It happens every single time.
I have written seven novels and two seasons of a prose audio drama (essentially audio books with no reading option!) So nine novel drafts. That’s quite a impressive amount of words, when I think about it like that. Go me.
Each and every time, I create a beautiful plan. I write fairly fast so a couple of thousand words a day is a nice, gentle pace. Easily achievable, yet enough to feel as though I’m making progress.
So I sit down with my diary and I figure it all out, working around days when I’ve got another things on so will probably have less writing time (more relevant in normal times, obviously!), and taking into account the fact that the beginning and end tend to go fast and the footery bits in the middle take their sweet time. Then I pad it with an extra couple of weeks for urgent commitments or coming down with something or just running into an unexpected dead end in the story and having to revert to the wandering around doing nothing much but frowning stage for a few days.
I write it up all beautifully with doodles and swirls. Sometimes I colour code it. I’ve been known to laminate.
Then I merrily toss it out the window and spend the final week before the deadline howling into the abyss as I panic-type 7000 words a day.
Frazzled as fuck, I neither sleep nor dress. I don’t see a soul. I eat cereal straight from the box.
Why do I do this to myself? I like myself. I’m generally quite nice to me.
I know it’s coming. I understand how time works. I’m aware that if I don’t write, the writing doesn’t get done.
And yet, that last minute, frantic, cereal-happy frenzy hasn’t missed a single draft yet.
At this stage in my writing life, there are a few things I know not to fight. I’ve accepted I’ll lose my way and need to replot at some point at least once. I know I’ll sometimes spend a random day editing in the middle of the draft. I realise, as I talked about the other week, that there are some days I just won’t write at all.
I’ll hate it at various, generally predictable, stages throughout, I’ll never read it again when it’s done and will instantly forget at least half of it. There is nothing like having bizarre memory blanks over your own writing and being regularly reminded by readers of stuff you made up.
I went to a meeting of a lovely book club sometime the autumn before last, where a wonderful lady had baked cupcakes with wee socks on them.
‘Look, it’s the socks!’ she said.
I smiled frantically, panic rising. Socks? What socks?
Right, yes. Stuart Henderson. One of the main characters in the Glasgow Kiss series.
There’s something about his socks?
There is. She’s absolutely right. There’s a whole bit about his socks and I had entirely forgotten. I’d thought it up, I’d written it in a book, and then it had floated on his merry way clean out my brain, leaving me to stare blankly at a lovely book club lady who had gone to all the trouble of making said socks out of icing.
They were brilliant cupcakes, by the way. Socks and all.
One of my friends asked the other day about the third book in the Stockholm Murders series, and I realised I couldn’t really tell her because I’ve totally forgotten what happens in the first two books. I’m guessing people get murdered in Stockholm? And I can’t even re-read them to check because, like I said, I never read anything once I’ve finished writing it.
So writing the third one will be a fun rollercoaster ride of panic, entirely of my own doing.
The point is, I’ve accepted that there are certain writerly habits that are just how I write and I have to live with them.
But the last minute frenzy? I would quite like to break that one. There’s only so much dry cereal a girl can eat.