7. The nuts and bolts of the writing process.

Posted by on Nov 16, 2017 in Articles, How to write | Comments Off on 7. The nuts and bolts of the writing process.

#7. How to write your best selling novel, by a best selling author.

While any number of people will tell you they have a great idea for a book (yes, yes, we’ve established that), a reasonable percentage of folks are aware that getting started ain’t easy. Indeed, as Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” (Actually, and not surprisingly, Stephen King has said a lot of memorable things about writing. One of my favorites is, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” He’s right. It is. Bigly.)

The biggest enemy you’ll encounter when it comes to getting the job done is procrastination. It appears in all kinds of forms, many of which are completely underhanded and subversive like, “Oh, it’s gonna rain. I’d better go clean that gutter.” Or Ding! “Look, another email and this one has an exclamation mark beside it. Better open it.” Or, “Damn, I have a cold and can’t concentrate.” Or, “Hey, it’s Christmas Day.” Whatever the excuse is, stop. What you need to do is focus. It’s as easy and as difficult as that (and your kids have plenty of Christmases ahead of them, right? What’s the big deal?)

“Write drunk. Edit sober.”

– Ernest Hemmingway

To get your book written, you will have to employ some hard and fast rules and stick to them. Every writer who manages to complete a manuscript more or less every year will tell you they are very disciplined – they have to be to stick to that schedule. Break it down. Your average novel is around 120,000 words. That’s 120,000 divided by 11 months (forget December. If you’re married with kids, it gets swallowed completely by the monster called Christmas. Yes, I know, bah humbug). That’s around 11,000 words you have to write each month. Or around 3,000 words a week. You can keep the math going yourself to get a daily word count. It doesn’t seem so onerous. But miss a few days here and there and the word count has to go up if you’re to stay on track rather than slide down the slippery slope.

When I’m focused and working on a novel at the exclusion of everything else — something I’m less able to do these days for a number of reasons — I look to bank around 2000 words a day on the hard drive. That’s 10,000 a week, 40,000 a month, etc. It’s kind of Herculean when I look at it on paper. It’s a hell of a pace to keep up, but I managed it for around ten years. In fact, I once wrote a novel from go to whoa in four months. But then I developed a deep vein thrombosis, which became a pulmonary embolism, which put me in intensive care for 3 weeks and should have killed me. It’s impossible to keep that kind of pace going. These days, I’m happy if I save anywhere upward of 1200 words a day. If I’m working on another project (like this one, for example), I will go back to my novel daily and at least try to advance the story. Even if it’s to read the last chapter and edit it. Invariably I get sucked into the story and add to it also – that’s just the way I work.

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as

they go by.”

-Douglas Adams

And just to put to the sword one particularly onerous excuse I’ve heard people yammer who have yet to write their book — but will someday, they assert — is the one about needing to have the perfect environment for writing or PEW. Let’s be clear, the PEW is a crapulous stinkfest of an excuse for not writing. It’s nothing but compete Procrastination, and the capital is intentional. Not that I want to hold myself up as any kind of model on this, but I can write anywhere and anytime. All I need is my laptop and some juice in the battery. I’ve written in the back of cabs, in doctor’s waiting rooms, in air-bridge lounges, sitting on the loo, minding kids who needed their nappies changed… So, once again, for the hard of hearing, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS THE PERFECT ENVIRONMENT FOR WRITING.

For many years my office was my bedroom, which overlooked Sydney Harbour, but my desk faced the wall rather than the water. The ridiculousness of this was pointed out to me once and I hadn’t even realized that, wow, I could have a lovely view while I wrote and wouldn’t that be perfect? Well, yeah, I guess it would be perfect, but isn’t the story more important than the view? It is in my book. Maybe it’s only writers who get this.

No more ranting. Let’s press forward to suppose you’ve started writing your book and talk about editing and the process of it. Editing one’s own work – recognizing what’s good and what could be better – is like looking in the mirror and acknowledging that you’re going bald. It’s hard to accept unless someone else points it out. But edit you must because the truth of it is that not everything you write is gold. And sometimes you will have to, as someone wise said (probably Stephen King), “kill your babies” – i.e.: wipe out whole pages of prose you really love and are attached to because, for whatever reason, it’s not quite right. This is not easy to do, but do it you must. You owe it to your readers not to burden them with beautiful dross. It’s especially difficult to edit as you write because the mind often glosses over what’s on the page and sees what you intended rather than what is.

“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it…”

– Michael Crichton

I find I can more effectively edit my own work if I leave it and return to it the following day. It’s actually a good way to work, I find, starting your writing day reviewing what you did the day before. In this way you get to make it better while you hook into the story, and can then more effortlessly take up when you left off.

Also, I find it more difficult to edit on screen. Printing the pages out and tackling them with a pen works better for me for some reason I can’t explain. Talking to other writers, this sort of thing seems pretty common and none of them can explain it either.

If you work like I am suggesting, editing as you go, you’ll end up with a reasonably tight manuscript. But hold on there, Spanky, you’re far from finished yet. Once I’ve written “the end” on the story, I put the manuscript away for a couple of weeks – a month is better – and try to forget about it. Then I pull it out and edit it again from scratch. And lo, the book feels like someone else wrote it entirely. Whole passages and even plot points feel fresh. Now I can edit properly, without bias, because I’m detached from all those babies I gave birth to. I do find that it’s so much easier killing some else’s than your own.


#8: Getting your book published.