Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three tips for bouncing between books

I’ve seriously considered suing myself for whiplash. I might do it if I thought I had any money and wouldn’t look really stupid in a neck brace.

I have a three-book contract for my romantic comedies. When the contract was offered last February, I had already written the first two books.

I started writing the third a few months later, but had to slam on the brakes mid-summer – just a chapter shy of completion – to polish the first two before they were due on my editor’s desk.

I worked on book one, sent it off for critiques, polished book two, got the critiques back on book one, sent book two out for critiques, implemented critiques for book one, got critiques back on book two, implemented those changes, sent both documents off to my editor, and then stumbled blearily to my bed where I slept for a month.

I wish.

What I actually did was dive right back into book three. I was just hitting my groove again when my editor sent revision notes for book one.

As you might imagine, it made me a bit dizzy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled with my editor’s suggestions. It’s just the process of bouncing back and forth between books that’s making me feel like someone is slamming my head into a wall (which can actually be quite erotic if done right).

I know some authors can change gears effortlessly, but I’m not one of them. In case you share my struggle, here’s what’s making the process a bit easier on this round:

Mood music. As soon as I knew I’d be leaping into MAKING WAVES again, I made an iTunes playlist of all the music I listened to when I first wrote it. Then I thought about the elements my editor was asking me to add. More sex? A deeper sense of conflict for the hero? I perused iTunes for songs that had that tone, but still fit the mood of the story. It shifted me back into the right vibe, but the new additions got my brain thinking about what needed to change.

What’s that smell? Pythagoras and I have been lucky enough to travel the world, and I’ve always picked a new fragrance for each trip. I had never mentioned it – I just packed toiletry kits with scented lotions and soaps – but one morning I grabbed a lotion I hadn’t used for five years. Immediately my husband sniffed the air. “That’s Zihuatanejo, right?” Indeed, the olfactory senses are powerful memory triggers, and I’ve started using them for writing. When I originally wrote MAKING WAVES, I had a Pacifica Tuscan Blood Orange Soy Candle burning on my desk. Guess what I went out and bought when I knew I’d be jumping back into that book?

A font facelift. I write manuscripts in Courier, but my publisher requires Times New Roman for a final submission. Not a big deal for me or for them. But this is the first time I’m looking at MAKING WAVES in a different font. It’s like seeing a whole new story. Awkward words I glossed over on my 100th read-through suddenly leap out like perverts flashing me in a dark alley. I’m catching things I never have before, and that subtle shift has been a great way to wake up my tired eyes.

Have you had to bounce back and forth between stories before? Do you have any tricks for returning to the mindset of an old story or shaking it up when that’s required? Please share.

And please let me know if you think I could get anything on that whiplash lawsuit. Maybe a free massage?


Geoffrey Cubbage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geoffrey Cubbage said...

Depending on your life schedule or lack thereof, different times of day can become specific projects' time. I tend to knock off shorter things in my morning and save the longer projects for evening, when I have the option of working until my eyes bleed if I really want it. With enough repetition, that early morning sunlight can turn into a clear "start working on this stuff!" trigger for your brain.

Anonymous said...

I usually jump between several projects. I’m fickle, so it suits me to have several things going at once.

The smell thing… genius. I never would have thought about using it for my writing. The other day I told my fiancé that I needed a new perfume for the wedding so that when I wore it, he would be reminded of that day. Of course, he thought I was crazy.

Sarah W said...

I used to use scented candles, but now that I don't have a separate office,I'm afraid either the kids or the cat will set themselves on fire.

I never thought about changing fonts---thank you for the great idea!

Music is my biggest help in moving between projects. I'm lucky that the moods of my current stories are different. Like, ABBA and Apocalyptica different.

It's also helpful to avoid giving your MC's similar first names (headdesk). Such a rookie mistake . . .

Claire Dawn said...

Never bounced around. But this is my first MC that was really difficult to get into, and I'd never though it would be a problem. Now I'm not so sure. I can't just step in and out of her so easily.

Michelle Wolfson said...

I think that scented candle idea is brilliant. Smell is so powerful. Not that I have these issues mind you since I only do the reading, not the writing.

Really I just wanted to say how annoying it is how long you've been dangling this project number 3 in front of my face.

Darrell B. Nelson said...

I do the font thing a lot.
I write the first draft in New Times Roman then do a revision. Then I switch to Courier and see all the annoying little mistakes.
I think it really helps.

Mark S said...

I'm learning that I need to have several sections going at once or I get bored... even more broken up by side "projects" in the way of over-thought comments on sports and politic blogs, bad lyrics for original songs I hope nobody ever hears, or Photoshop fun for "cover contests" from a certain blogger I read like to read over morning coffee.

Basically, I write what I feel like writing when I feel like writing it. The success of such a non-strategy remains to be seen, but if I try to force myself to buckle down on a certain project I don't feel like doing at the time, it just doesn't work.

If I ever actually finish anything I look forward to driving my editors crazy, but am hopeful they will consider dealing with my erratic quirks as a necessary evil common in tapping uncommon genius.

In addition I would like to point out Nevermind. Just got bored. Catch you later.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Oh, gosh. I can't go from one character's POV in a scene to the next scene with a different POV without getting seasick.

I totall love the scented candle thing, though. Maybe I could go out and get sugar cookies when writing from my homey heroine's POV and then open a can of Old Spice deoderant when I get to my hero (although maybe I should try to jump into the new millenium and get some Axe. But that smells too much like my kids, and would be kind of creepy. Okay, Old Spice it is!).

Unknown said...

Well, I'd have to say I am one of those writers who can jump from one idea to the next. I have nine different series up for consideration. I'm only working on writing for three right now but I find myself planning a lot for the others. Yes, I also do the music :D

Quick unrelated question from something I learned in my english class; What came first for each of your books, the plot or the characters?

Wrym_N_Reason said...

I like the idea of switching fonts. I'll need to give that a try as I do my next round of edits.

I've often wondered if these secret cues could help add insight when reading someone else's work along with the cue. Is it possible that listening to the same soundtrack in the background could shift perspective a bit? I think so. What about burning the same fragrance?

Linda G. said...

Ditto on the aromas. Nothing sends me back in time like the scent of something special. I even love diesel fumes because of their strong association with riding buses all around Stockholm when I was a student there.

Jean Bauhaus said...

That font thing is a revelation. It never occurred to me before, but now that you mention it, it makes total sense that such a simple change would help you see your story with new eyes. Thanks!

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Linda; I love diesel,too, it makes me think of boating. Although I just read an article about how diesel exhaust is a huge trigger for PTSD in vets. Guess I'll have to unplug my diesel scents room freshener when my secret Navy Seal boyfriend sneaks in tonight.

Anonymous said...

All these tips are awesome because how they engage all the senses and I need to incorporate them into my process.

One thing I do is change locations depending on the focus of the project.

I get out of the office for the creative process to my living room with feet up, typing often with my eyes closed as if seeing the story like watching a movie. Then when it is final review mode, I take printed pages to a cozy chair as if I am a reader. The different locations depending on the process really helps me engage/disengage at each stage of a project.

Anonymous said...

Great post, wonderful information! I was just sent here to get a whiff of your notes having just written a post dedicated to scent memory. Glad to have found you :)

Génette Wood said...

The scent idea is brilliant. I've tried a few tricks before, but I get so distracted by the mechanics of the tricks that I forget to work on the story!

Christina Auret said...

I think I would suffer badly if I had to jump around they way you describe.

I was reading somewhere in a corner when they were handing out the ability to multitask.

Your scent idea is brilliant. I'm less sure about the playlist. It will probably work a treat for people who write to music. For those of us who can write or listen to music it will probably be less helpful than the candles.

lora96 said...

Love the scent-memory idea with the candle.

but not half as much as I loved your simile of awkward words jumping out like pervert flashers! Lol. The mental picture is atrocious. WHich means your work here is done, I suppose.

demery said...

I haven't YET had the experience of writing on more than on ms at a time - but I like your ideas! ipod tunes & scented candles to set a mood, create a world. Def. go for the free massage.

Amanda Hoving said...

I bounce between my fiction MS and my no-nonsense freelance work. I usually write fiction on my laptop...wherever, and my articles, etc., in my office on my desktop. A change of scenery seems to help me switch gears.

Unknown said...

I don't bounce usually, but I did with the book I'm working on now. It was almost done, and then I received the revision letter.

When the revision was off, I thought, "hmmm...this is being pitched as a series, I better start the second book."

So I did.

The submission is dead however, so I'm back to almost finished book.

I always use music. Each book has a playlist, but I like your scent idea. I'll have to try that.

Janelle Alexander said...

Great idea with the scents, Tawna!! Never made that connection, but I'm a big scent person so this totally makes sense! (scents make sense... hm...) ;o)

When I write, I change the background color of the document to match the character POV that I'm writing. Each character has their own color (along with their own playlist). :o)


Geoffrey, I can't say I've ever reached a point where I WANT my eyes to bleed, but to each his/her own!

KT, definitely go with the wedding perfume idea! 10 years from now you'll be so glad you did it.

Sarah, someone was just telling me about a candle-warmer thingy that sits under a candle but requires no flame to heat it and make it small nice. I might have to try that.

Claire Dawn, I know exactly what you're describing. The hero in book #3 is a tough nut for me to crack (snicker) and it's hard for me to step in and out of his mind.

Michelle, I promise, as soon as I get through these @#$% edits I'll have #3 on your desk!

Project Savior, I can't believe in 8 years of writing I had never tried the font thing until now, but it really does work wonders.

Mark S, you're adorable.

Teri Anne, Old Spice, huh? Hey, whatever works!

Matthew, I sent you a link via Twitter, but I talked in pretty great detail about my process in a group blog I did back in April. Here's the link:

Wyrm_n_reason, could be the sounds and scents would impact a reader, but I see that as a negative. Not everyone grabbing your book off a bookstore shelf will have those added devices, so it's important to make sure they can see/smell/hear things without it.

Linda G, mmm...diesel fumes. I can see the appeal!

Jean, it really is a simple thing, but amazing what a difference it makes!

Teri Anne, I have a good friend who's a Vietnam vet, and we're always having to keep a watch out for those "triggers."

teripatrick, great idea changing locations!

pennyjars, scent memory is a powerful thing indeed!

LadyGennette, you'll have to let me know how the scent thing works for you.

Christina, I've always been a pretty good multi-tasker, but the latest round has definitely been a test of my skills.

lora96, I do love those pervert flashers.

demery, I did go get a facial on Friday, does that count?

Amanda, I have a computer upstairs and one downstairs, and it really does seem to make a difference changing it up from time to time.

Jeannie, I hadn't given a lot of thought to the scent thing in writing until recently, but I always noticed it in traveling. Funny how slow I was to pick up on it for other applications.

Janelle, very interesting on the character colors. I'll have to try that sometime.

Thanks for reading, guys!

Regina said...

I bounce all the time between all of my little WIPs that I have going on, but my mind never shuts down and is nothing but chaos.

I sometime have to reboot myself depending on the project and I do have a playlist for each project too.

Unknown said...

I know, I'm sorry. I asked the Character/plot question on here first and then asked via Twitter AFTER I'd already commented on it here. By then, it was a little late to kill it on here ... Sorry if this was a slight annoyance ...

Anonymous said...

My second manuscript was going along great. 3,000 words per day was not a problem. (Pay no attention to the lonely husband and the sad eyed dog staring at me)

But my first manuscript is traveling home at the speed of a turtle on Xanax and I'm dreading it. It will be all proofread and edited and waiting to be polished before I knock on Michelle Wolfson's incoming email box.

And, suddenly, the brakes have been thrown on my second manuscript while I look for signs of the approaching UPS driver. arghh

Anonymous said...

OMG, Tawna. I can't believe you're working on 3 novels all at the sem time. All of my other author friends brains have exploded merely working on 1 novel at a time. How do you cope?