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Just Say “No” to NaNoWriMo: In Defense of Writing Slowly

Two books and a novella.

That’s what I remembered being “normal,” back in 2011, before my son was born. It felt like a lot, but as an unpublished author, I didn’t think I had much say in the matter. Swim with the big fish or get left in the shoals. And before my baby was born, I could keep up. I mean, I wasn’t writing the sort of books that I absolutely love to read, but doing so would have required a much lengthier research period, and I didn’t feel like that was possible. Not with the pressure we were all under. I had to demonstrate that I could meet the very high expectations placed upon us. Whether or not I was writing the book of my soul was secondary to meeting the expectations of the industry.

Look, the first book I wrote won a Golden Heart. Doors opened for me. I couldn’t stand in the hallway. I walked through and got to work.

Then my baby was born.

I didn’t fall into motherhood as naturally as I’d hoped I would. He was large and needed almost constant feedings. He didn’t sleep well. He cried often, not quite enough to be called “colicky” but enough to make us feel like we were doing it all wrong. 

This is not unusual, I know. What was unusual was that I hadn’t intended on taking any maternity leave from writing. I’d sold my first two books just weeks after my son was born. I meant to keep writing, to capitalize on this amazing sale to a fabulous publisher. But I couldn’t. Just….couldn’t. I was too tired, too sore. Even when I found free time, which was very rare, I couldn’t think of a single thing worth writing about. I tried. But I had no interesting inputs, and therefore I had nothing to output. I was drained. Empty. 

But every other mother I’d talked to had been able to do it. Why couldn’t I? Why was I so weak-willed that I couldn’t do it all? Why was I so unimaginative that I couldn’t write while taking care of one little baby?

Failure. Guilt. Shame. You know the drill.

I soon found that I was happier when I was 100% devoted being a mother. So I stopped trying to write. We moved to live closer to family, became happier. Life got easier. My son flourished. He has turned out to be a bit of a physical and mental dynamo who was probably just pissed off that he didn’t pop out of the womb ready to run. Now, he’s in preschool, and I have twelve hours a week to write.

Except I’m not writing, not in the way I used to, with #1k1h sprints and daily tracking on a spreadsheet to keep myself motivated. I was happy but not healthy on that treadmill. Worse, I’d been afraid to write my most favorite kinds of books: multi-layered, beautifully written romances with a rich cache of historical detail and intricately woven mysteries.

Why was I afraid? They take a lot of time to write, especially if you’re starting from scratch in a historical period. I didn’t feel like I had that sort of time before. I just jumped in and started swimming. Frantically.

But now? I’ve been out of the game for three years. I’m a mother. I feel like I’ve been through battle. My skin has thickened. I’m not afraid of the industry anymore. (Oddly, this has carried over into my personal life, as well.) As long as I’m being true to myself, I don’t care very much what other people think of me.

So I’m writing what I love to read. Finally.

And I’m not NaNoWriMoing. Instead, I’m researching. I’m taking weeks to read and think and plan, and I’m not feeling anxious about how many words I’m writing or what the market is doing in the meantime. What matters to me now is whether or not I’m writing my very best book. My best. Every time. That’s how you make it, in my opinion. That’s how you find and keep devoted readers. By giving them your very best every time, as often as you can, but not so often that you die trying.

Let me repeat that: Don’t die trying.

Really. How is your thyroid? Your carpal tunnel? Your back pain? How’s your neck holding up? That tingling in your toes? Your weight? How’s your caffeine consumption? Your energy level? Your sex life? Your relationship with your non-writing friends? Your children? Your family? When’s the last time you had your teeth cleaned? How much pain medication are you taking? Alcohol? Anti-depressants?

When’s the last time you lamented your slow pace and wished you could just…write…faster? When’s the last time you heard a friend say the same thing?

Honey. Stop. Just…stop. Listen to me: you don’t have to do this to yourself. This is absurd! Why are we accepting these insane expectations as normal?

WHY?

Because we are WOMEN, and women are supposed to make people happy.

Aren’t we? And it makes editors and agents and husbands very happy when we are extremely productive, and all the more so when we pretend that we can get up at 4:30 AM with a smile and that our backs aren’t killing us and that we don’t harbor a secret and unhealthy addiction to caffeine.

We are supposed to “do it all,” remember?

That’s our right as beneficiaries of feminism. If we don’t “do it all,” we are failures. Even though we think it’s really hard or perhaps even impossible to be extremely productive without driving ourselves into an early and painful grave, we think it’s WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING. This is like the Mommy Wars, only there’s no one on the other side saying, “Hey! I’m tired. I’m sick. And I’m unhappy. I can’t meet these insane expectations, and I think we need to slow down and support each other in doing so.”

I think we’re doing it to ourselves.

Or at least we’re complicit in the agreement that this is all supposed to be normal. By nodding in agreement when some editor or agent or whoever talks about the crazy pace they want us to meet, we’re agreeing with the insanity. When we beat ourselves up for not meeting this unmeetable standard, we’re complicit with this craziness.

Well, bull. I think that what I should be doing is living a full and healthy life while also writing beautiful, well-researched and fully imagined books that I can stand behind 100% (rather than some half-baked, one-handed erotica that pays the bills but makes me feel like I’m not using my talent or speaking my truth. Not that that’s what I or you have been doing, but I know we’re all wondering if that’s what it’s going to take to make it big). I think that if more of us who cannot meet these unreasonable standards take a vocal stand against such pace, we’d all be better off.

For me, this is a feminist issue.

It’s an issue of women vs. women, and how hard we are on ourselves. Victoria Dahl gave a moving and brave speech at the Emerald City conference about how the whole “your heroine must be likable and good!” message is finally fading, and it’s because writers like her took a courageous and lonely stand against it. She feels that part of the “likable heroine” messaging that we receive is an extension of the “women must be likable” messaging that most of us would agree we have been receiving since birth.

So, I’ve begun having conversations like this one with my friends who feel that the expectations placed upon us are insane, and that those who manage to meet them are very often living unhealthy lives. I’m not saying that every writer who can meet this schedule with a smile are unhealthy; please don’t take offense if you are a productive, healthy writer. 😉 But most writers I speak to who are extremely productive are also secretly very, very tired and very, very sick.

We’re killing ourselves and encouraging our friends to do the same. I say it stops now. NaNoWriMo if if makes you happy. I’ll cheer you on! But if you feel like the pace of our industry is killing you softly, then please, for your own health, join me in writing at a more reasonable pace. I realize that we’re genre-fiction writers, and our readers do expect regular offerings. But our health and happiness is more important than our writing output. Don’t let the industry squeeze you dry in ten years flat. Find a steady, productive pace that allows you to maintain your own good health and loving relationships with your friends and family.

If I hear one more of you tell me that you skipped a family vacation to write, I’m going to get seriously angry over here!

Love,

Jamie

Jamie Michele writes smart, sexy suspenses about women who never do what’s expected of them, and the men who should know better than to stand in their way. Check out An Affair of Vengeance, the first in a two-book sequence, on sale for $2!

66 responses to “Just Say “No” to NaNoWriMo: In Defense of Writing Slowly”

  1. I agree, everyone writes at her own pace, but I’d never thought of it as a feminist issue. Very interesting. And I can definitely see your point, just not about NaNo. The point of NaNo is to take your time, research, plan your book, then just get the first draft written so you can take your time again and edit it later. It’s not like anyone expects writers to do that every month. However, again, I do see your point, and I love the stance you’ve taken.

    I am that person who wonders why I can’t just write 10 books a year. I can write a first draft (at least 75k words) in two weeks, for heaven’s sake. Why can’t I just do that over and over? Because I can’t. I have to take time to really mull over my plot. (I’m a plotter, BTW.) I have to flesh things out in my mind before I put fingers to keys. Still (and despite this terrific post), I want to write faster. I just do. I have friends who write me under the table and I want to be them when I grow up.

    And the point about a likable heroine is interesting, but I don’t think that applies to just heroines. We want to like our heroes too. Even the brusque, grouchy heroes are likable. If I don’t like the hero and heroine, I don’t like the book. So I’m not sure about that. I think that even “unlikeable” heroines must have redeeming qualities or you’ll lose your audience. JMHO, but I’d love to read the book Victoria was talking about. I’d be willing to bet her heroine has many redeeming qualities that makes us fall in love with her. I love her writing.

    Great post, Jamie!

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    • I wanted to add, there is a HUGE difference between me writing a first draft and you, Jamie! My kids are 21 and 25. I can’t even imagine writing a book with a baby!!! I admire you so much!

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      • Thanks, babe!

        The “Just say no to NaNoWriMo” was mostly my way of making this post timely…and probably more controversial than it needs to be.

        On one hand, NaNoWriMo is a huge party, a whirlwind of unbridled creativity. On the other hand, it represents the “write a book every month” mentality that I fear we’re creeping towards. As you say, sometimes we CAN output something fantastic in a short period of time, but we can’t do it EVERY two weeks. Our brains need to rest — even a brain as lively and as full of ideas as yours, apparently! (Which I’m glad to hear…you do seem like the exceptional writer who is able to output at a high rate without depleting her resources).

        Does anyone know if this same write-fast-frenzy is happening in other genres?

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        • That is such a great question! And I’m also wondering when it all started.

          First, I think you’ve nailed it. I have not seen this kind of frenzy in other genres. In face, most writers gasp when faced with the prospect of writing more than one book a year. But again, when the heck did this start? When were romance writers put on the spot to write 2 or more books a year? RESEARCH TIME! 🙂

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          • I wonder if it’s because romance has a history of being about shorter novels with faster production times? I.e., Harlequin? Word-count wise, it’s easier to write two or three 50K word novels each year than two or three 90K, but that’s the current expectation, isn’t it? It’s like the rapid pace that used to be reserved for series authors is now expected of single-title authors.

            I wonder if mystery writers are exposed to this, too, since I think that genre has some origins in shorter works, as well.

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  2. Kathy Crouch says:

    Hey I’m doing NaNo and loving it. But I have no children. I’m a widow and other than taking my 25 years old niece to and from work for the past 11 months, which has gotten very old, I do pretty much what I want. I have great word count days and sucky ones. I’m taking a break from the novel I wrote during NaNo 2012 which in in the process of being rewritten. I had the villain wrong. I did NaNo last year the book sits in Dropbox languishing. Maybe I’ll play with it some day. But I love the challenge of NaNo and with no responsibilities except to me and playing taxi I’m free to do it.

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    • Kathy, I’m glad to hear that you’re having fun! One of the best ways to use NaNoWriMo is to play — to give yourself permission to do whatever you want to do. It’s just one month, after all! And some amazing books have come out of NaNoWriMo. I think “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen might be one example?

      On the other hand, some of my favorite books have taken a decade to write. “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova is my favorite example.

      I also love NaNoWriMo as a motivator and support network for people who’ve never written a book before (obviously, this doesn’t apply to you). But imagine all the people who might otherwise never get that one book out! NaNoWriMo isn’t a bad thing — my headline was a grabber — but the concept of writing a book EVERY month isn’t my favorite. Some people can do it year ’round, but others will quite literally end up in the hospital trying. Or depressed. Or both. I see some of my friends walking down that path, and I want to take a vocal stand against it!

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  3. Shoshana says:

    Love this post, Jamie! This is one of the reasons why self-pub is so appealing to me–there will be no one to put unrealistic expectations on me besides myself.

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    • Shoshana, yes! That freedom is very enticing.

      But it’s a slippery slope. On that side of publishing, there’s an incredible sense of competition. Many successful self-published writers also seem to be incredibly prolific. Not all, but many. Or at least that’s how it feels to me!! Then self-published writers who *aren’t* able to write at an extremely rapid pace begin to beat themselves up, feeling like the reason they haven’t “made it big” is because they aren’t producing quickly enough.

      What do you think?

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      • Shoshana says:

        I agree that it’s natural to compare yourself to others, and that a lot of the more successful self-pubbed authors out there are producing very quickly. But, for me personally, that would generate a lot less stress than if an agent or editor expected me to write faster than I’m comfortable with.

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        • Oh, certainly! With self-publishing, you can always say “nope” and slow down. You can always select the schedule that works best for YOU. You just have to have the wisdom, self-awareness, and self-control to do so. Not always easy!

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  4. jbrayweber says:

    EXCELLENT post, Jamie!

    I admit, I am not one to conform to the rules. Shocking, I know. That’s how I write…breaking rules. That’s what I encourage. But I admit something else, too. I have fallen for the book making machine idea. After all, it is a proven method for growing readership and selling books. However, I simply cannot produce books that way, not with a tot and a teen. And frankly, I’m overloaded. So yeah, this post was something I needed to hear, to be reminded that I can’t do it all, that I am my own person with methods that work for me at this moment in my career. That’s not to say that someday it will change. Because it will.

    Don’t be driven by unrealistic expectations that don’t fit your personal life. 🙂

    Jenn!

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    • Oh, yes, exactly, Jenn!

      We will write differently depending on where we are in our lives. I actually did have one older writer “confess” to me that she’d taken a few years off when her children were born, and she went further, telling me that it was okay to do so. But that information was given to me like a secret.

      I’ll write more, faster when my little one is a bigger one. I wrote more when he wasn’t around, so I know this is true! But isn’t there an expectation that we can “do it all,” even with young children around?

      Jenn, I believe that there was an opportunity a year or so ago to hit the self-pub’d / ebook market hard with a lot of books and make a ton of cash. I don’t know if that same opportunity is as easy to hit now, and that’s hard to accept, because I wasn’t in a position to take advantage of it. It’s hard to not feel frustrated by that. But I ALSO believe that there will be another opportunity in the future that we WILL be positioned to take advantage of. I don’t know what it is yet, but it will come. Heck, maybe one of us will open the gate!

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      • jbrayweber says:

        I hear ya, Jamie.
        Though I had a book out during that indie opp/KDP push, I was not able to capitalize on it. My other books were with my digital first publisher. And I couldn’t write. I had a baby to take care of. So frustrating! Not the baby. The feeling of missing the train.

        We just have to keep on keeping on!

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        • I hate that feeling, but worse was feeling like I blamed my son — or at least my motherhood — for missing the train. It wasn’t helping me at all to feel that way, so I needed to stop trying to catch it.

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  5. June Love says:

    Jamie, I stand and applaud you on this post. I do believe that we place a lot of pressure on ourselves by thinking fast writing = success. However, it is up to us, as individual women/writers, to determine our pace based on what is going on in our lives. Whether it’s a young mother, a middle-aged woman caring for a parent, or someone dealing with an illness, we are ultimately responsible for what we do.

    I’ll admit I allowed myself to believe I’d failed as a writer and that I’d missed my opportunity because I took time off from writing. Now, I know I did what I had to do. I missed writing, but it was the right thing for me at that time. As for any pressure I felt from well-meaning friends or family members, I understand they were only trying to help motivate me. All I had to do was tell them I didn’t want to write and lay off, but I didn’t. Not for a long time. And, that was on me. Not them. So, any pressure we may feel may be because we’re not ready to be honest with ourselves.

    Very thought provoking post, Jamie. I admire you for taking a stand on this.

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    • Oh, wow, June. Every line of your comment is full of the wisdom of a woman who has BEEN THERE and back again.

      This is particularly insightful: “So, any pressure we may feel may be because we’re not ready to be honest with ourselves.”

      I think that’s what was happening with me! Once I accepted where I was in my life and what that meant for my writing career — i.e., that it was on hold until my son was older — I felt much, much better.

      Your comment is a reminder that life won’t necessarily be easier in the future, too. That’s a little depressing, but it’s nonetheless a good reminder. It’s life. It rarely goes as planned.

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  6. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Bravo!!!!!

    You are sooo right, Jamie. No genre other than romance EXPECTS authors to release more than one book a year–maybe even every 18 months. Publishers AND readers pressure us. I receive an e-mail at least once every two weeks from a reader begging me for so-and-so’s story.

    I have so much admiration for authors with young kids. I tried writing when mine were in elementary school. I gave up and decided to wait until they were older. I started writing the year my youngest got her driver’s license. I declared to my family that it was now MY turn.

    Fortunately I received a lot of support from my husband and children. My mother–not so much after I stopped going to the mall and the movies once a week. She had trouble seeing my writing as a job because I wasn’t being paid for it.

    I constantly encourage my daughter-in-law to cut herself a break. She’s supermom, working full-time, taking care of my grandsons, and doing most of the household chores.

    This year, life got in my way. Rather than stress over my failure to release a book since February, I simply accepted it was going to be what it is. We should not be slaves to our profession. We should enjoy it. It’s one of the reasons I’m so glad I chose to go indie rather than continue to pursue traditional publishing.

    I WISH I was one of those authors who could pound out a book in two months. I’m not. I’m a slow writer who can’t manage more than two books a year. The only reason I could publish as many as I have so quickly is because I wrote for so many years and had a long unpublished back list.

    IMHO, you’re doing the right thing. Our children and grandchildren are young for such a short time. I think it’s a sin for me to miss that because I’m too busy indulging my creative urges. I also think it’s wrong to completely ignore them. BALANCE is what’s important.

    Spending time with our families and writing should be our priorities, in that order. Cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc. should come last, and we should expect our families to pitch in an help with those. Children need to be taught to respect our ME time. And we should feel the freedom to take three hours a day for ourselves, doing what gives us joy. Life is too short, and when you’re old, you don’t regret the things you did in life as much as the things you didn’t do.

    Authors have a RIGHT to write slow if that’s what fits their lives.

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    • What a great comment! Lots to unpack here, but I’ll start with this:

      Laurie, you can output two books a year? And they’re GOOD books! That’s pretty darned fast, you know!!

      Thank you for reinforcing my belief that it’s important for a parent to not work so hard that they miss their children’s lives. (Finding the right balance between work and children and personal lives is very individual, of course). I was going to say “their important early years,” but then I remembered how much I needed my parents when I was a middle-schooler and a teenager. It’s just…different. I can see why you waited until the driving stage.

      I think my parents actually were at their most creative and personally fulfilled when I was around age 10. They had a cool woodworking side business, went antiquing all the time, and played lots of co-ed volleyball. Then my dad hurt his Achilles tendon and we moved across the country, and they never really picked their hobbies back up. I really enjoyed that time of our lives, though. It was like their personal lives enriched our family lives. I don’t remember ever begrudging them their “me” time, and that’s a lesson I should take to heart.

      Funny that you mention three hours a day as being a reasonable amount of “me” time, because that’s exactly what I get! Usually, at least. Four days a week. I felt guilty about it for a while, because PLENTY of parents don’t put their 2.5-year-olds into preschool, but darn it, I need this. I’m not good at being a SAHM who doesn’t write. I probably should have put him in daycare a year ago, but I couldn’t get him into the one program that would make me feel like I wasn’t just doing it for myself.

      I definitely would have felt better if I hadn’t tried to be a SuperMom! Good luck convincing your DIL the same. Getting rid of that guilt is part of what I’m trying to do here with this post.

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  7. Wow, what a thought provoking post. I’ve not participated in Nano, I’ve thought about it but life and work get in the way so I was afraid it would be too much for me. I’ve had to learn my limitations, that being said, I want to write faster. I’m an unpublished writer, I put my writing on the back burner for years as I raised my children (6 sons) now I want to focus on my writing but I still have six sons, although they are grown, I also have grandchildren, a full time job and a widowed mother, finding time to write is sometimes difficult. I feel that for some of us, programs like Nano gives us that push to get the story done.
    So why part of me agrees with you, I also just want to have another novel ready to send out.

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    • Oh, my! SIX SONS!!!!?????

      I bow down before you, hon. That’s incredible! And what a lot of work!!!!!

      NaNo is a fantastic thing! My headline was mostly to grab attention. I don’t have a particular beef with it, per se. My problem is mostly with the “book per month” ideology that i fear we’re moving towards in Romance.

      I actually wrote a book in a month — a short one, maybe 60K words — just before my son was born. I wanted to see if I could do it. I wanted to see how it felt. It wasn’t a bad experience, and it isn’t a bad book (not that I’ve sent it to my agent!). It was just not the sort of book I want to be writing. I need more time to write the books I want to write, and I’m working hard at NOT feeling guilty or worried or anxious about it.

      Perhaps we’ll go to our graves wishing we’d made it big, E.L. James-style. But I don’t want to lie on my deathbed wishing I could have spent more time with my son, or my (future) grandchildren, or my husband, or my family, or my friends.

      Also, I don’t want to die wondering if I could have lived longer if I’d taken better care of myself, and I honestly do worry that some of my friends are burning their bodies out with their unhealthy writing pace.

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  8. Vivi Andrews says:

    I write a ton because I don’t have kids, I don’t have a husband, and I don’t have a day job. I’d love to have a family and if I ever do I’m sure it will slow my writing pace down significantly, but in the mean time I’m not trying to do it all – I’m just trying to do this well. And writing fast is the only way I know how. It’s just how I work. But I also make sure I make time for the gym and grabbing dinner or movies or pub trivia with friends. I think the nicest thing someone can say about me is that I work hard, but I also know how to play. 🙂

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    • Vivi Andrews says:

      Forgot to say: BRILLIANT post. May we all be so lucky as to have balanced, healthy lives.

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      • Vivi, but you’re the poster child for balance!! You’re just at a different point in your life, so your version of “balance” looks different from mine. You travel, you explore, you LIVE. And you also happen to write like mad!

        Luckily, your style seems to benefit from your rapid pace, because your work is damn good. I actually think that part of the reason you write so quickly is because your life is so rich. You must get a lot of inspiration in your travels and interesting lifestyle. With my lifestyle, I have to work a little harder to find inspiration. (Playing “pick up the rocks with the loader and put them into the dump truck” with my toddler does not inspire much more than the need to get more coffee.)

        And maybe someday you’ll find that your family life needs more of your time, and you’ll adjust. Probably. Or maybe you’ll find that you want to get up super early and write, and it won’t make you unhappy or unhealthy to do so. You might be that woman. And I’d be really happy for you if you were!

        It would quite possibly kill me to get up early and write on a regular basis. I know I’d be incredibly unhappy, even if I were making a million bucks in the process. If I don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep, my hands ache and I cannot use them to write. It’s like my body has a built-in defense against sleep deprivation!

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  9. Tamara Hogan says:

    As someone who’s fallen into the trap of beating herself up about her writing pace for awhile now, can I just say BRAVA, and THANK YOU.

    Why do we do this to ourselves? Yes, I think you’ve hit upon an uncomfortable truth: we, as women, tend put ourselves, and our needs, at the bottom of our personal priority lists. I don’t have that problem – hell, I’ve crafted my life specifically so health and self-care remain priorities – but emotionally? I spend WAY too much time comparing my output to others’, and I always come up short.

    I write long, complex stories, and part-time at that. They are well-reviewed. Award-winning. When did I allow pace to become my yardstick? To become the thing that makes me feel…not worthy?

    SCREW THAT.

    In the culinary world, there’s a thing called the slow food movement, where pace, production, and profit are secondary to sustainable practices, and a joy in both the process and the product. Jamie, I think what you’ve described is the writing equivalent. And I’M SO THERE.

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    • Oh, I like that comparison! That’s very insightful. I like the idea that we’re savoring the process as much as the result. Also that profit is secondary to sustainable practices.

      I actually have a publisher that seems to support this — Montlake Romance. Yeah, they like money. Who doesn’t? And they make lots of it. But they’re incredibly NICE over there, too. They keep their promises and are all about the authors’ happiness. It’s … weird, and I still have trouble believing it’s true. But so far, it really seems to be.

      I was thinking about you, Tammy, as I wrote this. I’m glad it resonates! It’s scary to put this out there. I was actually going to write something else, but I forgot to change it last night, and then I woke up this morning and was like, “Oh, shit.”

      But reading stuff like this: “When did I allow pace to become my yardstick? To become the thing that makes me feel…not worthy?” makes me know that it benefits us to have this conversation in public. I mean, I’m sure my agent would kill me if she read this. But like I said, my skin is thicker now. And someone else’s condemnation isn’t going to make me write any faster.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yeah..the slow food movement. A great analogy.

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  10. Jamie, the first part of your post (the part about becoming a mother and struggling to adjust) nearly had me in tears. I so, so remember that time. I had two little ones, almost two years apart, with no family around. They didn’t sleep or nap well and so, neither did I. It was an intense, crazy, lonely, depressing time. At that time, years before becoming published, writing was a way of saving myself. Of having an identity besides mother, wife, and daughter. I even put it in my biography. The last line says “She writes to reclaim her sanity.”

    And now, as kids are older (but still need me a lot), I have a lot more time to write but have entered another type of insanity. The writing mill. Yes, I’m self-publishing these days, but everyone talks about the algorithms and such that help you gain readers and get noticed. And that seems to mean churning out a book every few months. So I’ve been trying to keep up. And, for the most part, I’m succeeding, but I have noticed more stress.

    I believe what you say is true – that the story has to be good for readers to come back. Which means there’s a delicate balance there. I’m keeping that in mind.

    In the meantime, I’ve spent the last couple weeks minimizing my workload. Taking a break. Enjoying family and life and giving my brain a break.

    Bottom line, I think each of us has to choose what works best for us, and I’m sure that changes over time.

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    • “It was an intense, crazy, lonely, depressing time.”

      YUP. But you had TWO?!! I couldn’t deal with ONE. I don’t know what I would have done with two.

      Getting my boy in school and getting my 12 hours a week has allowed me to feel like myself again, like someone other than a wife and a mother. I hear you on that!! I feel younger, more attractive, too. Weird how finding myself again allows me to feel beautiful again, too.

      The self-publishing world isn’t any different from the trad world in terms of the expectations of pace — and maybe it’s worse. I think it might be. I think we go into it thinking that we’ll have so much freedom to do as we please, but then we sit on workshops and hear about those algorithms and feel the same stress and worry that we’d feel on the other side. I’m actually getting the impression that there’s an even FASTER expectation of pace on the self-pub’d side!

      Tammy compared this idea of slower writing to the slow food movement. Check our her comment, above. She said, “In the culinary world, there’s a thing called the slow food movement, where pace, production, and profit are secondary to sustainable practices, and a joy in both the process and the product.”

      I think the word “sustainable” is key for you. You’ve probably read Stephen King’s “On Writing”? Doesn’t he describe a steady, regular pace of work? He gets up in the morning and puts in his words, then goes on about his life? It seemed very smart and sustainable and healthy. That’s what I want for myself. That’s what I’m doing now, except I’m using a timed work period rather than a words-per-day method.

      What do you usually do? Do you have daily targets of hours or words written?

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      • Yes! I definitely think there’s more pressure to write faster in the SP world.

        I love “On Writing” and will have to go back and reread. It’s been a while. 😉

        As for your questions – It depends what stage of the book I’m in. I usually have a deadline in mind and work backward from there. But yes, I usually have a daily target with new words or pages edited. The problem is, I don’t leave a lot of wiggle-room, and figure I can make up for lackluster days later.

        I usually have an “I can handle anything that gets thrown at me” attitude, but I know I’ve been lucky not to have any major health or family issues (other than when my mother got very sick and passed away 3 years ago – but I was under contract then and accountability kept me working). As I type this, I think that’s part of the pressure I put on myself…I see how some writers struggle to write through tough times and pain and all that life can throw at us and worry that when truly tough times hit again, I won’t be able to write. And so, I feel pressured to get a backlist out there ASAP. Ugh.

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  11. Great post. I, too, feel that two books a year is not enough. I have two books that released this year, only three months apart and it was exhausting. I will be signing a contract for two more books to come out next year, the second, maybe not until early 2016, and I’m stressing that it’s not fast enough. My non-writer family and friends are amazed that I wrote one book, let alone two. And they think I’m crazy for stressing about not finishing the fourth book as quickly as I think I “should.”

    So instead of trying to figure out how to write faster, I’m going to try to focus more on writing the best books I can. If I don’t enjoy writing the books, it will show.

    This helps with regards to the series I started before I got published. My publicist suggested I rework it into a NA series, and I told her I would consider it. But I don’t read NA. I don’t really think that’s where my voice lies. Thank you for giving me permission to admit that to myself before spending too much time trying to fit my story into something that it’s not.

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    • I hear you on the worry that even two books a year isn’t enough! That’s sort of why I wrote this, because aren’t we crazy for thinking this way? Isn’t it just totally batty that we have this sense that your schedule, which would have been considered pretty aggressive a few years ago, or at least right on track, feels slow??

      It is NOT slow. It isn’t. Just is not! It IS incredible that you wrote one book! It’s even more amazing that you wrote another, and you keep writing them and writing them and now this isn’t just a one-off or a hobby or a diversion, it’s your passion and your calling and quite possibly your career.

      (That thought made me go check your webpage, and now I see your GORGEOUS sports romance covers!! http://kristinamathews.com/, everyone.)

      Re: fitting your voice into the NA mold…I’m in favor of shaping your work to more smoothly slide into a hot market, but if it’ll take more than a subtle shaping, then nope.

      Heck, try writing one chapter in the new style and see if it jives. It it feels all kinds of wrong, then you know! And no one will know better than YOU. Sometimes a genre newbie can strike gold precisely because she doesn’t know what’s happening in a genre. Other times it just feels “off.” Maybe you’d bring something new to the table…but my gut tells me that if you don’t read it, and haven’t sought it out yet, then you probably aren’t going to feel comfortable writing it.

      (I actually think this topic is worth a separate blog day! Thanks for giving me the idea. Definitely worth discussing further.)

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      • Thanks Jamie for checking out my website. Another place I have angst. I don’t update often enough. I should blog more. Post excerpts of WIPs. Do MORE, MORE, MORE! Just when I thought I’ve outgrown the Mommy wars, and no longer feel guilty about working, or working part-time, or staying home, but I should also have a spotless house and spend all my spare time decorating and doing crafts. I finally admitted I’m a writer and that comes with a whole new set of anxiety. I guess it all comes with being a woman.

        I’ve been looking for a NA book to read but so many of them seem to be 1st person, and I don’t really care for that style.

        But then, when I first started writing, I was told Sports Romance wouldn’t sell. I listened to my heart and the advice of trusted critiques and sold not one, but two baseball books, with two more awaiting contract finalization.

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  12. Thank you, Jamie! I’ve always followed the late Robert Parker’s advice of writing for a while and then putting it down and doing something else, whatever keeps me fresh and happy. And the writing time was a lot less when my children were small, but it worked for us. It is a lot easier to make your own schedule when indie pubbed though. Great post!

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  13. Rita Henuber says:

    Thank you. I SO agree. I began stepping back about a year ago. I am happy with what I write, and my production. Other’s aren’t. But guess what I don’t care. I’M HAPPY. I’m NOT happy when people tell me to write like somebody else or to change my voice.

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    • If ever there was a woman who didn’t give two figs for what other people thought of her, it’s you! I’d be shocked if you told me that you actually liked being told what, when, or how to write. Me, I started out really wanting someone to tell me what to write. Weird, right? It was like I wanted to be back in college, writing to assignment.

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  14. Traci Krites says:

    I feel the same way. I used to write so much faster but anymore, well, health reasons and life have slowed me down. I still LOVE to write and don’t want to stop, but sometimes being with my family is more important, healthier for me. My kids won’t always be with me. In fact, there’s few years left before they leave the nest. I’ll have more time on my hands then. For now, a steady pace works for me.

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  15. Elisa Beatty says:

    Oh, my goodness. Such an intense post.

    I applaud you 100% for realizing you were burning the candle at both ends and stepping back from the writing for a while to care for your son; you will never regret doing that…and I applaud you also for realizing you needed some writing time back as your little guy became a little more independent, and getting those 12 hours a week when he’s busy elsewhere (which I truly believe is a valuable thing for him as well.)

    As for me, I wish I COULD find a slower pace for myself, but financially I have no choice right now but to work full time, and my career is a completely insane one (anyone who thinks teachers have it easy, only work 8-3 and have “summers off” should seriously follow me around for a 48 hour period and see if a major organ or two of theirs doesn’t spontaneously explode.) If I’m going to write at all, it HAS to be late at night or before dawn, with time snatched from my kids and husband and the inevitable heaps of dirty dishes and laundry (not to mention sleep or gym time).

    If I slow down enough to take care of myself, I’ll have to give up writing. (Or give up paying the mortgage, which, you know, the bank wouldn’t be so keen on.) It’s that simple.

    That said, I haven’t been any rush to publish, since I know that once I do, my foot will be stuck in the wheel. I’m taking the slow road, trying to build up at least a small body of finished work that might be enough to get me to a place where I could reduce my teaching to part time, ’cause I know I can’t do the two 90,000 word books a year thing the way my life is now.

    Sigh.

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    • “If I slow down enough to take care of myself, I’ll have to give up writing.”

      That makes me sad. So, so sad. I wish I lived nearby so I could take you out for tea and sympathy.

      I read your comment last night and didn’t have time to reply, so consequently I’ve been thinking about it ever since. You see, I’ve read some of your work in contests. It blew me away — I’m sure I’ve mentioned this to you before. Maybe you can’t do the two-books-per-year thing, but that’s my whole point! A writer like you shouldn’t HAVE to. You should be able to do one book per year and that should be OK. You’re worth the wait. That’s what I’m trying to say.

      YOU’RE WORTH THE WAIT. Don’t be afraid to publish at your own pace. Don’t be afraid. What do you have to lose?

      I do think you’re very smart to be building up a cache of work that you can release quickly once you’re contracted, or once you decide to plunge into self-publishing. But I sort of get the impression that you’re consciously holding off publishing until you can “keep up.”

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  16. What a fabulous post, and just the kind of thing I needed to read today. Thank you. 🙂 Like you, my kidlet has recently entered preschool, but I don’t get twelve hours; if anything, I’ve found my time reduced even more. I look back at the days pre-kids when I could work crazy hours, and my productivity was through the roof! And when I consider all the ways to steal time and make time for my writing, I find my daughter just begging me to play with her, just spend time with her, and the more I remember to do that, to cherish these days before she is off to school, the more I’m okay with no writing every spare second I can find.

    It seems so easy for us to be sucked into the message that not only do we need to be terrific at everything we do, we also need to somehow do it all faster, better, more extraordinarily than any have before us. Instead, as with everything, we have to find the way that’s best for US. For me, that means the best mom I can be for my kid is a happy and whole, which means sometimes I need to snatch that time to get in the writing, and other times, I just need to sit down and color with her. 🙂

    Thanks so much for a great post, and all the best to you in finding the balance we all strive for.

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    • How much time do you get while your girl is in school? Are you able to use it for yourself, or do you find yourself doing other tasks? I think lots of parents feel obligated to do “productive things” while their kids are away, and sometimes writing doesn’t feel productive in a concrete way. It doesn’t get the dishes out of the sink or the laundry out of the dryer, you know? It doesn’t sort the mail or pay the bills (in any fashion, some days!). But it’s key to me feeling like I can give my attention to my son once he does get home from school.

      So that’s my suggestion: make sure you give yourself the time that your daughter is in school. Do your domestic chores at another time. Take her shopping with you, after school. Use those school hours to write!

      Also, I leave this here for you:

      http://www.pinterest.com/tiffanywbwg/my-imaginary-well-dressed-toddler-daughter/

      because I think we could all use a laugh.

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  17. Addison Fox says:

    Jamie:

    This is such a great post! I echo everyone else’s comments and would add one more to the mix – I believe much of the writing life has become disillusioning to people because there’s way too much time spent comparing to others.

    Our writing ability is as unique as our thumb print – it’s innately OF us and FROM us. So why do we insist on comparing that unique aspect of who we are with others? (I’d apply this to any person doing any task – as human beings we need to learn to appreciate ourselves and what WE offer!)

    Creativity is a gift and I think it would be a horrible shame to squander it based on a sense of competition with others. We need to stay vigilant to fight against that and focus on what WE have to offer.

    I know it’s Pollyanna of me but I truly believe it. Every writer needs to focus on what makes them happy – in life, in their writing life and outside their writing life. That’s the true joy of creativity.

    Thanks for such a wonderful and inspiring post!!!
    Addison

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    • Oooh, I kind of want to highlight and bold and reprint every line of that comment. But your central thesis really struck me:

      “I believe much of the writing life has become disillusioning to people because there’s way too much time spent comparing to others.”

      YES. I do want to mention that I think it’s wonderful and fun to “sprint” with your friends and toast words-per-minute speeds — when you’re all at the same stage of the writing process and all want to just gut those words out. I’d never discourage someone from participating in such supportive endeavors! I’ve done them myself, and enjoyed them.

      I think things get dicier when we sit in on workshops or read blogs where someone (who is trying to be helpful) goes into detail about how to write more, and how many books you need per year to make it big, and how so-and-so writes ’til 2 AM and gets up at 4:00 AM to write before work. Add that to the social media expectations (especially for self-published authors!) and it feels like a ton of pressure to ignore your personal life and focus all of your free time (and most of your sleeping hours) on your writing. That doesn’t work for everyone, but don’t we sit there wishing it would?

      That always made me feel terribly lazy, but after a while I just felt angry with my body for not allowing me to do that. I cannot. I know that now. I know that when I don’t sleep, my hands hurt too much for me to write. And I’m sort of over blaming my body for my problems. My body is my body, and if I don’t take care of it, I’m going to be a hunched-over little old lady using a walker by the time I’m 40.

      Call me crazy, but I’d rather be healthy and happy than hurting and rich.

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  18. Jim Cangany says:

    I’m one of those rare birds – a guy who writes romance. This a wonderfully wise post that I believe is relevant to any writer, regardless of gender. I’ve published three sweet romance novels )and one short story) at a pace of one every eight months or so. My small press editor has been fine with that, thank goodness. While it’s nowhere near the pace that may be “recommended,” it’s the pace I can maintain and have a happy home/day job/writing job balance. Will I ever “make it” writing at that pace? I don’t know. What I do know is that I owe it to my wife and kids to keep them, not writing, first. Right now, writing is fun, and I think I write pretty darn good stories. It makes no sense for me to mess with that formula. Thanks for sharing, Jamie. Your words are empowering!

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    • Jim, thank you for your comment! Publishing one book every 8 months seems like a very stable pace. I think there are people who might even envy that pace. 😉 But certainly some publishers would want more, more, more. You’re a wise man to know that you can’t do more without giving your family less.

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  19. Erika Kelly says:

    I am so with you on this one, Jamie. I didn’t want to be published until my kids had flown out of the nest. It meant everything to me to be there for them–emotionally and physically. And it’s worked out perfectly–because my last one left for college, and my debut release comes out in January. I wrote throughout their childhoods, submitted, went to conferences, learned my craft. But the joy for me was in the writing, the learning, the getting better.

    I heartily subscribe to the “to each, her own” philosophy, so I’m down with whatever works for other people. I don’t do NaNo. I’ve got my own process, and I’m comfortable with it. And I’ve let my agent and editor know what I’m comfortable producing. See, writing is my joy. And if I enter that world of rushed deadlines and multiple book deals, it will kill the joy. And then what would I have? No, I’m not willing to do that. But, from what I can see–and it’s early on–my publisher understands my pace and isn’t trying to urge more books out of me. My editor wants my best work, so she wants us to communicate about what it’ll take for me to produce it.

    It just isn’t possible for me to create the multilayered, dimensional, and polished product I can be proud of without many, many revisions. The first 5 or 6 passes over the book are just to get a solid, laser-sharp, focused story. Then it’s layer after layer of setting, sensory, emotional details. Hey, it’s a CRAFT! We have to craft all those words into a thing of beauty. Not easy–and not to be rushed!

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    • YES. And congratulations!! It’s great to know that Berkley is OK with an author who isn’t rushing to get out four books a year. What is your schedule with them? Rock-star romance, people!

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      • Erika Kelly says:

        Jamie, the first in the series comes out Jan. 6. The second comes out in July.

        I suspect the reason for the rush to place books in the marketplace stems from self-publishing. It’s what the readers have grown accustomed to–however, if you read reviews, they get pretty displeased when the quality falters. It just seems like we’re misinterpreting what readers want. There’s so much access to authors, readers can clamor for another book, whether through reviews or FB or Twitter or email. But it’s not like they (we–hey, I’m a reader, too!) wouldn’t be willing to wait for the next one if it meant they’d get something equally smashing. How excited are we when Rachel Gibson or Susan Elizabeth Phillips releases a book? It’s not like we’ll shun them for not dropping 4 books a year. In any event, we shouldn’t care about that. We should care about the quality of the book we’re delivering to the marketplace.

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        • “It just seems like we’re misinterpreting what readers want.”

          Yes! In the fantasy genre, it’s pretty common for authors to take more than a year (in some cases waaaaaaaay more than a year) per book, and yes, the fans complain, sometimes bitterly, sometimes vocally. But does that make George R.R. Martin write faster? Nope.

          (But I think that goes back to the “women must make people happy” nonsense that all too many of us have been raised to believe, whether we want to or not.)

          Darn, I should have linked to this sooner. Here’s Neil Gaiman’s famous “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch” blog post.

          http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

          Here’s some more beauty from that blog:

          “For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I don’t really care what it takes to produce that.”

          I think we’re all agreeing with what he’s saying here, and I, for one, wish we could have a little more Neil Gaiman in our genre. (In sooooo many ways than this one!)

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          • Erika Kelly says:

            I’m looking in my files this AM for notes on a book I wanted to do a while back (which I can’t find–grrr!), and came upon this article from Chuck Wendig that I saved cuz I love it so much. In it he says this:

            “The rise of self-publishing has seen a comparative surge forward in quantity. As if we’re all rushing forward to squat out as huge a litter of squalling word-babies as our fragile penmonkey uteruses (uteri?) can handle. Stories are like wine; they need time. So take the time. This isn’t a hot dog eating contest. You’re not being judged on how much you write but rather, how well you do it. Sure, there’s a balance — you have to be generative, have to be swimming forward lest you sink like a stone and find remora fish mating inside your rectum. But generation and creativity should not come at the cost of quality. Give your stories and your career the time and patience it needs. Put differently: don’t have a freak out, man.”

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          • Oh, God, YES! Leave it to Chuck to find a way to say it with a guffaw. Thanks for posting this!

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  20. Thank you, Jamie… I needed to hear this today. 🙂

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  21. So funny – the thesis sentence in my president’s letter for the MRW newsletter that just came out was “I think NaNo is crazy pants”. We are definitely on the same page. More importantly, I can’t WAIT to see your new project!!!!!!!!!

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    • Oh, thank GOD I’m not the only one. I probably shouldn’t have written this, but I’m getting too old to give a rat’s ass what people think of me. You shoulda seen me last weekend — we threw an amazing live-band karaoke party at my house and I just had a blast. I actually felt, for the first time, like I didn’t actually care if anyone thought I was behaving like a fool or a little over the top or anything. I was just…me. It felt great. (Also, you would have KILLED it on vocals. Dio, Pat Benatar, Heart, Ratt, etc. All the 80s and 90s greats you could ever want. I wish you flew!)

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  22. Thank you so much for sharing this. There is so much pressure in this industry to perform. To do more, do better, and do it faster. I’ve got five books under me and still finding my feet. Some days (most days) I can’t keep up with everything. Writing. Promotion. Family life. I’ve been feeling like a failure and it leaves me very depressed. And I’ve decided I can’t keep up with it. I have to do this my way. I believe in that philosophy, too…to each his own. But that’s not what we’re told. It’s always “do more.” I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in this.

    BTW…I don’t do NaNo. I tried once, years ago, and realized it wasn’t my style. I can’t do the dump and run. I’d rather quality over quantity. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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    • Joanne, I’m glad that this has helped you. Five books is FANTASTIC and you should feel very proud of yourself. I wish we could all meet for coffee and/or drinks to rally ourselves, because I think we get to feeling pretty alone.

      My suggestion is to do like Elsa and just Let It Go. Let it go, hon. Let go of the expectations and pressure. Let go of what you think you should do. Let go of what you wish you could do. Love what you can do; love who you are.

      Read Neil Gaiman’s take on this to feel even less alone:

      http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/05/entitlement-issues.html

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  23. this has been such a great discussion.

    Just when I start thinking two books a year is enough, especially when my first book is going to be released in paperback at Books-A-Million stores in January.

    And then I read a blog post about how the trend of binge watching TV shows is a sign that readers want to read things back to back to back. Sigh.

    But then I think about series I’ve loved. I can read two or three books in a row before I need to move on to something different. So I think there could be a saturation point. Kind of like when a song comes out and you really like it, then they play it over and over and over again and you get so sick of it and anything else by that artist that you change the channel.

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    • Yes, I agree — maybe readers/watchers DO want to binge-experience their favorite things, but then they get a hangover and need a palate cleanser. They don’t want to read/watch the same thing forever! Even if we could release a book each month, I’m not sure that even the most dedicated readers would want to keep up with us.

      (IMO, two books per year is FANTASTIC and should be plenty.)

      Besides, we’re only human. And most of us don’t write in teams, or at least very, very few of us have the sort of manpower behind our books that a TV show would have. We’re just ourselves, and we have to write at a sustainable pace that not only keeps us healthy and happy, but also keeps our readers on tenterhooks, anxiously awaiting our next release.

      And congratulations on getting your first book in Books-a-Million!!!!! Talk about a holy grail. With your sexy covers, I think you’ll snag lots of eyeballs.

      (Thanks for coming back to chat. It’s been an interesting day!)

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      • This has been a great discussion. I used to follow this blog religiously when I was first starting out and participating in your Winter Writing Festival was a tremendous help in establishing a routine of writing almost every day. In the beginning I needed that external motivation and points to keep me going. I probably would not have any books out if I hadnt taken my writing serious and learned how to keep up a steady pace that worked for me. So thank you.

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