Every word for itself.
I’ve said it a million times, usually behind a smile as I answer a question about juggling three little ones and more than twice that many novels. It’s still true six years into writing full time, though the meaning—like my process—has evolved.
In the beginning: bedlam
When Front Page Fatality sold, my children were 8, 4, and 19 months. Working on those revisions, every word for itself meant whatever I could scribble on a Kroger receipt or shout into the voice recorder on my iPhone while rescuing the baby from the unwitting toddler suicide attempt of the moment, answering my son’s ten thousandth question of the hour, and helping my oldest (who fully embraces the Phineas and Ferb “seize the summer” philosophy) with her project of the day.
Then—more books! Contractual obligation to hang out with my imaginary friends! Yay!
My life was hectic. My house was loud. Thanks to a decade in newsrooms, I can write in a noisy environment, no problem. Writing when a toddler is pushing your laptop into the floor, trying desperately to climb up into that spot herself? Problem.
I knew how fast the days littlest little wanted to be in my lap would fly. I refused to give up those moments—but deadlines meant I had to make up the time.
Evolution 1: Starbucks and late nights
In eighteen months, I wrote three books and a novella, and I owe every word of them to coffee.
Since I cannot drag myself from the bed before sunup unless someone is in labor or I am trying to catch a plane, it wasn’t morning coffee.
“Every word for itself” became pounding them out while camped in an armchair at my neighborhood Starbucks (which has the most wonderful staff of any coffeehouse anywhere), or after the littles were tucked in for the night with the help of my Keurig and a lot of Colombian Fair Trade Select. Awesome, until caffeine + lack of sleep elevated my blood pressure. Oops.
Evolution 2: checking boxes
Drafting Cover Shot, I took the advice I give the children when they have big school projects, breaking my novel into a daily word goal. My artistically inclined oldest made me a beautiful new “Mom’s Word Count” chart every week. Every word for itself: box by checked-off box, I had a book to turn in on time, and no blood pressure medication threats.
Evolution 3: finding balance
Lethal Lifestyles brought a new obstacle: mommy guilt.
I’m thankful for the freedom being a writer mom affords, but “I’ll catch up tomorrow/next week/after break” is so easy when your kids want something right now and there’s no boss or time clock to keep you focused on work. Falling behind meant bigger numbers on my word count charts.Hours of trying to write didn’t produce enough to check a single box, because I was so worried about everything I wasn’t doing while I stared at my screen. Which made me feel more guilty for not getting anything done. Which meant more worry.
Something had to give. Turns out, it was me. I needed to give myself some slack. No pressure. No guilt.
Twice a day, I closed my bedroom door, opened my file, and set a timer. Thirty itty bitty minutes. But immersing myself in the story, setting aside the worry, hanging out with Nichelle—I found a groove. To the tune of 1,000 words per half hour. Every word for itself—as fast as they could fly off my fingers.
Evolution 4: School calendar drafting
The year I wrote Fear No Truth, littlest little started kindergarten. Five whole days in a week with a quiet house, hours of writing time stretching before me.
I could do all the things!
Except that thinking I had all the time in the world let me get sucked into things that made the time disappear. I was elected PTA president at the middle school. Room mom for both of the little littles. And I won’t even get into Facebook. But I loved the book and the characters, and found ways to consolidate things at the schools to two mornings a week, turn off the wifi, and get it finished.
Since it released, it’s been Amazon’s #1 new release in hard boiled mystery (thank you thank you, fabulous readers!). And I’m looking at a serious writing calendar for 2019: with the re-launch of my Nichelle series, that’s two books a year. I’ve done it before, this time it’ll just be juggling basketball schedules and carpool instead of playdates and tummy time. Darling bought me a nifty desk that goes from sitting to standing with the touch of a button and converted our sunroom into an office/workout studio for my birthday last summer. So far, I’m balancing taking care of myself and hanging out out with my imaginary friends pretty well—the new Nichelle novel was turned in last month, I took the school break off with my family, and I’m having a BLAST being back in Faith McClellan’s world this winter. If all goes well, I’ll turn this one in just in time for the littles to get out of school for the summer (and Deadly Politics, the new Nichelle Clarke, will release in just a few months, so it’ll be well established by the end of the school year).
Even with stress, I’ve always enjoyed my work. I love writing. I love Nichelle and Faith. I love my readers. But lately, there’s been a level of flat-out fun to the process I haven’t felt in a long time. It has me hoping this evolution hangs around a while.
With much affection,