Sometimes You Have to Write the Wrong Book Before You Can Write the Right One | Author Denise Grover Swank Sometimes You Have to Write the Wrong Book Before You Can Write the Right One | Author Denise Grover Swank
Denise Grover Swank

Sometimes You Have to Write the Wrong Book Before You Can Write the Right One

I’ve written three and a half books this year. Impressive, no? That’s a total of almost 300K words in six and a half months.

Only not so impressive.

I wrote the first three books in four months. Now before you think “Gah! She must be writing crap.” Keep in mind I use developmental editors, beta readers, copy editors, proof readers. You get the picture. When a book takes fire in me, it takes FIRE and I become a woman possessed. It’s not uncommon for me to write a minimum of 5000 words a day. Shoot, in those periods, 5000 words a day is slacking.

So I wrote my three books and eagerly started Thirty and a Half Excuses, the third book in the Rose Gardner Mystery series. I didn’t have it plotted in detail, but I knew the high points and Rose usually falls out of my fingers. Besides, a lot of ideas come to me as I write. It’s rare for me to have a detailed synopsis before I start to write.

I started Rose in early May, already realizing I was cutting it close to send a completed first draft my developmental editor by the first week of June. But why was I worried? I wrote Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes in about 25 days, and it was 105,000 words in first draft. (I cut about 12K in revisions.)  Hell, I’d wrote the last 40,000 words of Redesigned in 10 days.  What was I worried about?

Only the words didn’t come.

I’d sit down to write and getting words on the screen was like having bamboo shoots jammed under my fingernails. I found every conceivable–and quite a few inconceivable excuses–to NOT write. I’d sit down with my laptop and think, “What the hell, Denise? What is WRONG with you???”

And that just made it worse.

By the end of May, I’d barely cracked 30K, and I was in deep shit. I emailed my editor and told her I was going to be late. How late? I hoped only a few more weeks. I was still waiting for the kindling to ignite.

Then my four youngest kids got out of school, I was planning for a trip to Europe with my daughter and her friend, a trip we’d been planning for three years. But the biggest issue was my latest release didn’t sell nearly as well as the first book in the series. I already felt like a failure with my word count deficit.  I’d never been late on a deadline, let alone so embarrassingly late. I saw that as a professional failure.  Then I saw my book sales as a failure.

My confidence was nil.

Why was I wasting my time writing when nobody wanted to read my books? That thought was not only stupid, but not true. I have people eagerly waiting for Thirty and a Half Excuses. But that made it worse. So not only could I not write, I couldn’t sell books, I couldn’t meet deadlines with professionals, and I was disappointing people.

My writer’s block got even worse.

I had planned to write in Europe. And I tried, but it was just so WRONG. I knew the book was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it.

But worse than that, I had NO desire to write. I combined my trip to Paris with research for an upcoming book I plan to write. I hoped that would get me excited to work on Rose again. Not only did I not want to write Rose, but the idea of writing anything made me anxious.

I watched hours and hours and hours of Netflix. ALL six seasons of Mad Men, All three seasons of Wallander. All seven episodes of Top of the Lake. I deluded myself into thinking that it would help me plot. And sometimes that works for me, but not this time.

By the Fourth of July I was at 40,000 words. It had taken me two and a half months to write what I’d written in ten days of the last book, and I knew that 40K was crap.

I was beginning to rethink my career.

It helped that in June and early July I wrote and revised a short story 47North contracted for the Curse Keepers series. I not only enjoyed working on the story, but I thought it was good. It was the first thing I’d written since April I liked.  My editor liked it too.

Maybe I wasn’t entirely broken.

But I still couldn’t work on Rose.

I wish I could say I had a lightning bolt moment, but I can’t.  I spent a lot of time evaluating why I do what I do and realized that I have stories in my head that I want to tell. Sometimes other people will want to read my stories and sometimes they won’t. It doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean I’m a terrible author. But I had to ask myself, bottom line, WHY do I write?

Because if I don’t get these stories out of my head, I’ll go crazy.

Next, I reread Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. And I liked it. I know that sounds weird, I wrote it. But it was my third completed book– sure I edited the hell out of it– yet I finished reading and thought “This book is really good. I want to write like that again.”

Then I picked up Thirty and read it. I compared it to Twenty-Eight and asked myself what was wrong with it.

Once I realized what was wrong, I felt like an idiot. There was no ticking clock. No sense of urgency. No wonder I was bored writing the book. It was as dry as toast.

I’d love to tell you that I sat down and started rewriting like  crazy person, but that would be a lie. Honestly, at that point, I was scared to work on it.  What if I really couldn’t write this book? What if my brain was really broken? But I started slow and worked up to more and more pages every day. I’m at 47K, 170 pages, but I’ve revised the first 90 pages and love the way the book is going now. I’m finally excited to work on it.

So why couldn’t I just write the book right the first time?

One: my brain was fried. I needed a break but I kept pushing. My brain rebelled.

Two: I was too close to it at first to see what was wrong.

But three, and this leads into the Netflix obsession: Inspiration comes from EVERYTHING. The revision I’m working on came from the crap I wrote.  When I wrote Here, which is based off the Many Worlds theory,  I realized that the Many Worlds theory not only applies to life, but also my books. What if I take the wrong path? What if I have the story go the wrong direction? It can be paralyzing if I let myself think about it too much. Sometimes a story just feels so right I know it’s good, but other times I know I’ve gone down the wrong path. I just can’t figure out which path is wrong. But it doesn’t mean the wrong path is a failure. It usually inspires something I might not have written otherwise.

When I looked back at my books, I realized how many I’ve revised/altered MAJORLY:

  • Hunted— cut 20K from the first 40K
  • Sacrifice–the first half of the book with major alterations to the second half to make it all work
  • Here— the last third of the book
  • There— added 25K in revision

Those books aren’t failures, and truth be told, they wouldn’t be the books they are now if I hadn’t written the first crap book.

Some books take longer to write than others. With the last three books I’ve written, I’ve revised all three while still working on the first draft. (Thirty included)  Once I hit a “sweet spot”– usually around 30K–the book takes off. But I have to remember every book won’t be that way. And when a book isn’t, I’m not a failure.

I now have a publication date for Thirty and a Half Excuses–September 10. I realize it’s much later than I intended–and many of you hoped–but I hope it’s worth the wait. I’m not entirely back to 100% yet, but I’m excited to work on Rose. And not only that, after my trip to Roanoke Island, ideas for the second Curse Keepers book are bursting from my head. On my ten hour drive leaving the Outer Banks today, I plotted out most of the second book and over half of the third.

If you’re a writer, I hope you see that every book is different. Some books will come easier than others. Some books will make you rethink your career. That doesn’t make you a failure. It just makes you appreciate the easy books even more.

And to everyone else: Thanks for bearing with me.

**If you plan to leave a comment that I need to plot my books more/better, please read paragraph #4. My brain doesn’t work that way. Writing a synopsis has only worked with one book out of twelve.





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Sivje Parish
Sivje Parish
10 years ago

I think you are far too hard on yourself. You have produced so much in such s short time. I am glad you didn’t write much in Europe. You needed a vacation. But now that you are back and your brain is relaxed and happy again, I am so glad Rose is being written again. You know how much I love her. 🙂

Paola Bell
Paola Bell
10 years ago

One of the things I love about you is the way you take us through your writing process. I highly doubt that the majority of us believe that a book is “easy” to write. Sure, some come easier than others, but certainly not easy. With that said, in terms of authors…you are not a failure. We all need to step away from the things that we are doing to regroup sometimes. This gives fresh perspective and new ideas. I admire what you do. So you have a later publication date…big deal! All of us will be so glad to read the third Rose installment that it matters not, as long as you are happy with your final product. The words will come, the book will be great, and we will all love you more for sharing your stories with us!

Elizabeth Collins
Elizabeth Collins
10 years ago

I love these types of blog you write that show how… REAL you are. Because seriously… you write like a machine! Your process seems great, even when it’s not, if that makes sense? But I hope I can speak for all your fans when I say that even if a book we are waiting for takes months or even years longer than planned… we will be impatiently waiting, BUT, you are not letting us down! We’ll wait as long as it takes!

10 years ago

I love how real you are. This post helped me a ton with
my own writing/ revising struggles. Thank you for sharing–
and don’t ever feel like a failure. You are amazingly talented.
Just remember that

Laura Hernandez
Laura Hernandez
10 years ago

I agree that you are being too hard on yourself. I can only imagine how difficult it can be to come up with a story and then put it down on “paper” hoping you have all t
he details to make that story flow. A little over a year and a half ago I really got into reading (got a Xoom tablet w/Kindle ap). Chosen was one of the first books I selected to download from amazon. Your book captured me. I felt what the characters were going thru and the emotions they felt. You helped me see that books give me a type of getaway when I need me time. Since getting my tablet, I have read 100+ books. You have helped open me to a world of imagination where anything is possible, and for that I want to thank you! You will always have me as a fan.

Krista Hince
Krista Hince
10 years ago

I’m just happy you kept at it. I cried buckets at the end of your third Roe book and am
looking forward to the short stories in between. How you can work with al your kids needing you is simply amazing. You must be one organized mom! Thanks for allowing me to escape and enjoy your amazing books. And just be happy–I’ll wait!

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