Once I begin a new book, the most important part of the process is perseverance. I try to write seven days a week, if only for an hour or two, until I have a first draft.
I'm a morning person—not the kind who rises at 4:00 a.m. and writes for hours before breakfast—but an ordinary morning person. I try to sit down to work somewhere around 9:00. I like to be dressed for the day, as if I'm going out to work, even though my office is just a few steps away. It's all part of my fantasy about having a regular job.
Once, I actually rented an office. We had just moved to New Mexico and I was having trouble getting started on a new book. I convinced myself that if I left the house each morning with the rest of the family, I would solve my problem. But the office space I rented was above a bakery and the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread and pastries drove me wild. Every day at noon I would rush downstairs to buy two glazed donuts and by three o'clock I would crave another round. After a few months and a few pounds I moved home again.
During the first draft of a book, which is the hardest time for me, I check my watch a lot and hope the phone will ring—anything to make the time go faster because I am determined to sit at my desk all morning. If my writing is going well, I may return to my desk after lunch to read over what I have written, to scribble on the printout, or to make notes in the little notebook I keep for each book (so that when an idea or a bit of dialogue comes to me I won't forget it).
When I'm rewriting I work much more intensely and for longer hours. Toward the end of the third draft the urge to finish is so strong that it becomes harder and harder to leave the story and return to real life. Once I'm truly finished with a book and the corrected galleys are in the publisher's hands, I feel sad. It's like having to say good-bye to a close friend. The best therapy is becoming involved with a new project. But that may take months.
For me, writing has its ups and downs. After I had written more than ten books I thought seriously about quitting. I felt I couldn't take the loneliness anymore. I thought I would rather be anything than a writer. But I've finally come to appreciate the freedom of writing. I accept the fact that it's hard and solitary work. And I worry about running out of ideas or repeating myself. So I'm always looking for new challenges.