Friday, June 13, 2008

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

from Jacqueline

Last weekend I finally finished the manuscript for my next novel and have just embarked upon my first revision. This may sound strange, but I have never actually revised a manuscript beyond a quick spell-check before sending it to my editor. I’ve never had the time. Then I go through a couple of revisions based upon my own reading and editorial comments, and that’s it, done. Never to be seen again until an advance review copy lands at my door, and I start to read and want to scream because I see all the things I should have seen before I sent the manuscript out into the world. But along with that scream, there’s also a sense of relief. It’s done. I actually managed to write another book. From the depths of “I don’t think I can do this ....” as I looked at the blank page in January, to the point at which I knew how the final scene would look, I managed to do what I thought I would never be able to do again. Funny, that. And I’m already starting to agonize over the next one.

So, here I am, knowing that in a few weeks, that will be me, done for the summer. The revisions will be completed and I’ll be off the hook for a little while. It’s like being let out of school. I’ve already started imagining all the things I’ll be doing. I’ll ride for another hour in the morning. I’ll drag out the harp and start playing again. I’ll paint pictures. But what do I always end up doing? What’s my treat to myself? I write. I’ll write a few short stories (which remain tucked away in a folder on my desktop), I’ll go back to that memoir and start revising it again, and of course, I’ll also try to pull that other novel together, the one that I wrote last summer but want to go back to because it needs one heck of a lot more work and summer is the time. Then there’s the book that might be the start of a new series, the one I just had to get out onto the page while working on this most recent manuscript, because if I didn’t it would have rolled around in my head and the characters would have distracted me no end.

For me, every book I’ve written has been different in terms of how the words have come from my mind to the page. If I have a muse, it’s as if I’m at the mercy of her emotions, how she feels on a given day. She should be on hormone therapy. When I wrote my first novel, the one that took the longest to write, the only thing that drew out the process was the fact that I was working full-time and had a bad, bad accident in the middle. The second novel terrified me. How would I ever pull this off again? I knew I would be revealed as a fake, so I was glad to have that day job. With the third novel I began to feel like a runner who was finally wearing a pair of shoes that didn’t pinch at the toes. I had the story in my head, I knew I had done this thing before, so I could probably do it again, and of course I was convinced that someone would send the heavy mob around to knee-cap me if I missed a deadline.

The next novel was a different matter all together. Drip, drip, drip, so slowly came the words, though I still wrote a book in just a few months, because I had to, because that’s the way it works when you do book tours, do a lot of research and then also have to write. You do what you can, when you can. But that drip, drip, drip scared me, in fact, I think I even wrote the image in to the book. The next novel surprised me, because far from dripping, all I had to do was shoot that water cannon at the page, and the words just flew into sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and before I knew it, I had the end in sight as I came down the long stretch.

So, that’s how it goes, this business of writing. People often ask me if I have a special place to write, if I have rituals, and if I meditate before writing. The answer to all of the above is, “No.” I have a blank page in front of me and a deadline to meet. With a bit of luck, I’ll have a scene or two in my head, an advancement of the narrative rolling around in my mind, but it’s nothing unless it’s on that blank page, and a blank page to a writer is a bit like a millpond on a sunny morning before the water has had a chance to draw in the heat of the day. You just know you’ve got to dive in, and you know it will hurt for a while, but experience tells you you’ll weather that initial shock to the system, and you just hope you’ll warm up and start swimming across. Drowning isn’t an option, especially for the professional writer with a deadline and the aspiring writer with a dream. It’s just what you do. You’re a writer.

Taking Cornelia’s lead, I was going to use Photo Booth on the computer to show you the smug look of someone who has just met that deadline. But me, first thing on a Friday morning? I don’t think so ....

Have a lovely weekend.

Aw, heck, changed my mind ...

This is the one without a glass of champagne. That'll come when I've sent back the galleys.

(PS: I'm sure I've used the title of this post for a previous post, but never mind - it's one of my Dad's favorite songs. He's a real Nat King Cole fan).


  1. Gorgeous, smug-smile shot of you, Jackie!

    And you forgot that, in the middle of these "what will I do with all this extra time?" few weeks, you'll be herding (and heading) the Book Passage Mystery Conference. The attendees are all very lucky to have your attention there.

    Can't wait to see you.

  2. Great post Jacqueline! It is always interesting for those of us who do not write for a living to get a glimpse into the life of a prolific writer.


  3. Wonderful post, Jacqueline! I'm inspired to get back to my little mystery bit and just get on with it. But there's a million things to do before we go do a day painting demo in Salem tomorrow. Sigh.

    But I think I'll keep your words close in the meantime. :-D

    PS: Gleeful jumping up and down. There's another Maisie Dobbs book about to be born. Yippeeee!!! :-D

  4. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, Louise, Steve and Marianne. Yes, there's the Mystery Writers' Conference, plus I'll be in Scottsdale for several events next week, then there's the Myth and Mystery Conference in July, St Hilda's in August ... and I'll be left wondering where the summer went!

    (Wondering about the 'prolific,' Steve. Never thought of myself as a prolific writer, though I would like to be.)

  5. Congratulations, and you look gorgeous, indeed!

  6. great picture, jackie - you really haven't changed a bit in all those years.

    looking forward to wander about fitzroy square with maisie again. i miss her now that i've read all her adventures.

    enjoy your days off,


  7. Paulie always asks me if I like writing or if I like having written. The latter methinks. Congrats on finishing!

  8. from jacqueline

    Thanks, Cornelia, how lovely of you! And Sybille, you too - but I assure you, I look pretty different to thirty-odd years ago (eeek!).

    Patty, I think having written is quite a lovely feeling. The writing is what you do to get there. And the other thing is that my little office looks as if it's been hit by a tornado after a book is finished, so to have the time to clean it up a bit is a deep, deep joy. Never thought I would say that about cleaning.

  9. I just finished the latest Maisie Dobbs and cannot wait for the next one! I am such a big fan! I was in a bit of a reading funk and the series was suggested to me and it was just the ticket. I cannot wait for the next installment! Thank you so much for your novels!

  10. Surely you jest Jacqueline! Five books in five years another nearly done must qualify as prolific, right?