Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writing on the Clock

by Anne Clinard Barnhill     

The story of the completion of AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN is one I hope you'll find of interest.  It begins in 2007, when I started writing about my ancestor, Lady Margaret Shelton, for the sheer fun of it.  I'd read the Jean Plaidy books, along with several other Renaissance novels and decided I needed to tell Margaret's story for my own amusement.  I never dreamed the book would sell.
     In June, 2007, we had a family tragedy and I found myself caring for a newborn and a 5-year-old.  There was no time for writing.  Fast-forward to October, 2008, when I was on the faculty of the South Carolina Writers Workshop at Myrtle Beach.  While there, I met an agent, Irene Goodman.  We began chatting and she asked me what I was working on.  I mentioned my historical novel, telling her it was far from finished, etc.  As we talked, I realized she knew a great deal about the period and discovered she loved historical fiction.  By the end of our conversation, she'd given me her card and asked to see what I had written thus far.
     By that time, I had thirteen chapters.  I sent her the first three.  She was very interested and wanted to know when I expected to finish the book.  For some ridiculous reason, I told her I'd have it all completed by the following June.  Mind you, I still had care of the children--if you've ever had a toddler, you know how much time you have for writing---especially if you are the grandmother!  There is a reason young women have the babies!
     In May, she emailed me, asking how the book was progressing.  I sent her the remaining ten chapters from the original thirteen.  She loved it and wanted to know when I could be completely finished.  Of course, I had not written a word since I'd seen her.
     I'll never know why I said August.  But it popped out before I had sense enough to stop it.  She wanted around 400 pages; I had around 125.  I arranged to take three weeks away to complete the manuscript.  My  husband and son would take care of things at home.
     I headed down to my parents' house near Holden Beach, figuring out how many pages I'd have to write each and every day to  make my deadline.  Sixteen.  Sixteen pages a day including weekends.  I was determined to do it.  I knew I wouldn't get another chance.
     I set up my computer and got to work.  I'd write for a while in the mornings, take a nap in the early afternoon, then write until around midnight.  I got my sixteen pages every day for the full three weeks.  It was the most intense experience of my writing life--I both loved and hated it.  I was able to immerse myself fully in the work, coming up for food and air every so often.  I had my reference books scattered on the floor, the table, the bed, even on the bathroom sink.  I thought if I could, somehow, sleep with the texts, the world of Henry VIII might seep into my pores by osmosis.  At times, it was as though I was possessed, talking to myself, pacing the room.  Other moments would be filled with gloom--I could never write this much so quickly and if I did, it would all be trash.  But I kept writing.
     Bottom line--I did it!  After my three weeks were over, I went home and polished what I'd written, had my husband read through and make suggestions, then sent it off to Irene.  She, too, had some suggestions.  By Thanksgiving, she had the final draft and by January, the manuscript was sold.  I'm not sure I could write so intensely again but wow!  what a rush it was!


  1. Your journey to signing with an agent and getting published is very different from mine. Mine involved the slush pile, a rewrite, and revisions before submission. And although I wish I wrote that fast, I simply do not.

  2. Wow! That's amazing, Anne! You are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

    P.S. I'm continually surprised how hard it is as a grandmother to take care of small children. All the things I used to do without thinking exhaust me now! LOL

  3. Anne,
    I'm anally organized. That's my idea of a nightmare! I freeze up if I'm not prepared - I'd never have made it! So glad you not only survived it, but sold!

    Thanks for the inspiring story!

  4. Wow! I don't think I could do that. So impressed!

  5. Thanks for the comments---it really was NOT the ideal situation and I just damn made myself do it! I would never want to repeat the experience, though there is something to be said for the intensity. I prefer a much more relaxed, slow approach! Oh this is Anne B. who always remains anonymous....

  6. I am in awe, regardless of whether it was the ideal situation, Anne! I don't know if I'd be able to do it.

  7. As always, you inspire me. I am now so far behind on my WIP after my own little family crisis that I want to cry. But I read this and thought, "You know what? I can do this!" Not sure I can get 16 pages done a day, but I'm going to start cranking. Fab post!