Sunday, May 30, 2010

Writin' slow

Can I tell you what annoys me?

Well, of course I can.  You're not going to jump through the screen and throttle me, after all.

Before I tell you what annoys me, can I just say 



Okay.  Got that out of my system.

Forbidden Rose is not actually 'out' yet.  That is, it has not yet let down its hair and made an official bow to society and gone to its first ball and got permission from the patronesses of Almacks to dance the waltz.

It's more like Forbidden Rose is leaning over the stair rail and sneaks down to dance with her cousin and everybody smiles nostalgically and looks the other way.  That kinda 'out'.

So Forbidden is in some stores, but not in others, depending on who was stocking the shelves and whether 'release date' means anything to them or whether they are just wild-eyed anarchists.  Forbidden won't really be 'out' till Tuesday.

So you can go ahead and carefully deal with the Memorial Day hotdogs if you want.

But I digress.

Anyhow . . .
I was talking about what annoyed me.  I mean, besides leaf-blowers on Saturday morning and heavy perfume in places where I am trying to enjoy a meal and squirrels.

I am annoyed by people who write with the speed of lightning.

By this, I mean a young lightning that has been in training and gets up and jogs three times a week at six in the morning.  The kind of lightning you see at the stoplight, waiting for the 'walk' sign, bouncing in place like a computer cursor set to a medium blink rate and it just makes you tired to watch him.

I suffer from envy of the most unattractive sort.
Envying people who write fast, not envying joggers
because I don't actually envy joggers, I just think they are going to have no cartilage left in their knees when they are fifty.  I say this having near-and-dear who jog.

But back to writing fast.

Once in a while, somewhere in the back of my mind, I find myself thinking, "How dare people write faster and better and more easily than I do?"
It is unattractive of me, I know.
But I'm weak.

So, anyway, I was thinking about how fast or slow I write and figgered I'd lay the reasons down and look at them and generally say how the process works for me.

If you are not interested in a leeeengthy disquisition of writing process,
having better things to do like floss your teeth or go after the waxy buildup in the corner of the kitchen floor . . .
this is where you turn aside and go visit Word Wenches here where Cara Elliott is talking about Art in the Regency Period right this moment.

But if you are still sticking with me, (the way folks sit past the end of 'Bones' and form an audience for whatever the network slots into the nine o'clock program hour,) then I will finally get to the point. 

This is how I write, timewise.

My own method is to throw down a very rough draft for the whole manuscript. This 'first rough draft' does indeed approach lightning speed.

But I then go through the manuscript in successive redrafts -- Drafts Two, Three, Four and Five.  The transition between Draft One and Draft Two is the most time-consuming.  It's the hardest. Draft Five is sent off to the publisher.

How long does it take me to produce the 'finished words' that appear in the book?


I write 100,000- to-115,000- word manuscripts.
I do book in a year and a bit.
A year is . . . rounding madly everywhere . . . a year is 260 working days. I work six hours a day. So that's 1600 working hours per year.

The problem is, I don't spend my 1600 writing hours/year actually 'writing'.

-- One third of those 1600 working hours is devoted to research; gathering resources; fact-checking in original source material; setting up charts of moon phases, weather, historical events; making sure words and phrases are historically accurate, and allthatkindastufflikethat.

-- Two or three little percentums goes to the planning, outlining, and structuring of the manuscript.

-- Ten percent of the total working time goes to the requested editorial changes at the publisher, the copyedits, galley proofs and so on.
Do you know how long it takes to proof-read 400 pages? 
Just a hellacious long time. 

-- Five percent ends up in various sorts of promotional activities -- blogging, attending conferences, book signing, website maintenance, mass mailings.   I'm going to count a goodly time spent trying to make the computer work.
Because that has to fit in somewhere.

You know, if chefs began to cook and the stove just turned blue and stopped working and it took days of analysis and cloning the burners and restarting from an external oven, chefs would be far less jolly than they are now.

People who make computer viruses are evil and should be used as villains in Contemporary Romance.  They should be ASHAMED of themselves.
Just saying.

So anyhow,
what with one thing and another,
the actual sit-in-the-chair-and-write-the-bloody-manuscript time is about 50% of the theoretical working time. Comes to 800 hours/year maybe.

When all the plaster dust is swept up and the blood staunched and the hogs are driven back into the pen and the lawyers have taken their briefcases and decamped
. . . when ALL of this stuff above is added in . . .

I'm creating maybe 140 final, polished, published words an hour.
Or approximately 850 words-a-day.
Or a little more than three book pages a day.

We got Picasso Woman with Book, lightning strike is public domain,  and TerBorch Woman Writing a Letter 


  1. The crazy anarchists at B&N's online store sent me my copy of the Forbidden Rose already. It's FABULOUS and THANK YOU and sorry, I don't know if early sales count toward NYTimes sales...

    I write quickly when the muse is talking to me. Though a bunch of that ends up not being usable. Plus, I still have to figure out how to structure and edit and maybe I'll get a book published someday.

  2. That last bit is fascinating, especially because as a reader I probably read those 140 final, polished, published words in a minute or so. Makes me feel sorta' guilty.

    But really, I'm just grateful that you put SO much time and effort into what you do. I enjoy every minute I spend reading your books and I'll be downloading the electrons for TFR as soon as they can be legally purchased from the ether.

  3. Hi Phyllis --

    Doing the plotting part is hard for me. Just desperately hard.

    One reason it's worth doing is that when a strong plot structure is in place, it's possible to write economically. You have some idea how all the parts fit together and what each scene has to 'do' in cooperation with everyone else.

    It isn't natural for me to plot. I'm making myself do it.

    Ah B&N. The Kropotkins of the book trade.

  4. Hi Phyl --

    Oh. Oh. Did I tell you that Kindle will have Forbidden on June 1?

    I am so lucky. I seem to have missed the Amazon-Penguin 'Battle of the Giants' over pricing.

  5. Christine5:07 PM

    Dear Joanna Bourne,

    I did not think it possible to like you any more than I previously did.

    First because of your writing (I am one of those anarchists who adores My Lord and Spymaster even more than The Spymaster's Lady but I digress.)

    Second because you are nice enough to have a brand spanking new book coming out that I am dying to read. ( Unfortunately those stuffy rule followers at Amazon refuse to let me have it early. Raspberry to them)

    But be still my heart, are you a Bones watcher too?? Do you also watch frustratedly wanting to give Tempe Brennan a good talking to or a shake about Seeley Booth?? I sincerely wish they would just hand the writing of that show over to you and we would not have to watch such wretched programs as this year's season Finale. I mean if you can get poor Annique and Grey sorted out, you could have Bones and Booth together lickety split.

    With sincere admiration,

    P.s. If you just used Bones as an example I apologize for my rant and want to
    assure you my affection remains undimmed.

  6. OMG!!! It's OUT in some places???? I will go pester every bookstore in the Bay Area until I find an early copy. Hurray!!!

    And while I wish the writing process was faster for you (for purely selfish reasons, as well as compassionate ones), I'm among the many who are very glad you put as much thought and effort into the language and story (and characterization and research) as you do. It certainly shows in the final product.

  7. Hi Christine --

    Yes! I love Bones.

    I kinda like the emotional set-up between the two them. The viewers', 'I want to shake them and make them SEE', is part of the dynamic that makes the series work.

    A Romance plot ties everything up with a neat bow. But a Romance plot ENDS. A police procedural series, OTOH, has to be open-ended. No competiion, alas. No resolution. The Bones relationship is trapped in its medium.

    I am very fond of folks who like MLAS. *g*

    Well, to be fair, I'm fond of folks who like TSL.

    I'm even fond of folks who are annoyed by the books but read them anyway and sort of sneer at them, but come back to buy the next one so they can sneer at that too, because I may eventually hit on something they like. Who knows?

  8. Hi Elisa --

    But then, many folks write just lovely stories and they do it lickety-split.

    *jo broods*

  9. Just got back from Barnes and Noble, and THERE THEY lovely glossy red-and-black copies of Forbidden Rose, and I GOT ME ONE, and read the first ten pages right there while my daughter was mulling over which new journal to buy, and OH MY GOODNESS that rabbit scene and the intro to Doyle ("She did not wish to deal with a man who came here with more in his mind than straightforward looting") and the first bit with young Hawker.... and, well, I presume you know the book pretty well, so I'll shut up now and keep reading... but it's already wonderful and engrossing and masterfully well written, and I'm feeling very very happy indeed!! (My family won't mind being abandoned for the Memorial Day holiday, will they?)

    Hurray, you (as always)!!!!

  10. Hi Elisa --

    I do hope you enjoy it.

    I am very fond of William Doyle, and having written him to be avuncular and NOT sexy when he was with Anneka and with Jess, I can now cu loose and allow him to be sexually attracted to Maggie.

    Satisfying for me.

  11. Hi, Jo,

    I write more slowly than you do. I am sure of it. If you like, you may allow yourself to feel smugly superior, because you not only write faster, but you are also Famous and Successful. :)

    Much love,

  12. Hi Beth --

    Oh *g*

    There is not much dfference between somebody who's published a couple books and somebody who is getting their manuscript ready to send out. Just a matter of time . . . and we're all making the same journey.

    Hang in there.

  13. Hi Christine --

    Talking TV here, I have to come back and mention that I am in love with Mike Holmes.
    Of Holmes on Homes.

    This is my guilty secret pleasure.

    Maybe he is a bit like Doyle.

  14. Christine6:24 PM

    Hi Jo,

    I have to confess I had never watched Holmes on Homes so I googled it ( what did I do before the Internet?) I can definitely understand the appeal. There is something wonderful about men who are knowledgeable and fix things. They seem so capable ( and this may be politically incorrect) and manly.

    My tv guilty pleasure is "Say Yes To The Dress" but I definitely do not have a
    secret crush on Randy,fun though he is.

    I am very impatiently waiting for midnight, hoping evil stickler Amazon will let me have the kindle version of Forbidden Rose then.

    I am absolutely dying to read Doyle's story!! I will be on the lookout for any Holmesian fix-it behavior!

    Thanks for all the great reads and the responses here!


  15. Anonymous7:00 PM

    FR is supposed to be available on B and N for its nook tomorrow. We will see what that means. It probably would be better for my sleep if that means, say, 9 am when someone pushes a button rather than midnight when something ticks automatically. But I know what would make me happier....

  16. Jo, I was driving home from a conference this evening and took a chance on my local B&N, 'cause the shelvers there tends towards anarchy bless 'em. And FR was there, and I have a copy, and I'm thinking of staying up all night reading it. But then, I have tomorrow off. Maybe it would be more fun to wake up bright and early, make coffee, cuddle up in my favorite chair, and begin on page one: new month, new book. I know as soon as I begin reading, I won't be able to make myself slow down and savor the experience. So, I'm procrastinating, building up the anticipation, feeling all smug knowing I don't have to wait 'cause the book is right there on my coffee table.

    And about being a slow writer, I sympathize. I'm just a lowly writer of jacket copy and contract proposals, and I'm hopelessly slow. I've been known to spend 2 or 3 hours on a 200-word blurb. It's embarrassing. I can only imagine what I'd be like as a creative writer. I think that's why I keep writing scenes in my head rather than on paper.

  17. Hi DLS --

    Oh yes. I have been remiss. Forbidden will also be out on the nook and in other e-fook formats I cannot conjure with and whose names I know not.

    Thank you for pointing this out. I should have said this.

  18. Hi Annie --

    You write COVER COPY !

    Oh wow. Talk about hard, exacting work. I hate working on cover copy.

    And if you make up stories in your head, you're half-way to being a writer. *g*

  19. Yay, Jo! I'm heading out to lunch to grab my copy.

    And I agree on Bones - once they get together, the show is over. The best part about it is their banter and attraction and the fact that they don't act on it. (And, I'm starting to think that Hodgkins might be stealing my attention from Booth.)

  20. Brianna8:37 AM

    Hi Jo,

    I got my copy of Forbidden on 31/5 Australian time (sent from UK - got to love free international postage from Book Depository!) and read it through 'til the early hours of Tuesday morning.

    Even knowing I had a 7am start at work, I couldn't put it down. I loved every moment - I really enjoy reading the 'voice' of all your heroines. And heroes. And secondary characters.. I love them all! It has made me want to go back and read the first two all over again (not that I needed much prompting).

    I have practically worn out my copy of TSL - I'll have to get a new copy!

    Thankyou so much for living up to my expectations - I can't wait for your next one :)

  21. Hi Tara --

    Hodgkins. Yes. There is a very Oz-on-Buffy vibe to him.

    But he's emotionally edgy. I think he'd be my walk-on-the-wild-side boy toy.

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Oh Brianna --

    It is so very kind of you to say that.

    Right about now, when the book is coming out, I get
    a few reviews.

    I do not want anyone to misunderstand. The folks who do reviews are a valiant lot and do great service to the Romance genre and a good review is a demanding art form in and of itself. I have great respect for a good reviewer even if she happens to be taking my own book apart to little pieces and shredding it onto the floor in curly swirls of paper and giggling.

    But I will also get one-star-drive-by-reviews on Amazon. And that is like stepping on a lego when you haven't got your morning coffee in you yet. Ouch.

    So when somebody says the book worked for them and gave them pleasure, it makes the little annoyances worthwhile.

  24. Oh, sweet! I was wondering what book I was going to read next. I'll get to the book store post-haste. (Thought about downloading on Kindle, but FR's cover is just too pretty not to buy the real thing!)

    Also, I write slower than you do.



  25. Hi Sandy --

    We will have one of those writing competitions. Not NaNoWiMo but 'Novel in a Decade'.
    The NaNoWiDec.

  26. Christine12:45 PM

    Evil Amazon did not have FR on Kindle available at midnight...or 1 am etc so I finally gave up. I downloaded it this morning at 6:30 ish and have spent the morning at work eyeing my Kindle in my pocketbook greedily. I may be shutting my office door and hiding for my lunch time.

    Regarding Bones, I must respectfully disagree with the idea that the show is over when Booth and Bones finally get together. For once I would love to see a real relationship play out on TV rather than the "will they or won't they" that drags on for seasons until a show is ending or cancelled and then a hastily tacked on "resolution" is thrown in that is generally unsatisfying and used thereafter as an excuse for future shows not getting the couple together (anyone remember Remington Steele?) Sigh, I would love to see people my age act like people my age and have a mature relationship (Eve and Roarke spring to mind) and not act like 18 year olds. It's why I gave up the Stephanie Plum books after a few of them.

    I do agree about Hodgkins and never imagined they could make a "bug and slime" guy attractive and romantic. I do like smart men so maybe that is it.

    Can't wait to read FR so I can discuss Doyle and Maggie! Is it presumptous to say I know I will love it?

    As for bad reviews- even Shakespeare got them! If you do get one, think of it as the exception that proves the rule :0)


  27. I love the 'Nick and Nora' or the 'Undercover Blues' I'd be delighted to see a pair of sleuths, lovers or husband and wife.

    But I can also see why the producer or writer would be hesitant to change a series that 'works'. You don't like to mess with something that's chugging along.

    Now . . . I'm sticking in the same fictive universe, but I am trying, with greater or lesser sucess, to write different relationship dynamics for each H&H.
    It's hard. Gives me fits, frankly.

  28. Christine1:33 PM

    Well if I may say so, you are doing an outstanding job so far of giving each character their own distinct voice and personality.

    I don't think anyone would confuse Sebastian with Grey, (and certainly not with Adrian or Doyle) and if you posted an anonymous line of dialogue from each person's view any reader would be able to tell which of them said/thought it. Same with Annique and Jess- both are young and clever but their voices and mannerisms are so unique.

    I am so excited to read from Doyle's point of view finally. He has been the supporting character observed by others for so long I am dying to hear his point of view and get inside his head!

    I hope you know that your fits have been worth it-


  29. Anonymous1:57 PM

    Eset nod32 antivirus, & malware bytes - nod32 available on a months free trial the free version of malware bytes is perfectly good in it's own right. run malware once a week, leave nod32 on permanently - havent had a virus issue in a year with that combo and my machine see's a lot of outside files coming in. Can't recomend that combo enough.

  30. Hi Anon --


    I have PC Tools Firewall Plus as the main defense. It seems to work OK, though I find it clunky and non-intuitive if you want to tweak it away from the defaults.
    Or, indeed, do anything with it.

    PC Tools also came with an annoying glitch -- a constant popup about IP addresses. I and others jumped up and down and shouted in their Forum and they seem to have fixed it.

    *jo crosses fingers*

    I had McAfee and Norton before PC Tools. In both cases, nasties snuck through. I had two horrible Trojans in a twelve-month period and gave up on McAfee in disgust.

    We will see how PC Tools works longterm.

    Spyware Doctor fixed the nasties mentioned above. I keep it running, even though it slows start up.

    And I use AdAware as a Malware cleaner and AdMunch as my Popup blocker.

    I am delighted with AdMunch. I cannot recommend it too strongly.

    AdAware . . . well, AdAware turns the startup to Mlasses, taking more than a full minute to load. I have used Malwarebytes in the past and been pleased with it. AdAware seemed more powerful, but if it continues to annoy me at startup I may go back to Malwarebytes.

    My friend, who is a Mac user, just looks smug.

  31. Ooh! How did I miss this? Busy end of school week here...

    Congrats on your release, Jo! Looking forward to picking this up and getting cozy with Maggie and Doyle!

  32. Hi Kaige --

    It should be on the shelves of Borders and Barnes&Noble. I hope you enjoy it.

  33. I check your blog periodically to see how you're progressing and was -thrilled- to see a new book out. I've never commented, but I wanted to tell you that the time you take researching and crafting really comes through in the work.

    I know some writers fly through it and come out with incredibly books, and yadda yadda but you know? I might not be able to read that book two or three times and discover new things. Your writing just screams your respect for your readers and for your own work.

    I loaded the kids in the hot car for a special trip to the bookstore, just for FR, and I -may- not have been the best and most involved mom for the rest of the day. It was wonderful. Thank you.

  34. Hi Kate --

    I am so glad you enjoyed FORBIDDEN ROSE and I would send my apologies to your kids, except that I am tickled pink you liked it so much.

    I seem to be blogging everywhere in the known universe,
    except here,
    so I did not get back to you in a timely manner. When I do this to the credit card company they charge me money, which I find very annoying since I do intend to pay them but just didn't get around to it and they are sitting in the clutter on my desk.

    This is another reason I should not have credit cards, quite aside from I keep dropping them in the bottom of my knapsack and then having to go fish them out when the nice cashier is in a hurry.

  35. Jo, what I'm about to say is going to be embarassing. You're forewarned. I adored your first two books. I've adored your blog. I adored even more meeting you at RWA. But now: Gosh, how I love you for the copy in this blog!! Be prepared. I shall meet you at Orlando. I shall gush. I shall squee. I shall buy your signed copy of ROSE. (And until then, I'll stew in envy as everybody and their grandmother reads ROSE.)

  36. Hi Keira --

    oh *blush*

    I have sneakily forestalled you, however. I will not be going to Orlando.
    I'm saving it all for New York in 2011.