by Brian Thornton
excellent piece This Year You Write Your
Novel, Walter Moseley gives the following advice: “The first thing you have
to know about writing is that it is something you must do every day–every
morning or every night, whatever time it is that you have. Ideally, the time
you decide on is also the time when you do your best work.”
defense, Walter apparently has the luxury to plan out his schedule to quite a
Along with “Write
every day,” “Write fast” seems to be the mantra of this generation. “Writing
fast and producing copious amounts of word product is the key to success,” so
many “how to” books seem to say.
I’ll tell ya,
I have had my share of 2,000 word-count days. Not a one of them came
independent of either a hell of a lot of time spent thinking about what I
wanted to write that day, or by a whole lot of later tweaking, editing, or
Put simply, I
can write fast, or I can write well. I cannot do both.
This is not to
say that such a thing isn’t possible. It is! Just not for me.
I once wrote a
pair of 40,000 word books (80,000 words total) in eight weeks. Tight deadline.
Unreasonable (and unprofessional, and unhelpful) development editor didn’t
make it any easier.
I was an
unmarried, kidless apartment dweller at the time. I had (and still have) a day
gig that required a fair amount of headspace. So it was work, home to write,
bed, rinse and repeat.
Talk about a
miserable couple of months!
these two books are still in print.
longer on reworking what I’d written into something passable than it took to
write the initial drafts, or, for that matter, for me to have written them well
in the first place. But that was a different time in my career, and in my life.
If I were to
find myself in that sort of situation today, I’d have to give the advance back.
Seriously. I’ve got a marriage and a house and a wonderful one year-old son,
all of whom require my time and attention.
More to the
point, they command my time and
attention. I enjoy the hell out of being married, being a father, and owning a
home. I suspect the fact that I was in my mid-forties by the time I experienced
any of these pleasures does nothing to lessen them.
aspects of my daily life with the fact that my day gig still requires a lot of my energy and attention, and I find myself
left with the question, “How do I get anything written at all, let alone sold?”
The answer is
that for I published my most recent book in 2011. That was also the year in
which I collected and edited an anthology of crime fiction called West Coast Crime Wave. I got married and
bought my house in 2010. My son was born in 2012.
So there was
some adjustment involved in taking on these new responsibilities, adjustment
time during which my publishing slowed to a stand-still.
This is not to
say that I stopped writing during this time. Far from it. I figure that during
the second half of 2011 and all of 2012, I easily wrote 50,000 words on my
work-in-progress historical mystery.
I just won’t
be publishing any of those words. They were intended to keep my hand in it, if
you will, not to be part of the final equation.
And it worked.
You heard it
here first: I’m just wrapping the sale of my first short story in years. I’m
also nearly 2/3 of the way through the final draft of my current WIP, a
historical thriller set in antebellum Washington, D.C. By this time next year,
I’ll have this and another novel wrapped, in addition to writing three more new
short stories, and publishing them along with some of my previously published
canon in a collection.
And I won’t do
it be “writing every day” or “writing fast.” With my schedule that’s just not
feasible. So I do the next best thing.
I write when I
can where I can as much as I can and as often as I can. Sometimes it’s 2,000
words a day. Sometimes it’s 2,000 words a week.
It takes a
while longer to get my head back into the story once I’ve been away from it for
a while, but I think that’s a small price to pay for making time to play with
my son every day, spend quality time with my wife, and keep the house from
falling down around our ears.
For example, I
wrote the ending to “Paper Son,” my short story featured in Akashic Books’ Seattle Noir anthology, while sitting in
Seattle Mystery Bookshop, waiting for my friend Simon Wood to finish up a
signing there. What’s more, I wrote it on my Blackberry smartphone and emailed
it to myself.
I’ve also been
known to record story ideas while driving. My commute contributes to some
terrific “alone and pondering” time.
Plus, I don’t
tend to let story ideas fall by the wayside. This is especially true of short
stories. I will get an idea, do some research (remember, I write historical
mystery/crime fiction, after all), then begin working on it.
This has stood
me in good stead. So far I’ve published five short stories (soon to be six),
all with paying venues, out of a total of seven shorts actually completed.
In fact, the
second story I sold to Alfred Hitchcock’s
Mystery Magazine, “Suicide Blonde,” was initially rejected. I reworked it,
submitted it to the annual MWA anthology contest. They also rejected it.
But I believed
in the story enough to resubmit it to Linda Landrigan AHMM, and this time she bought it. What a great feeling!
By the way, I
almost never finish a short by working on it straight through. Usually the ones
I’ve published have come from months or years of on and off development. Take
the story I am about to sell. I first began work on it in 2007.
I guess in the
end I don’t really disagree with Mr. Mosley’s excellent advice, at least in
spirit. After all, while I can’t really generate new fiction every single day,
I definitely do write every day (in various forms), and I believe I’m in complete agreement with the spirit of his
advice, which seems to emphasize the importance of establishing a routine in
order to help make you more efficient as a writer.
regard, I’m doing the best I can. And life is good!