The Novel is Done, Long Live the Novel

Around a week ago, I finished up The Turning Tide, the third in my Crosspointe series. Finishing a book is always rather a strange thing for me. There’s a certain amount of jubilation and awe at myself–I finished a whole, entire book! And then there’s this period where my body starts to completely freak out–apparently I’ve been holding myself together with duct tape and bailing wire through the end of the book (and every other book). I don’t sleep well for a couple of days because my mind is still fussing at the novel. Then I completely pass out.

But here’s the thing. The novel’s gone away to my editor and agent. There’s nothing left to do with it for awhile. I’ve just completed the contract, so I don’t have any novels promised as follow-up at this point. But I do have another contract for something completely different (and you know what that man’s buttocks are like), that I need to dive into. Which is to say, I have to shift gears (well, cars really) very quickly and get started on something else.

Now the problem with that first, is entropy. I don’t wanna!!!! It’s hard to switch away from this other story. And it’s not a delicate weaning process. At the same time, this new story has been poking at me and distracting me for awhile now and I really do want to write on it. But second, there is that whole thing where it feels like I’m a tiny little mouse in front of an Everest-sized pile of cheddar and trying to figure out just where to start.

So this is where I start. When I write, I put the chapters in separate word files and print them out as I go. This is partly as an extra backing up device, and partly because sometimes I find it easier to flip pages looking for what I’m after than digging through computer files, trying to guess just which chapter I mentioned that particular esoteric item in. I can also mark notes on the pages for later and this prevents me from going back and revising too much before I really know what I need to revise.

I take post-it notes and write the chapters numbers on them and tape them to the beginning of each chapter so I can flip through more easily. I put them in a binder with one of those plastic sleeves on the front that let you slide in a cover sheet. I then slide in a cover sheet with the title of the book on it.

So this is what I’ve done today. I’ve emptied the recently finished book out of the binder and bundled it up with the outline that turned out to be not so useful and the pages of notes and etc. that I had made. And then I printed out a title sheet for the new book and slid it in and have printed out my chapters for it and my (eventually useless, I’m sure) outline.

Next, I’ve cleared my desk of all the debris of the last book. That includes research books and notes and my daily progress sheet (my own personal cattle-prod) and I’ve cleared the way for new detritus. The books that are primarily going away are architecture books–I reached a point late in the novel where I needed some specific architecture elements–and then some blacksmithing books. What will soon descend on my desk are books on magical creatures, witchcraft, herbs, angels and so on.

This is the way I prepare. I’m not ready to actually dig in yet, but I will be within a day or so. And then I’ll be a happy camper until the page proofs come back on the book that I finished a year and a half ago, and until the editorial letter comes back on the book I just finished. Then I’ll no doubt be wailing about multiple-personality disorder. Or I may be drinking heavily.

So what do you do when you end a project? How long before you can shift gears? What tricks do you do to make the transition easier?

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  1. 1. Jessica De Milo

    Drinking heavily, huh? Lots and lots of Tony’s White Russians?

    I want to know more about this daily progress sheet: what do you mark on it? where exactly does it live?

    I’ve never done a switch in the reasonable time frame you’re talking about. I’ve had either less than 24 hours while writing in a workshop, taken six+ months off, or I’m working on two projects simultaneously.

  2. 2. Adam Heine

    I’m still unpublished (the first novel is being queried at agents), but I’ve had to switch projects once. First, I gave myself some time off, cuz like you said I couldn’t get the first novel out of my head. When I came back in, I had to do so slowly. I couldn’t start writing the new novel straightaway, so I had to do a lot of brainstorming and outlining just to get my head in the right world.

    I wonder, though, if the second novel were a sequel to the first (which it’s not), I think I might be able to just power through from the first novel to the second. I’d still want to give myself time to decompress though.

  3. 3. Karen Wester Newton

    I once hears someone at a writer’s conference recommend project folders (the kind that have a grid on the front for recording actions, dates, etc, and are only open at the top, so little pieces of paper don’t fall out), so I got some, and the do help because you can gather up all the loose notes and photocopied pages and stuff and write info about the book or story on the folder.

    That’s the easy part. The hard part is mentally shifting gears. If you’re not careful, you can end up rewriting the same book over and over.

  4. 4. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Jess: The daily progress sheet has the date, the chapter I worked on, how many words I got written, and a running total of the wordcount. That running total can be important because it helps me think about pacing. And it’s a metric for knowing whether I’m getting anything done.

    Adam: decompression is important, as I’m finding. I’m not hitting the ground running as much as I’d like. Plus I have multiple things I’m working on and I’m doing that so well. I have to find a method.

    Karen: I like the idea of project folders. And the last thing I want to do is write the same book over and over. Ug. That would be boring to boot.

  5. 5. Jackie Kessler

    End a project? Bloody hell, first I have to **finish** the project. ((EYES WIP WARILY))

    Congrats, Di!


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Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.



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