Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Writer's Wednesday : : Book in a Week

With a looming deadline, Anne McAllister decided it was time to find out if she could write "a book in a week."

Back in January when I was doing the revisions that amounted to a complete rewrite of a book, I could see that my next deadline was going to be upon me before I'd had time to catch a breath.

I didn't see how I could tell my editor that the book was going to be seriously late, even though by January 10th I had a hero's name and a tiny bit of back-story (he'd been a forest ranger in his oldest brother's book several years ago because I'd never intended to write a book about him. That'll teach me.)

So I decided I had to to do something drastic to get it done. But what?

Serendipitously my NINC newsletter dropped in my mailbox that afternoon and I read Laura Resnick's article about her writer's block and how she'd dealt with it by talking to a writing coach.

I didn't have writer's block. What I didn't have was TIME.

But Laura said her 'coach' was April Kihlstrom and the moment I saw April's name, a light came on in my brain, a memory resurfaced, and I said out loud to the dogs, "Book in a week."

They didn't know what I was talking about. But I did.

Quite a lot of years ago when I was at a conference, I heard April talk about her "Book in a week" experience. She was fairly new at it at the time, and quite excited about what she'd discovered in doing it.

I listened and I remembered, but I didn't do anything about it because somehow in those days, I had both time and a method of writing that worked for me.

This time I didn't have time, though I still had the method -which wouldn't work without time. So I signed up to participate in April's most recent "Book in a Week" online experience.

I wasn't sure what to expect.

I was still finishing the rewrite of the earlier manuscript when I started the BIAW and I was worried I would get confused. But it turned out not to be a bad thing.

I finished that manuscript while I was doing the three weeks of preparation for April's intense writing week. It was a nice balance to be able to move from one manuscript to the preparation for the story of the new one.

As I did her 'prep work' I found my subconscious was working hard on the new book even as I was finishing the old. And by the time we were three weeks in and it was time to write, I had a story!

Did I get the whole draft done? No, I didn't. But I got over half of it in rough form and another quarter of it in even rougher bits and pieces. I have an arc for the whole thing, though, and it made me a much more fluid writer than I've been since.

April does get her drafts done in the week. I didn't quite get there. But I found the experience freeing and fun -- and it allowed me to dig deeper into the characters at the same time it encouraged me to wander into paths I wouldn't have ventured down otherwise.

I need another "intense writing week" to get the full draft done. But if I ever manage to shut off my phone and my friends and my relatives, I just might get that. And then I'll have time to revise -- and who knows?

By the grace of April, I just might make my deadline.

I talked to April after I finished the course and asked her if she would answer some questions for anyone who might be interested in what she does and why.

If you have questions, I'm sure you can explore her website and blog for more details. And if you want more firsthand testimony from me that it's a great way to jump start a book, send me an email from my blog. I'll tell you how much I enjoyed it!

In the meantime, here are my questions and April's answers:
When did you first discover the Book in a Week process and what were the circumstances that made you change what you were already doing successfully (since, after all, you were already published when you began doing it)?
  • I was on the online bulletin board Genie and a group of writers were going to try it. I missed all the discussion and got dragged into it by a friend. I kept telling her I couldn't possibly write a first draft that fast but she insisted I join in. To my utter astonishment, I did it. Not only that, my first draft was as good or better than any I'd done before when I took 7 months or so to write a first draft. There were fewer inconsistencies, I had more fun and I took more chances—because it was only one week. I also could see, when I looked at the first draft, my strengths and weaknesses and what I cared most about writing.
What is the biggest change you see in your work since you've done it this way?
  • A willingness to take more chances, to try new things, to write what I most cared about.
Do you always use Book in a Week to approach a new book now?

  • All of my published books, once I discovered BIAW have been written that way. For some projects, I've either used BIAW or a modified version in order to try out possibilities. It's a great way to discover whether or not I'm ready to work on a project or whether or not it's something I really want to do.
How has the Book in a Week process evolved for you as you've done it over the years (or has it changed at all?)

  • The actual writing part hasn't changed except perhaps that I have more faith in it than I did in the beginning. I can relax and know I can take time to have coffee with a friend or run errands and still get my pages written.
  • It's the brainstorming part that has evolved as a result both of my own experiences and from teaching BIAW as an online class.
When people say, "I could never do that!" how do you respond?

  • First, there's no way to fail at BIAW IF you see it as a learning experience as much as you see it as a writing experience. Even with the writing, you'll never know until you try whether or not you can write an entire first draft in one week. I would have sworn I couldn't possibly do so and even now I'm somewhat astonished that it works for me.
  • Still, the biggest thing someone can get out of BIAW is self-discovery: finding out where and what and how and when one writes best and most naturally. Once a writer knows that, he/she can go with the most natural path and that makes the whole process easier and more fun. As you know, I believe—and research supports this—that our brains work best, we are most creative when we can let ourselves have fun as we write, when we tap into the magic we felt when we were kids playing make believe.
Why do you think it improves your books to approach them this way?

  • I can focus on my strengths and write what and how I write best—for that first draft. I can let myself have fun and take chances. I think that comes across to readers. I get into the “flow” and the words come in ways they wouldn't if I was agonizing over every word or sentence or trying to get it absolutely right the first time around. That sensation of being in the flow is wonderful and I really love the experience of rereading my work and thinking: Damn that's good—I wish I'd thought of it!
How does one sign up with you to do a Book in a Week under your guidance?

So there you have it. If you want to take a flying leap at your next book, you might consider doing a book in a week with April. I thought it was a terrific experience.

And even when I don't have a pressing deadline, I'd like to keep it that way, so I guarantee you, I'll be back!

Have you ever done "a book in a week?" How did it go for you? Would you recommend the process?

Anne's most recent book, Hired By Her Husband, was a February Harlequin Presents. Her next one, the title of which is still under discussion. No, not argument -- discussion -- will be out in October. Stay tuned.
Presently she's writing the second half of her "book in, er, two weeks."

Drop by her blog and say hi. She's going to be writing more about her Book in a (two) Week experience.


  1. Great post, Anne! Love the pictures.

  2. Thanks, April. And thank you especially for a marvelous course. Looking forward to doing it again!

  3. Anne, Thank you for the great blog. I'm off to buy your book. I've taken April's BIAW class and found it as stimulating as you. Cheers, CJDufel

  4. CJ, Thanks for stopping by. I am sure many writers find April's course a real breath of fresh air. I miss it! Glad you enjoyed it, too. And I hope you enjoy the book!