Once a Week Ain’t Enough

December 27th, 2007

It is extremely peculiar to be writing and “publishing” a novel in weekly increments. It’s really screwing with my process, and I keep finding myself in the deep end of the pool when I thought the water came up only to my knees.

The big issue is, of course, time, not the fact that I have to make the book up as I go along, I’m used to writing books without advance knowledge about where the story is going until the characters take me there. So the “pantsing” aspect of this doesn’t feel odd at all. I’ve always written by the seat of my pants.

But the weekly aspect of the Dickens Challenge is driving me nuts.

I’ve always figured that it took writers a lot longer to write a story story than it took readers to read it. I might take a year to turn out a novel, but I’m hoping the reader will be so interested that he or she reads it in a few days, maybe even in two or three sittings. But here I am, writing a book at exactly the same speed at which it’s being read (assuming it’s being read at all), and there’s a whole week in between bits of story.

The first effect this has on me is an overwhelming sense that I’m writing a serial, not a novel. No limp endings for chapters. When a reader can go to the next chapter just by turning a page, you can get away with something that’s well, okay. You might want something better, but if it doesn’t come, it’s not the end of the world. The next chapter is just the thickness of a single page away. Here, of course, it’s a full seven-day week away. There had better be a hook of some kind, or at least so it seems to me.

And then, since we’re not supposed to be writing ahead and going back and fixing things, I’m writing Counterclockwise with what is, for me, agonizing slowness. If I gave this book its head, I’d have 20-25,000 words by now, not 5,000 or whatever I actually have. So I lay off it for days at a time, so as not to get ahead of the publication pace. That means that my re-entry into the story is more difficult that it is on a book that I just pour myself into on a daily basis.

In fact, my biggest question is whether I’ll be able to maintain interest in something I write this slowly. Getting into Chapter Three, which is now finished, felt like weight-lifting. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I’m also starting to realize that once Talley is disposed of, which will happen pretty fast, I’m going to be writing mainly about women. How did that happen? I wrote nine published novels and several unpublished ones before I had the nerve to write a scene in which two women had a conversation in a room that didn’t have a man in it. I knew how women talked when there were men around, but I had no idea what they sounded like when one of us wasn’t present. So I’m sort of doubly troubled, if you’ll excuse the assonance.

On the other hand, my co-Challengers have been dazzling me with the quality of their work. Go to their sites and read their books thus far, if you haven’t already done it. Check the posts called “Dickens, Day 1” and “Dickens, Day 2” for links to their sites. I didn’t know what to expect when I started this ball rolling, but I’m startled at how well everyone’s doing.

Onward and upward, folks. I’ll try to hang in there.

13 Responses to “Once a Week Ain’t Enough”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    The way you are experiencing the DC fascinates me because it’s so different for me. Since I have my regular day job to contend with, keeping up with the chapter a week is grueling for me! On the one hand, I am writing every day, but on the other, the story isn’t pouring out as fast as I’d like it to. I think if I were writing full time and not switching into and out of this mode, keeping up with a chapter a week would be much more doable. The DC deadlines have made me a true believer in the theory that one has to write every day in order to keep the story percolating, but doing it part of the time barely keeps it on life support. I do have a question for you though — how are you able to keep making progress on three books simultaneously? I had a crazy thought that I might be able to work on my other WIP and the DC both, but so far, that hasn’t panned out 🙂

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Lisa —

    I guess I’m just more accustomed to turning out a higher volume of work. I figure I write every page of every book an average of three times before I figure I’m finished with it, so there’s a certain blunt-force word minimum that I have to attain or I’ll just never finish anything.

    Re the other books, the new Bangkok book is in the magic phase, which is to say the first 50 pages, when it’s almost impossible to do anything wrong, and the burglar book continues to arrive at the rate of 2000-3000 words per day. It’s been a long time since I did anything that apparently wanted to be written as badly as this book does.

    The key for me is to keep the sessions entirely separate. I always keep an extra window open for each session, so if I have an irresistible idea for book 1 while I’m working on book 3,I can just jot it down in 30 seconds and get back to book 3. I even tend to write them in different places.

    But don’t forget, this is pretty much all I do.

  3. Wendy Ledger Says:

    Hi, Tim,

    I’ve really appreciated the DC. I think if it was more than a weekly submission, it would be difficult (busy work life, basic social life). It’s been a wonderful thing for me to be working on a story. I still don’t have much writing time at the keyboard, but I do wake up with things I know that belong to the story or something will pop in my head at the grocery store or on a walk that fits. But I hear what you’re saying. I, of course, selfishly hope that you continue, but I get it.

  4. Wendy Ledger Says:

    but I’m supposing that you would continue the work, right now, you just might need to change your process? I guess I just want to say that I hope the book would continue regardless of whether you decide that you want to work this way or not.

  5. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Wendy —

    I’m glad you’re getting something out of the DC, and I’m really enjoying your work.

    Despite all the bitching and moaning on my end, I’m not ready to quit yet. For one thing, I sort of like my third chapter, and I can almost see where the fourth will go. It’s just a different kind of writing; it doesn’t permit the day-in, day-out immersion that keeps my creative pipes open on my other projects. Sorry about the mixed metaphor.

    We’ll see. I leave for Asia at the end of January and I may have to miss a week then because of travel, jet lag, etc., but I’m definitely in until then, at the very least.

  6. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    I’m loving this challenge. I’ve NEVER shared my writing before and this is a huge leap of faith for me. I’ve written about 8 chapters so far, so technically, I’m not really writing a chapter a week. However, I’m a binge writer. I’ll go for a month or so thinking about a scene, envisioning the setting and dialog, etc; then when it’s boiling up inside me — I sit down and write it. My process looks like this:

    The man wa …
    The old man walk …
    An elderly …
    The wo …
    The old man tottered …
    The dog ran down the street followed by the old man …

    I’m sure you see where I’m going here. When I do get to the end of the scene. I usually rewrite it at least once, after I’ve let it sit for a day or two. Then I read it out loud to myself, and rewrite the sour notes.

    Pretty soon I’ll run out of what I’ve already written and have to produce each week. I’ll probably start drinking more heavily then.

    But I absolutely love this idea of working and sharing and reading and cheering.

    Thanks, Tim!

  7. Steve Wylder Says:


    The Dickens Challenge has really given me the incentive to work on, and I hope, to finish a novel. Like Wendy, I’ve got a day job, and mine is pretty exhausting this time of year. But unlike her, I don’t have much of a social life, so I’m pounding away at my computer, immersed in the 1968 McCarthy campaign and my protagonist’s memories of it.

    I think many of us Dickens challengers with day jobs have hopes that an agent or publisher will discover us. And if that should happen, we’ll be doing a lot of editing and rewriting. I believe you said something like that in a reply to someone’s inquiry.

    But I’m happy to read that you’re still in, at least for now. You’ve got a fascinating story so far, and like Wendy, I want to read it to the end.

  8. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Like Steve said, most of us are hoping to be discovered…so let me be the first to invite all of you to the Henderson/Las Vegas Writer’s Conference in April next year. I had a blast at last year’s conference. It was my first venture into the writing world and I was brave enough (hmmmm….maybe the wine had something to do with it) to pitch my story to three agents and I’ve got two agents and a publisher waiting for me to finish my book.

    Now, if I could only FINISH it! :^D

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Cynthia, Steve, and Cynthia again:

    First, Cynthia, thanks for the laugh, in a week where they’ve been on the thin side. Just too much going on and too little satisfaction — writing pages that look like spoiled milk the next day. I know I can make them better, but I want them to be perfect the first time, and this is the first sustained period on this particular book (the burglar series) where the stuff hasn’t been both fast and good, so naturally the Grand Doubts are fighting for a toehold.

    I’ve resisted the impulse to write more than a chapter a week on the DC because I want to try to do it the hard way, which means I can’t go back and clean up the messes, as I’m doing on the other book right now. So it may not be good, but it is definitely hard.

    Wish I still had the option of drinking more heavily, but I had recourse to it a few hundred times too often.

    And Steve, your political novel sounds really interesting. Do you know (a) the political novels of Ward Just, and (b) the book about the 1968 campaign called “An American Melodrama”? Absolutely sensational coverage by three British reporters, maybe the best book I ever read about presidential politics if you don’t count Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes.”

    And Cynthia, again, wish I could go in April, but I’ll be in Asia, doing the next Bangkok book.

    And both of you are doing great with the writing in the DC, too.

  10. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I’ve got Forgetfulness, by Ward Just sitting on my bedside table! I picked it up a few months ago and I’ve never read anything of his before, but now that you’ve recommended him I’m going to get to it sooner, rather than later. Thanks Tim!

  11. Steve Wylder Says:


    I discovered “An American Melodrama” a few years ago when I did a story about RFK’s visit to Elkhart. The authors’ understanding of Indiana politics went far beyond that of most national correspondents. I’ve got Elkhart Public library’s copy in my apartment, along with “Chicago ’68,” “Rights in Conflict,” and “No one was Killed.” I haven’t read any of Ward Just’s political novels, but I’ll check them out. Thanks for the tip.

  12. Wendy Ledger Says:

    Hi, Cynthia,

    I was wondering if there was a website or any online information about the conference. I do have some things going on in April, but I would be interested in hearing about it, and would like to go, if I could.

  13. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Here’s the link:


    I hope to see you there!

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