Today debut crime writer Christina McDonald is joining me for Crime Writers In Cafes Procrastinating. As the title suggests, this QA is all about the lengths writers go to procrastinate when they should be writing, and how they (eventually) manage to win against the temptation of the path of procrastination to finish their books.
Christina’s debut novel – THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL – has a super intriguing premise and sounds fascinating so I can’t wait to quiz her all about her writing and procrastination habits…
Hi Christina, and welcome to the CTG blog
So great to be here, Steph! I’ve been waiting to write this post until I got the cover for my book. Then I got the cover for my book and I was waiting for the cover reveal. Then the cover reveal happened and I’ve been putting it off because I haven’t had the time, and because…well… procrastinating. But here I am!
So tell me all about your latest book?
The Night Olivia Fell is a domestic suspense novel with an emotional plot. It is about a single mother called Abi who is startled awake in the small hours of the morning by a phone call informing her that her teenage daughter Olivia has fallen off a bridge. Not only is Olivia brain dead, she’s pregnant and must remain on life support to keep her baby alive. And then Abi sees the bruises circling Olivia’s wrists. When the police rule Olivia’s fall an accident, Abi decides to find out what really happened. Was Olivia’s fall an accident? Or something far more sinister?
How long did it take to write?
The first draft of writing book didn’t take me that long – 3-4 months. It was all the stuff after that: edits, getting an agent, edits for the agent, getting a publisher, edits for the editor. Altogether, from the time I wrote the book until the time it will be published will be three and a half years.
What’s your favourite writing/procrastination spot – home, café, bar, other?
In my garden at home on a beautiful, sunny day! Best is when my dog joins me for a cuddle while I’m reading. Reading is incredibly escapist, like skipping out on real life and jumping into another world. Like most people, I can get sucked into social media, too, but I do try to be a little disciplined about it. But reading, nope! I have very little discipline in forcing myself to not read, and when it’s sunny in my garden, all bets are off!
What’s your writing process – do you jump straight in, or plan and plot first?
I have a general idea of what I want the story to be about and where I want it to go, but really not much more than an idea. From there I start writing from page one – I write chronologically – and see where I go. As I get a more specific idea of themes, characters, tone of voice, etc, I jot out basic ideas for the inciting incident, first plot point, midpoint and third plot point. As I write I plan about one chapter ahead, so I know where I’m heading; and I keep an outline of the main things that have happened in each chapter so I know where I’ve been. I guess I’m a weird hybrid of a plotter-pantser.
When you’re writing, do you find you procrastinate more at the beginning, middle or end of the draft, or equally across all three?
Oh, definitely the middle! I always find myself very clear at the beginning of what I want to set out for the story, and once I’ve crossed the middle hump I usually know where I’m going and what will be the worst thing that can happen to my protagonist(s), so that last plot point and climax are fairly clear, but the middle part can be a struggle. Like many writers, I used to be a journalist, so I have a fear/respect of deadlines and have never missed one, but right around the middle part I start flogging myself with doubts, worrying that I’ll miss it and that the book will be horrible. Once I get over that, though, it’s usually fine.
Do you prefer first drafts or edits (and why)?
Drafts! It’s so clear in the first draft, and there’s such a freedom about writing exactly what I want to write. But once I get to edits it all becomes a bit tangled and confused in my mind. I start doubting why and where I’ve put plot points, if my character is ‘likeable’ enough, why I even wrote the book in the first place. From what I hear it’s really normal, so I just push through it. I have to give myself a good week or so after I’ve received edits to just sit on them and just see everything from a different angle. Then I hop back to it and get going on the next draft.
When you’re procrastinating, what’s the activity you turn to most?
Reading and social media. Social media can be a huge time waster, so I try to be really disciplined about it. I do need it to engage with readers, but it sucks you in so much. But when I start reading a book I sometimes get completely lost in it. Once when I was a teenager I was reading a book while sitting outside the classroom and about a half hour later I sort of came to and realised everybody had gone into class while I was totally zoned into the book. I was just left sitting outside the door!
When you’re writing what’s your drink and snack of choice?
Coffee in the morning, wine when I work in the evening. And I love me a good old pack of Biscoff biscuits!
And how do you celebrate the completion of the book (you winning against procrastination)?
I think because this book hasn’t been published yet I feel like it isn’t really ‘done’, if that makes sense. There have been so many things to do: write, edit, market, publicity, publication, etc. I’m in the ‘trying to figure out marketing’ and ‘getting good reviews’ stage. Maybe once it’s published I’ll feel done and can celebrate with a lovely bottle of Champagne, but I feel like I haven’t won against procrastinating just yet. The battle is still on!
I think you should definitely crack open the bubbly on publication day, maybe a pack of Biscoff biscuits too!
A huge thank you to Christina for letting me grill her about her writing habits and procrastination pitfalls.
THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL is out in February 2019 in the US and in March 2019 in the UK. Find out more about Christina and her writing at her website – https://christina-mcdonald.com/
And check out THE NIGHT OLIVIA FELL and pre-order it over on Amazon by clicking the links below: