The Heartless Time Log: How Many Hours Does it Take to Write a Book?

Posted on: 3rd Jan 2017  /   Categorized: Heartless

When I started writing Heartless, waaaaaaay back in 2012 (!), I decided to try an experiment. For the entirety of working on this book, I would record every single hour I spent on it. How many hours did I spend researching, brainstorming, outlining, drafting, editing, and on and on? I was honestly curious to know, because writing a book is rarely a streamlined experience. You spend a couple hours on it one day, then work on editing another project in the afternoon. You spend a dedicated month on drafting, then take a two-week break to focus on promoting something else. The end result is that, going into this experiment, I truly had NO idea how long it took me to write a novel. I knew that it took me two years to get Cinder ready to sent to literary agents – but that was also while working full-time and going to school, as well as working on fanfiction at the time. I knew that Scarlet had taken me nine months to turn into my editor, but those nine months had also included promoting and touring for Cinder and writing the first draft of Winter.


The point is that all the hours get really jumbled up! So recording my time for Heartless was my attempt to un-jumble them.


And the results have been fascinating – at least to me!  In fact, I wish that I had recorded hours for all of my projects these past few years, including the graphic novels and the first superhero book, because it’s actually had some practical applications. (Such as determining my hourly worth when it comes to saying yes or no to paid speaking engagements, or estimating how much time I needed to revise a book with an approaching deadline.) I plan to start tracking my hours again starting with my next book, and look forward to being able to compare and contrast them.


The time log is not an exact science. Some gray areas include:


One: There are lots of tasks that blur together. (Do I include the entire time I’m on book tour? Decision: No, only the hours spent at or preparing for events. Should I include the time spent writing a newsletter that promotes Heartless if it also promotes other projects? Decision: No, because that’s promoting me as an author, not this specific book. Etc., etc.)


Two: Sometimes I simply forgot to track the hours – and ironically this tended to be when I was busiest on the book, such as when I forgot to track them during the NaNoWriMo when I wrote the ENTIRE first draft, then had to go back at the end of the month and try to estimate how many hours it had taken. Similarly, the months spent promoting tend to be very disjointed (a 45-minute blog post here, a 30-minute phone interview there…), so I tend to forget to write it down and then have to try to remember everything I did after the fact.


Three: Some things simply aren’t trackable, such as that brilliant idea you get in the shower, or the hour spent daydreaming while running errands that ultimately leads to a great plot twist.


And Four: Every book will be different. Some books are longer than others, some are shorter. Some have plots and characters that come together easily, others require months of outlining and revising until you feel you have them right. Some books require loads of upfront research, others are fairly minimal. You get the point.


And of course, every writer is different, as well.


BUT, all those caveats aside, I thought it was an interesting experiment. I’m glad I did it – and I hope some of you will find it interesting, and possibly even useful, as you work on your own writing projects as well!





Click here to view a PDF of the entire time log, which includes specific dates and tasks.




Business: 10

Research + Brainstorming: 101.25

Outlining: 26

Writing + Revisions: 321

Editing: 105.25

Promo: 144.5


Grand total: 708 hours



Or, in handy graph form:




And there you have it. It took me 708 hours to write and promote Heartless, or approximately 18 weeks (at 40 hours/week).


This exercise has made me curious about a few things regarding my process. Such as – if I were to increase my time spent brainstorming and outlining, would it decrease my time spent revising? And am I still spending too much time on promotion? (I feel like I’ve cut WAY back on promo since my first few books came out, but 144 still struck me as an insanely high number! Of course, I say that after spending two hours preparing this blog post…) And how consistent would these numbers be with other novels? Heartless, in hindsight, felt like an easier book to write than either Cress or the first superhero book (though all three are of similar length). I’d love to know if that would have shown in the numbers.


Anyway… that’s all from my neurotic Type A personality today.


Back to the actual work… writing!


Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #5

Posted on: 30th Dec 2016  /   Categorized: Winter

I’ll be posting a new deleted scene or excerpt from The Lunar Chronicles every Friday through January 27, spanning the releases of The Lunar Chronicles Coloring Book on December 6 and Wires and Nerve, vol. 1 on January 31.


SPOILERS WARNING: Even though this scene was ultimately deleted (or heavily altered), it still contains information and references to things that did make it into the book. I strongly encourage readers to enjoy the published books before proceeding!


Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #5


So, I *do* have a deleted scene from Cress, but it happens to be my favorite of all the deleted scenes, so I’m saving it for my big finale post at the end of January. In the meantime, here’s one from Winter!


This is actually a really special scene for me, one that was very hard for me to cut. In fact, it was so hard for me to get rid of that it became the inspiration for the “Something Old, Something New” story in Stars Above… because I just wanted to show this happening so bad!!




From: Winter, 1st draft

Featuring: Almost Everyone

Helpful set-up: The timeline is wonky from the final version – this scene took place after Jacin’s faked murder of Winter, but that originally happened before the crew arrived on Luna. Thorne is still blind. Iko is sadly nonexistent here because she originally wasn’t supposed to come back after Book One. (GASP! I know.) Also, that thing that happened to Dr. Erland at the end of Book Three didn’t happen. Oh, and Scarlet was never kidnapped, so both she and Wolf were on the Rampion for the entirety of Book Three.

* * *

“You look lovely,” said Cress, swooning with her hands clasped over her heart.

Cinder withheld a snicker, watching as Scarlet squinted at her reflection in the mirror.

“I look the same as I always do,” said Scarlet. “Except now I’m wearing a dress that’s too small for me.”


Marissa’s 2016 Reading List

Posted on: 27th Dec 2016  /   Categorized: Book Love

As per blog tradition, it’s my annual Reading List post!


Despite feeling like I never have time to read these days, I’m quite proud of myself for having crossed a grand total of 64 books off the TBR list in 2016. Of course, I have fabulous audiobooks to thank for that, and the fact that I’ve gotten past my aversion of reading on my phone which I always hated to do before, but you gotta do what you gotta do!



2016 was definitely the year of non-fiction… especially books on productivity and creativity. As my resolution at the start of the year had been to teach myself new habits for tackling my to-do list and the bajillion writing projects I had in the works or waiting on the back burner, and I simply couldn’t use our twin toddlers as an excuse anymore, I read as much as I could about time management and prioritization. And it’s really made a difference! I feel like 2017 might be my most writing-filled year yet, and I am super excited about it.


Breakdown by Genre:

Young Adult: 27

Productivity & Writing Guides: 16

Other Non-fiction: 6

Graphic Novels: 6

Middle Grade: 4

Other Fiction (Non-YA): 4

Poetry: 1

Total Books Read: 64



Top Recommendations


Usually I do a Top 10 Favorite Books post at the end of the year, but because this year was more segmented by genre than usual, I thought that I would instead highlight those that most stood out to me in their genre.


For Productivity and Writing Guides: I discovered so many fantastic new techniques from The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey, Getting Things Done by David Allen, and From 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron.


In the Graphic Novel sector: I devoured both The Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld (releasing later in 2017) and Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke.


In Middle Grade: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate made me cry in public, and I am in love with Lintang and the Pirate Queen by my long-time beta-reader Tamara Moss. (It’s coming out this summer from Penguin Random House Australia and OH I HOPE I HOPE it gets picked up soon in America, because it’s fantastic.)


And as for my beloved YA, there are a LOT of fantastic books on the below list, but the ones that have stuck with me the most are Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig, First & Then by Emma Mills, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.



The Complete List

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (audiobook)


Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #4

Posted on: 23rd Dec 2016  /   Categorized: Scarlet

I’ll be posting a new deleted scene or excerpt from The Lunar Chronicles every Friday through January 27, spanning the releases of 
The Lunar Chronicles Coloring Book on December 6 and Wires and Nerve, vol. 1 on January 31.


SPOILERS WARNING: Even though this scene was ultimately deleted (or heavily altered), it still contains information and references to things that did make it into the book. I strongly encourage readers to enjoy the published books before proceeding!


Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #4


From:  Scarlet, 1st draft


Featuring: Scarlet and Wolf


Helpful set-up: Some important clarification notes on this one…

– The Travel Ban: In this early draft, Scarlet’s grandmother was being kept in Los Angeles, not Paris. However, due to the widespread plague, America had instated a travel ban preventing anyone from coming or going across its borders. Wolf and Scarlet got into America by flying her ship into Canada and hiring a trucker to smuggle them across the border.

– As you might recall from the previous deleted scene, Wolf has amnesia in this draft and remembers nothing at all about his life prior to arriving in France.

– The wolf soldiers in the early drafts were closer to traditional werewolves in that they went through a physical transformation to become predators. (I don’t remember now if the transformation was caused by the full moon, or if Levana was able to “trigger” it at will.)


* * *


The bridge that spanned the river into Portland was ancient, unused since hovers had replaced the old vehicle technology and new hoverpaths had been constructed for them. Scarlet couldn’t help but be a little afraid of the giant steel structure, rusting and crumbling over the immense river, so long abandoned for anything other than a tourist attraction.

But surely if it had stood for this long…

Plus, it was pretty, as the sun rose to the east, highlighting the bridge in gold and pink and stretching its shadowed fingers out toward the ocean.

If Wolf had any trepidation about it too, he didn’t show it, his pace not even slowing as he led over its grated threshold. Holding her hand. He hadn’t stopped holding her hand all morning, as if the privilege of touching her might be ripped away if he didn’t take full advantage of it every minute they were together.


Host Your Own Heartless Talent Show

Posted on: 20th Dec 2016  /   Categorized: Events

During the Heartless book tour, I tried something I hadn’t tried at previous book events. In honor of the Hatter’s Tea Party, I decided to host a little talent show at each of my events… with volunteers from the audience acting as some of the most talented individuals in the kingdom!

It ended up being a LOT of fun, and at one event someone asked if I could post the prompts that I used, in case anyone wanted to host their own talent show this holiday season.

So… here it is!


The Heartless-Inspired Talent Show


What you need: A host, some DIY talent cards (below), and some willing victims participants.


Optional: Depending on the prompts you’re using, you may also need some additional props: lightweight scarves, rolls of toilet paper, scotch tape, and a book or two. It’s also not a bad idea to have prizes for the participants.


To begin: Explain that you’re going to be celebrating the occasion with a festive talent show, in which some incredibly talented people will wow and amaze the audience with their unique talents… including some talents they may not even realize they have!

Call up your volunteers: I found that 5 or 6 volunteers at once was a good number. If you’re using 7 or more prompts, I recommend doing it in two rounds.


How it works: The first volunteer draws a talent card and hands it to the host (without peeking). The host then introduces them to the audience based on the information on the card and explains their talent.

The volunteer performs their talent, as prompted and with much enthusiasm, followed by raucous applause from the audience. And they get a prize, if you’re using them. Hoorah!

Then the next volunteer draws a card, and so on until the show is finished.


The Talents


Here are the prompts that I used. You are, of course, encouraged to come up with your own, too!


Here to amaze us with yet another avante-garde creation!
Talent: Design a ball gown for the Queen of Hearts using our specially provided materials (toilet paper and tape).

Here to instruct us all in ways of perfect posture and the literature that a modern young lady is expected to be acquainted with.
Talent: Recite a nursery rhyme while balancing books on head.
Prompts if needed: Humpty Dumpty; Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater

Responsible for such childhood classics as “Goldilocks and the Three Lobsters” and “The Princess and the Periodic Table.”
Talent: Invent a brand-new fictional character with the name: LADY LOVEBIRD LEBLANC.

Break out the handkerchiefs, ladies, as I don’t think there will be a dry eye in the theater after being serenaded with this operatic rendition of “I’m a Little Teapot.”
Talent: Sing “I’m a Little Teapot,” opera-style.

Specializing in impersonations of beloved literary characters.
Talent: act out one of the below characters, using speech and actions but avoiding saying any names.
A: Captain Carswell Thorne
B: Hermione Granger

Here to let the muse speak through them once again.
Talent: Compose a love poem / love letter to ___ (any fun object in the room)

Most well-known for his/her role in the famous Humdinger Quartet
Talent: Whistle or hum a song and make audience guess what it is
A. Somewhere Over the Rainbow
B. It’s a Small World
C. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star



He/she shattered previous records when they benchpressed 600 pounds… with only their right thumb.
Talent: Thumb wrestle the host
(Note to the host… let them win, with much exaggeration!)

Skilled in tight-rope walking and trapeze artistry, here to perform a hair-raising, death-defying act. Men, you may want to have the smelling salts handy as this may prove to be too much for the more delicate ladies in the audience.
Talent: Hop on one foot while juggling scarves.

Talent: Lead the Choir (aka audience) in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” (to whoever in the audience has the next upcoming birthday)

Need more ideas? Some that we considered but ultimately got cut from our talent show were:

– do a handstand or cartwheel
– tie a tie or a bow tie (without a mirror)
– instruct everyone in proper tea party etiquette
– Freestyle rap a description of Heartless (or Cinder)
– draw a picture on some paper and have the audience guess what it is
– make a paper airplane
– tell a joke
– recite a poem

Want to see the talent show in action? You can watch it, along with the entire Heartless Launch Party presentation, on the Fierce Reads Facebook page here:

(The talent show begins around 18:00.)



If you decide to give the talent show a try at your next shindig, be sure to let me know how it goes!

Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #3

Posted on: 16th Dec 2016  /   Categorized: Scarlet

I’ll be posting a new deleted scene or excerpt from The Lunar Chronicles every Friday through January 27, spanning the releases of The Lunar Chronicles Coloring Book on December 6 and Wires and Nerve, vol. 1 on January 31.

SPOILERS WARNING: Even though this scene was ultimately deleted (or heavily altered), it still contains information and references to things that did make it into the book. I strongly encourage readers to enjoy the published books before proceeding!

Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #3


From: Scarlet, 1st draft


Featuring: Scarlet and Wolf



Helpful set-up: In the early version of this book, Wolf had amnesia and couldn’t remember anything about his life prior to a few weeks before. In this scene, Scarlet is taking him to the police station in an attempt to find some information about who he is and where he comes from.


* * *


They took a hovercab to the police station in the frosty late-morning. Wolf seemed to remember enough of society’s rules of politeness to hold the hover door open for Scarlet, and yet she couldn’t shake the feeeling that he was supremely grumpy for some reason. Though he always turned quickly away, she swore she’d caught him half-glaring, half-pouting at her since they’d left the apartment. It was unnerving, and a little irritating.

When he did it again on their way into the station, she finally paused on the sidewalk. “What?”


The Official(ish?) Lunar Chronicles Holiday Gift Guide

Posted on: 13th Dec 2016  /   Categorized: Book Love

If there’s a Lunartic on your list this year, or if you yourself are having trouble deciding what to ask Santa for, here are some ideas to get you started!

 candle Character Candles by Novelly Yours

I just ordered some of these for myself and they smell SO GOOD! Choose your favorite character (like this yummy “firewood, storms, and white tea” concoction for Cinder), or order the whole set. (And if you loved HEARTLESS, she has delicious “Cath’s Lemon Tarts” candles, too!)



Tote Bag by Miss Phi
There are lots of awesome TLC tote bags (and more!) on Society6, but this is one of my personal favorites. In fact… I should probably let Santa know about this one right away…


The Lunar Chronicles Coloring Book
Of course, no fan will want to be without the official coloring book, illustrated by Kathryn Gee. (Have you seen it yet??? I LOVE IT SO MUCH.) Throw in a box of colored pencils and you’re done!


The Cinder Litographs Scarf
A subtle nod to the fandom, this super-soft scarf is printed with text straight out of the book! Choose from a variety of colors and fonts for that truly personalized feel. (Scarves not their thing? Litographs also has T-shirts, tote bags, and posters, with special designs for both Cinder and Scarlet!)



OTP Stationery by PaperYarnMoon
I don’t know about you, but I am completely smitten with this adorable greeting card! What better way to say “we belong together” than listing yourself with your fictional OTPs. *dreamy sigh*



TLC-Inspired Charm Bracelet by NightFoxCreations
Featuring everything from a wolf, a wrench, a moon, and my personal favorite… hand cuffs! (LOL) any fan will love explaining their bracelet to anyone who asks.


Boxed Set
The Lunar Chronicles Boxed Set
For the Lunartic-To-Be on your list, make sure they don’t have to suffer through all those cliffhanger endings (like you did) by gifting the whole set at once!

I hope that gives you some fun ideas. Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season!

Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #2

Posted on: 9th Dec 2016  /   Categorized: Cinder

I’ll be posting a new deleted scene or excerpt from The Lunar Chronicles every Friday through January 27, spanning the releases of The Lunar Chronicles Coloring Book on December 6 and Wires and Nerve, vol. 1 on January 31.


SPOILERS WARNING: Even though this scene was ultimately deleted (or heavily altered), it still contains information and references to things that did make it into the book. I strongly encourage readers to enjoy the published books before proceeding!


Lunar Chronicles Deleted Scene #2

Okay, you guys wanted to see the original ball scene, so here it is! Some similarities, but a lot of differences, too…


From:  Cinder, 1st draft


Featuring: Cinder and Kai


Naming Notes: Like last week’s, Adele later became Adri, Merlin became Dr. Erland, and Coen became Konn Torin.


Helpful set-up: Two semi-important things to know about this early draft to keep from being too confused:

1. Originally, the Lunar gift was much more sorcery-based, to the point where talented Lunars could literally shoot fireballs out of their hands.

2. Part of Cinder’s cyborg programming in this early draft included being installed with a “codeword,” and anyone who used the codeword would be able to control her. I ultimately decided this was much too similar to Ella Enchanted and removed it, but the concept did become the basis for the Lunar ability to use mind-control.

Also, notice the stuff in ALL CAPS? That’s me leaving revision and editing notes to my future self, a tactic I still use all the time!


* * *


She sucked in a quick breath when she emerged from the hallway and found herself standing at the top of a grand staircase that overlooked the ballroom. The high ceiling had been hung with hundreds of crimson paper lanterns, each one glimmering and sending a rich, golden light over the room. The dance floor had been set up in the center, with round tables surrounding the space. Each table was bedecked in tealights and bouquets of orchids and peonies and small jade statuettes. The walls of the room were lined with folding silk screens hand-painted with intricate designs of cranes and tortoises, and each screen was flanked with massive urns filled with green, thriving bamboo stalks. All ancient signs of longevity passed on from the Commonwealth’s ancestry that hinted at a single defining message: Long Live the King.

From the vantage point, she could see almost all of the people gathered for the ball, and it was not hard to spot King Kai in the crowd. Her heart swelled to see him alive and safe, grinning and holding a glass of wine in one hand and speaking to a man that Cinder didn’t know. He was dressed in the same crimson red tunic he’d been wearing during his address earlier that evening, and his cheeks were slightly flushed—with joy or beverage, she had no idea.

“Good evening, Miss… Cinder, was it?”


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