Things Nobody Told Me About Selling A Novel (Part 4): Your Writing Habits Need To Change

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Before I sold my novel Flex, I was beholden to no one.  So my process was simple:
1) Clear out a year to write a novel.
2) Write the novel in the evenings.
Which was easy. I had a day job and a social life, which meant like everyone else I was squeezing my writing time in – but nobody was telling me what to write, or when. Sure, maybe I got the occasional invite to an anthology – which is pretty top-end among short story writers, lemme tell you – but in general, my writing was this blank void where I took as much time as I wanted polishing my tales to a glossy shine, then walked around peddling these same tales to strangers.
Which was good. I needed focus to write a novel. Considering that my stupid brain won’t let me plot a novel in advance, I need several months to dig deep and figure out what this novel’s really about, then spend several months redrafting.
Truth is, I often turned those anthology invites down because my short stories take years to write.  Not “years of constant writing” – I’m not thatbad – but more like “First draft, get critique, let the story sit in a drawer for four months until I can look at it with fresh eyes. Second draft, realize the story is broken in some way I’m not yet smart enough to fix, put the story back in the drawer. Third draft  a year later when I learn something new about writing and go, ‘Oh, hey, that’s something I can use to fix that not-quite-right story!'”
So Flex was about fifteen months of unbroken devotion, give or take a minor heart attack in the middle of writing. (No, seriously. An actual heart attack.)  And when I said, “Hey, I’m working on this story about magical drug dealers,” there was a deep shrug because, frankly, I wasn’t popular enough to be fielding requests.
Fortunately, after I sold Flex and asked Seanan McGuire for a blurb, she called me up to talk about my book.  (She’s a phone person; I’m a text person. I feel continually bad about our mutual dislike of each other’s primary communication pattern, because any day I talk to Seanan is a good day.)  And during that conversation, Seanan gave me literally the best advice I’ve gotten as a professional author:
“You,” she said, “Are now the parent of a bouncing newborn. And like any parent, you’re going to fret about every aspect of this new novel-baby you have.  That’s normal.
“But what’s also normal is that like a newborn’s parent, you will no longer have unlimited time.
“If you are at all successful at this,” Seanan warned, “You will start to get other contracts. You will have edits that drop on your desk without warning. You will have opportunities you must seize now.  So from this moment forward, you must be like a newborn’s parent and learn to work in small chunks.”
And lo, on Monday I was finalizing the edits to Book Two, while also writing 750 words on the first draft of Book Three, and now I have about a week of uninterrupted time before the copyedits for Book Two drop back on my desk.  Come September, I’ll be starting another blog tour to promote Book Two’s release in October, which will involve me writing about thirty essays in my spare time while also working on Book Three.  And that all assumes that the other book I’m shopping around right now doesn’t sell – in which case I might spend the fall writing essays, re-editing the newly-sold book, and writing Book Three.
Did I mention that I’ve committed to write Book Three in nine months? I’ve never written a book in nine months before.
(Though I’ve done some advance work that makes writing Book Three easier, thanks to a lunch with Seanan four months back, where she told me “Start plotting the next book now, so if they want it you can hit the ground running.”  If you can get a Seanan McGuire as your Career Fairy Godmother, I heartily recommend acquiring a Seanan McGuire as your Career Fairy Godmother – though I will warn you, she hits very hard when you foolishly admit to reading reviews of your book on Goodreads.)
But the point is, this is just two books I’m writing – super-nice for a debut novelist, but by no means a blockbuster career – and I’m still oscillating back and forth between projects. And I’m not even trying to earn a living at this yet!  (As I tell people, “Writing is my career, but I have a day job.”)  If I was trying to survive entirely on words, I’d be hustling like my friend Monica Byrne, writing plays and novels and starting Patreons and constantly, constantly switching gears.
I know it’s impossible to believe that this lull before you sell your first novel is a luxury – I wouldn’t have, in the twenty-plus years I struggled to sell one – but if things go right, in some ways you’re going to miss that ability to set your own schedule. If you get the career you’re struggling for, you’re going to have to get used to writing a book a few chapters at a time, in between the other book edits and the pitches for future books and the opportunities you can’t turn down.
It’ll be awesome.  But you’d better be braced for it.   And I’m really glad Seanan told me, which is why I am telling you.

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