It sort of feels weird, how quickly I got over Mrs. Shadow. I spent over two years writing it, mostly because I really didn't want to go back and finish it. More than anything I've written, it felt personal. When I started nearing the end, I didn't want to stop writing.
My brother asked me what I learned from it, and honestly, it boils down to one thing: have a plan. I had the first hundred pages of Mrs. Shadow figured out, and I decided that the rest would come 'organically' - that I'd leave it up to the book when the time came around to write it. Sometimes, that works out pretty well. The Cherubim had a few twists that I totally didn't expect when I started working on it. Mrs. Shadow was different. Most of the feedback I've had so far is that it meanders during the second half, which is fair.
Right now, I'm at the halfway point of my latest book - the last thing I'll write before my daughter is born. I know it will probably be a year or so before I can really get back into writing, and even then, I won't be able to spend as much time on it as I do now. I won't want to. But I'll have this first draft finished, and after things settle down, I'll polish it. It feels WAY more commercial than anything I've written before, less personal, but that's okay - I think this one is going to be my big attempt at being published.
Mrs. Shadow taught me that sometimes, the best thing to write isn't by chance, but by planning. Right now, the plan is to finish my latest book in three months. I finished the first draft of Mrs. Shadow in three months, but that was two years ago, before I started my day job. Two reasons this is going so quickly:
(1) I've set up a schedule. Four days a week, 1500 words a day. I have time to recharge creatively and get stuff done during the work week. This is really, REALLY helpful.
(2) I've started working with a skeleton. I bet a lot of writers do something like this. When I started, I divided the book up into a beginning, middle, and end act, with the basic idea of what I wanted to happen at the beginning and end of all three acts. Before I start on an act, I divide it into three smaller sections and figure out what I want to happen at the beginning, middle, and end of those sections. Then, a couple of days before I start the section, I figure out exactly what will happen and an approximate word count.
I mean, this is a huge help. I have a sense of the Big Ideas - the things that will definitely happen in the book - but I've given myself room to breathe and to add new ideas as they come. I really liked one guy I introduced, so I made him into a major character. It's not going to screw up any of my future writing, since it's still not fleshed out. In fact, I was able to use him in an upcoming plot point. Someone else who was meant to be a main character isn't working out, so I can push her to the background a little.
It's stopped being a chore. I'm having fun writing again, which was the point in the first place.