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What Takes You So Long?

I stupidly talk about “the process” sometimes, and I make it clear that I’m not a slow writer when it comes to first drafts. I like to whack ’em out as quickly as possible.

It’s day 14 of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve hit the 50k without trying hard, while preparing a book for my editor, while being sick and having some sick little babas staying home from school, and, erm, while watching Netflix a lot. I know that a lot of the words in my first drafts likely suck, but that’s okay. I now have the bare bones of the story I needed to write. Editing will just poof that right up into a real novel.

When I work hard, I can write a lot more. (I can also burn out easily). When I’m working on a first draft, 5k is usually my minimum goal for the day. Have to watch out for the wrists though. There’s always at least one trade-off. (I didn’t just wake up one morning capable of typing fast, by the way. It comes with practice and having a very clear idea of the characters and storyline. I know my characters inside and out, and I visualise scenes all of the time, so they make it easy on me).

Because of this, I get asked things like: What the hell takes you so long to finish a book?

I work at home full-time. That job is writing. That job supports my family. I should theoretically be capable of a lot more than I’m doing when you compare my day with most other people. But I’m not good at editing, so I can’t cut corners, or the finished product will be embarrassingly bad. It takes me a hell of a long time to edit a book. I read threads on writing forums which make me want to weep. People actually let other people read their first drafts. Excuse me while I vomit in my mouth. I can’t even write if someone could possibly maybe slightly see my screen, never mind voluntarily allow another person to read the first unedited piece of crap set of words I spew onto a page. I spend an excessive amount of time editing one sentence emails before I can bring myself to send them. And I still make stupid mistakes. I don’t even…

Right, we get it, I suck at life and organisation, and all of that good stuff, but this is what takes me so long. My editing cycle – it’s more of a hellish nightmare really – usually goes a little something like this:

  1. First draft in Scrivenor – Awesome!
  2. First edit in Scrivenor – Hopeless despair. Countless hours fact-checking and researching things that never make it into the story.
  3. Chapter by chapter edit to transfer manuscript into word document – Frustration that this isn’t going any faster. Unsure if research is helpful or procrastination.
  4. Kindle edit – The story is actually working!
  5. Typing in changes from Kindle edit – Holy shit, there’s no way I can actually publish this crap.
  6. Days of ignoring the story and being incapable of writing because I’m so worried about the story that I can’t fix and won’t fix because I can’t even bear to look at it.
  7. Massive paper edit – I can do this. Maybe. No, wait, I can’t. I can fix it. This is unfixable. I may cry. Chocolate and coffee. Lots of it.
  8. Typing in changes from paper edit – What the hell does this scrawl mean? I love these characters. Ignore a lot of these changes and feel guilty about past me’s hard work. Laugh at my own jokes that I then delete. Glare at my window in case somebody happened to be creeping by (what? It could happen!) and caught me laughing at my own jokes.
  9. Kindle edit – Tweaking sentences. This has to be productive.
  10. Kindle edit – Tweaking sentences. Falling asleep. Panic that I’ve made a massive booboo in the timeline/continuity. Start over and double-check the timeline and continuity. Google the shit out of everything else I can think of. Reassure myself I didn’t mess up, but have stress nightmares thereafter.
  11. Kindle edit – I have to let my editor know I’m not going to be bloody well ready for editing. Tweaking sentences. Spending way too much time reading about grammar and not understanding any of it. Why didn’t I stay in school? Why didn’t I learn any of this when I did go to school?
  12. Big frustrated crying jag – Feeling a little better. Determined not to let this bitch book best me. Er, yo.
  13. Kindle edit – Pretty sure I’m just undoing changes I’ve already made. Tweaking sentences again. How have I missed this stupidity? Why can’t I read English? Why can’t I write English? Oh, my God, I’m so bored of this hateful book.
  14. Kindle edit – Inspiration. Three sentences change the mood of the entire book. La-la-LA! The pieces are finally clicking together. I am a freaking creative genius, people. How on earth did I manage to spell the main character’s name wrong though?
  15. (Somewhere amongst the Kindle edits comes the beta reading stage – if I have time. That’s when I rock to and fro wondering what to do when everyone contradicts each other, leaving me more confused than ever).
  16. Final Kindle edit – At least most of the words are spelled correctly. Probably. Some insane sounding cackling from my office terrifies the rest of my family. Extra obsessive fact-checking. Freeze my laptop with the amount of open tabs in Chrome. Cross out all of the notes I’ve scrawled in my notebook. That has to count for something. Squint to understand most of the scribbles, but feel like I’ve sorted everything I intended to fix. Maybe.
  17. Work up courage to send to editor – Can’t concentrate on anything but feeling sick with worry that the editor will think it’s the worst book ever written and ban me from hiring her ever again.
  18. First editor edit – Um, lots of repetition. You know, as usual. Delete seven thousand instances of variations of the word look. Rewrite the scenes that I’ve rewritten the most during my own process. Hate myself. Relieved somebody else is taking care of my mess.
  19. Second editor edit – Fix the new errors I’ve added because I’m a gobshite.
  20. Proofreader edit – Fix the highly embarrassing mistake that I’ve missed during my countless edits. Thank the universe for editors and proofreaders who must worry about my rapidly decreasing IQ.
  21. Final proofread – Doubt myself. Panic. Worry about the likelihood of missing small issues that most people won’t notice, but the ones who do will HATE ME FOREVER.
  22. Publish – Fall into a state of depression because I miss the book that put me through hell.

So that’s pretty much it! The hell-cycle is complete. And now I can start all over again. Except I can’t because I’m still missing the characters from the book I just finished. While I’m editing, I tend to get trapped there and forget about writing anything new. I’m trying to wean myself away from the obsessiveness and prioritise some new words on a different story every day that I spend editing. And it would be great if the whole editing thing could be more efficient and less soul-destroying. And while I like to tell the world I hate every moment of editing, I do love the finished product way more than I would if I didn’t act like a crazy Gollum person over my manuscripts.

So that’s what takes me so long and why I end up with so many first drafts and not enough completed ones. If I didn’t book editing slots, I would never finish anything. And yes, despite all of this, I know quite well I’m going to get complaints about using British English, but it’s worth it. Pinky swear.

(And I finally wrote an entire long-arse blog post without using a smiley. Maturity. Go me).

Published inclaire farrell


  1. This post, while I feel your pain, also made me crack up. You have a way of making even the worst angst sound funny.

    I’m a fairly slow writer, but I actually edit as I go. It’s slower on the front end, but causes fewer rewrites later. I find it fascinating to see different people’s writing processes. They are so different, and yet we all have the same goal. Get the thing published and sell it! 🙂 (I had to use the smiley…just HAD to.)
    Lauralynn Elliott recently posted…ROW80 Update 11/13/13My Profile

    • Claire Farrell Claire Farrell

      😀 There we go.

      Yeah, for me, editing as I go stops me from finishing anything. I get bored unless I get to the end as quickly as possible, and the books that I don’t finish all at once (as in within the same month or so) always need way more editing and feel like much more of a chore. I don’t know. My brain is weird. I find it easier to edit when I have a whole story, start to finish.

  2. Maria Wright Maria Wright

    I am a fairly fast reader and when I read an amazing story (like yours) I cannot wait for the next book to come out. I can see how getting a bunch of fan, like myself, saying that or asking how much longer it is going to be for the release could get beyond annoying and add unnecessary pressure. I would much rather wait years to read the next book with no obvious errors, than read one right a way with tons of errors.I find that you are an extremely fast writer and have amazing stories and great edits, so I am grateful that you take the time that you do. I think on Kim Harrison’s (The Hallow’s/Rachael Morgan Series) site she posted that it takes about 2 years for one of her books to be published start to finish. I just read a book (paperback) which was on the 3rd edition. It was awful. The story was good, long in some places that felt like it was never going to progress, there were typos, repeated words & sentences, there were single space, double space and triple space between paragraphs with no obvious reasons. One would think that with it being on the 3rd edition and in paper and not self published, there wouldn’t be that kind of mistakes. I have also read other authors that are on New York Times Best Seller List, that pump the books out, but I honestly don’t understand how they can be there.. I feel like they are so demanded to get books out that their stories start to suffer and by the 3rd book in the series they just suck.

    I guess what I am trying to get at…. take as long as you need and continue to allow the world to read your amazing stories. I love the way you write, it makes the characters feel real and able to connect with. It is easy to step into the worlds you create and become apart of them, regardless of how off the wall they are from reality they truly are. Thank you for being you 🙂

    • Claire Farrell Claire Farrell

      When I was writing my other series and people would ask when the next book was out, it would feel terrifying rather than annoying. Lol. It is a weird kind of pressure because you’re sometimes (while writing) thinking about how a book will be perceived when people are asking about it. For someone like me, that can add to the mental blocks. I can see why the really popular series sometimes lose that feeling that the author’s in love with the story. I find it hard to write what people want, so I can only imagine how it would feel to be under contract. That’s scary stuff to me!

      Embarrassingly enough, my edits don’t always work out (like recently, as I’ll be talking about on Facebook pretty soon!), but when they do, it’s worth it. Sometimes I read really good stories, but the errors/writing throw me out of the book so often that I can’t get lost in the story, and I miss that. I find that I’m way more critical now. It’s a lot harder for me to finish books these days because I’m mentally editing them. I miss falling in love with stories and characters and impatiently waiting for the next book! I just need to relearn how to read like a reader rather than a writer. 🙂

      In saying all of that, after two years work, I’d have lost interest in a book. I can’t work on the same thing for too long or I start thinking about everything else I could be writing. My attention span isn’t great. :/

      I do sometimes feel like writers are pressured to churn out more work just to keep them going money-wise. I’ve felt that pressure because my sales are way down, but it’s still not worth throwing out things that I don’t feel are the best I can do. If you’re capable of publishing frequently without sacrificing quality, then go for it. But I’m not, and I’m not going to put so much money and effort into something that isn’t up to a certain standard. I have a messy mind, but I also have a perfectionist streak. I understand I won’t reach perfection, but I need to feel like I’m improving, or what’s the point? That’s kind of hard for me, because I feel like I’ve plateaued right now. But back to the point (aargh!) it is a shame that obvious errors can still be present in a third edition of a book that should have a lot of people working on it. It kind of makes me feel like if they can’t do it right, how can I? But I’ve never aspired to be a bestseller (hello, lack of ambition), so I don’t have that extra kind of pressure on my back. (Although supporting a family is pressure enough, thank you very much!) Funnily enough, I’m feeling a lot easier and happier and less pressured now that I’m less successful than before, so make of that what you will.

      In conclusion – business=hard (and interferes with the writing). 😀

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