Numbers of people have been curious about the length of time it takes, or doesn’t take, me to write my novels. My novels average 140,000 words per book, most a few thousand over. The first one, Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC, took me about nine months. I was new at it. It’s a bit awkward, but readers tend to favor it, though it’s the least well written in my own opinion. The second was about four months of writing time. The rest were a lot faster at about three months. Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC came out in 2012, Manak-na’s Story, 75,000 BC came out in 2013, Zamimolo’s Story, 50,000 BC and Tuksook’s Story, 35,000 BC both came out in 2014, and The SealEaters, 20,000 BC came out in 2015. I do work very long days and require little sleep. When I’m writing I’m “submerged” so that often I don’t hear the phone ring. Being “submerged” like that is a source of great pleasure. It’s a total envelopment in the project.
I never have an outline. In my school days when teachers required outlines, I’d have to write my paper and then outline it. My brain synthesizes before analyzing. The closest I come to an outline is the genealogical chart that appears in each of the Winds of Change novels. That is actually an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, and I occasionally put notes on it. It gives me all the guidance I need on one surface. It’s great.
Oddly the third book, Zamimolo’s Story, 50,000 BC, brought out a reader complaint that the book appeared to have been written too fast. I don’t have deadlines. There’s no need. Zamimolo’s Story, 50,000 BC was about average in writing time, and, no, I wasn’t pressed. I had read a book on plot and structure, thinking that might enhance my writing. I’ve never taken a novel writing course. I thought some learning might be good. I followed the guidelines of the book. Readers didn’t like the effect, so for the remaining two novels, I discarded what the book taught and reverted to my original storytelling approach.
It’s not that I never wrote as a part of my occupations. One of my early jobs was writing self-instruction courses for the federal government. A friend of mine and I had the same function but we arrived at our products very differently. She wrote and wrote, filling trash cans with wads of paper. I walked about the office building on the 26th floor of the Federal Building in Seattle staring out the windows, drinking coffee, sometimes almost audibly humming. People knew not to startle me when I was roaming. Near the same time my fellow writer and I would both write our final draft. We were friends, and after we finished writing, we’d go somewhere we could make noise, and we’d critique the other’s writing. Some saw it as brutal. Neither of us did. At that point our job was to polish the product of the other to the very best of our ability. It was pure joy to each of us to see our product improve due to the effort of the other. One of us might say to the other, “When you wrote that (pointing to a line), what were you thinking?” Then when the writer saw the problem, we’d both explode with laughter. The problem would be fixed, piece polished, and move on.
When people asked about our processes, I explained my process as lazy. I wrote the course in my head as I wandered around the building. When I finally sat down, I knew the structure and content from end to end. I’d write the first and final draft. The same holds true for my novels. Except, instead of wandering about a high rise, I’m at home, out doing book signings where there’s an occasional lull, driving the car, sitting on the porch, running the tractor, and so on. All these interludes are filled with my head actively massaging the story. Then it’s just a matter of sitting down to write the book from end to end. I still have initial readers who know me well enough to pick at my work down to the molecular level. They are wonderful! They give me their input and I take that and do the final edit.
Sometimes as I’ve walked through a store, people may have thought me rude for not recognizing them. Little did they know that I might be imagining thousands of years ago in a cave. I could pull up the scent of the place, the breeze, the chatter of characters and birds in the trees. I didn’t see the apparel beyond the groceries. I saw imagined Neanderthals. I “wrote” mentally as I walked through the store. I enjoyed that while shopping, something so routine and boring that the grocery list on my phone and my knowledge of where the product could be found in the store led my walking, while my brain freely “wrote” or tested what-ifs or processed other questions. How would a character or two or three respond if something, such as _____, were to occur? Could I interject this little piece of information in this way smoothly? This mental writing form gave me time to get to know my characters. Playing the mini scene let me know whether the behavior would be consistent with each character. In doing this, the brain can function differently. Some writers will call it arguing with a character. In freely writing in one’s head, it can happen that the what-ifs come up with something for which I had no plan at all. I cannot pin down the source. But it was the prior development of the character that showed me that my expectation did not fit with the character and what “came to me” did. Arguing with a character? I don’t really think so. I do know that might be how it would look. I’d much prefer to do that mentally than on paper!
One factor that influences my writing fast is that I researched for five years before I started writing. That provided a wonderful platform for “writing” the whole series. It gave me my sense of time where humans were affected by great earth events, starting with the actual eruption of the supervolcano, Mt. Toba, setting off a Time of Peace on earth as humans had to depend on one another for basic survival to the Ice Age Glaciation of the mid-20,000 years ago which ushered in a Time of War, creating land ownership conflicts that continue on today, shifting from guilelessness to cunning.
Research time isn’t a neat tidy package. Bits of knowledge float about in a murky soup. It’s only by staying with it, stirring, adding more elements to the soup, that it suddenly becomes analyzable, almost mystically, and then the soup becomes something that can be synthesized into a novel and novels and a series of novels. In some ways research is my favorite time. It sets off great sparks of creation that ignite my interest in the stories. Interests that last for keyboarding the story, editing it, seeing it form into substance, and establishing the passion for the crusade of getting the book out there to share with others.