delays. The manuscript was a couple of months late – not uncommon in the literary world, but it annoyed me all the same.
When I started Chosen, I took the lessons I’d learned and worked out a schedule. I knew I had six months to write the book, and I also knew from past experience that my Alex Verus novels were averaging around the 90,000 word mark. 90,000 divided by six is 15,000, and 15,000 words a month comes out to 500 a day. So, if I wrote 500 words a day for six months, that would equal one book – I just needed to make sure that when the inevitable delays happened, I’d do more on following days to make up for it. It didn’t turn out quite that neatly in practice (it never does) but it worked more than it failed, and I finished Chosen and sent it off to my publishers a few hours before the deadline.
I knew then that it was possible – to set a routine, and keep to it and compensate for any delays well enough to aim for a deadline months away and hit it. I did the same thing with Hidden, and the same thing happened – I finished the manuscript almost exactly six months from starting it. And that was how I started Alex Verus #6, and so far it’s working this time, too.
It’s become a routine, now. I have the fonts and page settings on my word processing program calibrated to around 500 words a page, which means that instead of doing a word count I just need to finish each day’s writing one page on from yesterday. Sometimes I get ahead of schedule, sometimes I get behind, but the fixed routine gives my day a level of structure that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Maybe some day I’ll change it once again, but it’s working pretty well for now. 🙂