Bee asked me to expand on my experience writing SING ME TO SLEEP in my guest post. I wrote the first draft in a month, and she wanted to know if it was NaNo project or something like that.
Nope. It was more like an I’ve-got-a-deadline-and-I’m-in-a-total-panic project. IGADAIIATPP? Do you think that will catch on?
So here’s the whole story. September 2008. We were living in Singapore–high rise apartment, only our youngest left at home, my husband gone almost the whole month. TAKEN BY STORM was six months away from release. The ARCs were out. Book one in my contract with Razorbill down. Book two to go.
I’d met with Razorbill back in June on my way through New York. We were in transit that summer from Switzerland to Singapore and took a nice long holiday in the States. My editor told me they loved my pitch for the second book in Leesie and Michael’s stormy saga, but they weren’t sure if the time was right for a sequel. This was almost a year before we got that starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and all those great blogosphere reviews. We didn’t know B&N would support it like they did.
Razorbill decided they wanted to treat STORM as a stand-alone and asked me to write a second unrelated novel. That way if STORM wasn’t well received, the second novel wouldn’t be doomed. They’d taken a huge risk in me. I understood why they’d want to spread the risk.
They suggested I go ahead with the dramatic, bite your fingernails, break your heart story I’d planned for Michael and Leesie. But simply write it for different characters.
I refused. That was Leesie’s story. I’d save it for her and hope. (I’m still hoping. I wrote UNBROKEN CONNECTION this fall and am waiting to hear if Razorbill will sign it up for 2011. Hope with me, okay?)
They weren’t interested in my two other completed novels. So I had to come up with something totally new. I developed several ideas from my story files and morning pages. (If you don’t know what morning pages are, go buy THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron right away–especially if you are a writer.)
The choir story stood out. I’d always wanted to set a novel in this world, but I didn’t have a story. A recent tragedy and the strength and love the family of Amabile Choirs in London, Ontario showed throughout it gave me a story that wouldn’t let go. I developed an outline and pitched it to my editor.
She pitched back. She suggested Beth have a boy back home to add to the conflict. And she thought Beth’s lyrics should be woven throughout the novel.
We both started getting excited.
She came up with the “Phantom of the Opera” hook to sell it to her boss. I agreed to try to work with that to develop the love triangle. “Beauty and the Beast” kind of took over when I wrote it. But “Phantom” certainly plays a role.
We had a good working draft of an outline by the end of July. Great. And then I waited for the green light on the project. All August.
Time was ticking. I knew they needed a draft before the end of the year. Could I do it? TAKEN BY STORM took forever to write. But it gave me the chance to hone it. How could I do justice to this story with such a short time frame for my creative process?
My editor got the go ahead from her publisher the end of August. I started writing. And didn’t stop.
Beth’s voice was just there telling me the story. I wrote every day–except Sunday. All day and into the night.
I write my rough drafts by hand. When I get stuck, I type up all the rough pages. My handwritten drafts are really rough–usually just dialogue. When I type them, I add description, emotion, and action. I usually struggle with those RD pages. I push myself to draft five new pages every day before I got to work on the computer typing and revising what I’ve already written.
Because the new creation phase is the hardest part of the writing process for me, I make myself as comfortable as possible–crawl back in bed, prop myself up on feather pillows, and write big and sloppy on pale pink unlined paper. I have a flat kidney-shaped lap desk that works great. I usually do this for an hour–maybe two–and then I’m empty.
But during that month I drafted SING ME TO SLEEP, I’d write roughs all day. Instead of five pages, I’d write ten to fifteen. One day I drafted thirty pages.
My hand began to ache. I bought a brace and kept writing.
By the end of September, I had a draft done–300+ pages. It was full of holes, though.
I plunged into research and revising. I shaped it up enough to send it to my critique pals, and my friend, Joyce, whose son’s story had inspired mine. I got valuable feedback. A few more weeks of revising and it was just before Thanksgiving. I had a polished draft to send to my editor. She read it on the train on her way home for the holiday. And cried her eyes out.
With SING ME TO SLEEP, more than anything else I’ve ever written, I feel like I was simply the instrument of the story. The midwife carefully ushering it into the world. I know I had help from unseen hands. And earthly hands, too.
I feel blessed that all those hands let mine share this story.
Thank you Angela for sharing this fantastic story with us. Your journey is truly inspiring and we wish you all the best in future *can’t wait for Unbroken Connections, btw*
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