Several readers have asked me, recently, to post something about my writing process--so here it is, for what it's worth.
As you can see from the photo, I'm a very messy writer. I wish I could be tidier, but I can't: I simply work best when I'm surrounded by resource materials, in stacks on the desk, on the floor, in my computer browser. (These days, more and more of my resource materials are online--true for everyone, I suspect.) When I finish a project and turn in a manuscript (an e-file, sent via email to the editor), I try to clean my office, reshelve the books, refile the papers, and get ready for the next project. And yes, that's Molly Maguire's butt under the desk. She spends the day there. Toro prefers to sleep in the hallway, where we can stumble over him more easily.
Currently, I'm working on a novel about Rose Wilder Lane, set between 1928-1939, when she was living in Missouri and working with her mother (Laura Ingalls Wilder) on the Little House books. I've been compiling background materials since 1991, when I visited the Herbert Hoover Library and copied Rose's journals and diaries for those years. (I have several of these long-held novel ideas--hoping to get to them over the next few years, before somebody else does!) RWL's diary is the primary source for the novel; as I've encountered secondary sources, I've added them to my collection. I'm plagued with the thought that I'll never know enough to start writing, but I have to make a start, so I have.
When I'm writing, I like to write every day: if I go away from the work, I forget what I was doing and have to do too much backtracking. I go to work as early as I can, after the morning chores (walking/feeding dogs, managing chickens, garden upkeep, laundry, life) and breakfast. I'm on the job usually by 10 a.m. I start with the new material from the day before, revising, adding, subtracting, multiplying. Then a lunch break (these days, I also take chicken breaks, to check on the health and welfare of the new flock).
Back to work after a quick lunch, usually producing new material until 4:30 on the dot, when the dogs come to tell me that they'll starve if I don't stop and do something about their supper. (I suspect them of carrying watches in their pockets, so they can inform me of the time.) And then of course, our supper, which is usually a one-dish skillet meal with a side or two. In the evenings, I read project-related material.
When I'm writing mysteries, I usually calendar 90 days for a book, planning to complete the book in about 70-75 days, depending on its complexity. (The "extra" days are for those necessities of life: shopping, doctor, dentist, short trips, etc.) I set a goal of about 1500 words a day. With the RWL novel, my word goal is 1000 words: it's much more complex and multi-layered; I'm working with many primary/secondary sources; and I have the sense that I'm writing for several different audiences, some of whom will be highly critical. I usually work straight through until I have about 50,000 words. Then I go back to the beginning, reading and redrafting the lot--and "coast" on that energy into the second half (roughly) of the book. At about 75,000 words, I go back to the beginning and redraft again, then "coast" through the end of the book.
Update, 1:45 Sunday: I just remembered something I wanted to add. I keep a simple log of my daily work, so that I have a record of what I've done on each project. This is just a little spiral memo notebook. Starting with #1, I number the days down the left side. I add the date (10.21) and the day Sunday and my total word count: 80,600. Tomorrow, it will be 10.22, Monday, 81,600--that's the plan, anyway. If I go to the library tomorrow (I have microfilm to work with there), I probably won't make that goal, so I'll jot down a note: Library 1-4, or whatever. I have a log for every book I've ever written. It helps me know where I am, where I've been, where I'm going--and when I'm likely to get there. Invaluable.
Questions? I'll try to answer them in the comments.
Reading note. And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.~Sylvia Plath