Finished a Book, Some Thoughts

Scott William Carter   July 17, 2009  

I finished a book today. There’s still clean up to do, some detail checking, that sort of thing, but the hard work is done. I crossed a 90,000 word desert and found water at the end. Now I’m going to reward myself by going to a very cool bookstore and buying some very cool books.

How many books is that? Five? Six? I’m starting to lose count. I suppose that’s a good thing.

Out here on the Oregon coast, it’s been a good week. I came out for two writing workshops on adjacent weekends and stayed to finish this mystery. Just under 30,000 words cranked out in that time, which is a fairly good pace. Honestly, I could have done more, but part of the reason I’m here is to socialize and connect with other serious writers — and finding serious writers, people really dedicated to the craft, is not always easy. I can roll down my window driving through town and probably get at least a dozen people to shout yes if I ask if they’re writers, but a serious writer? Someone who believes that really pounding keys, putting in the practice time, doing and not just talking, studying books and not just reading them — well, that’s a little harder to find.

And it shows in their accomplishments: Of the two dozen writers out here, probably a third have sold books and most the rest have at least published some short stories in professional venues. And the ones just starting down the path? You can tell that they’re going places, too, just by their dedication. An amazing group.

What did I learn during this writing week? I’ve written 70,000 words in seven days before, so I’ve done more words, but it showed me that even when there’s lots of distractions and I feel like I’m not very efficient with my time, if I stay at it, if I keep plugging away, the words do add up. A thousand here, a thousand there, and suddenly you have a novel.  I also learned that I love being productive. Or, I should say, I relearned it. I don’t know if I need to be 6000 words a day productive, but half that would be good. Productivity can overwhelm almost all roadblocks, whether they’re emotional ones inside your head (the ones that shout, “This is crap!”) or whether they’re the ones related to publishing (slow editors, the bad economy, etc.).  In the end, they all vanish under a tidal wave of words.

I think that because I knew I had until Friday to finish the book, well, I took until Friday to finish the book. I also realized that I have no idea what my writing process is. It seems to change from book to book, and the more I think I know what my process is, the more I realize later that it’s just me making up a story about how I write. Funny that. Anyway, I just write. However you approach a book, whether you start with a title and a funny first line and go with your gut, or whether you create detailed outlines and complex charts to guide your way, it’s all writing. If you think about it, all that matters to the reader is the book sitting in front of them. It really doesn’t matter how you got it in their hands. Each writer has to find the path through that desert that works for them. Here’s the key: If it’s not working, try something else. Not doing that one thing stops a lot of writers. In fact, it’s probably the number one reason writers fail. They don’t try a new approach, a new method, a new technique, a new way.

What now? Well, there’s another workshop Fri-Sun, this one focused on understanding the complex world of book contracts. Of course, the real reward is I get to start another book. I know just which one too. It’s actually already started, a YA I’m very excited about. (Have I mentioned that my first book is now available for preorder?)  After that, I’ll go where the muse takes me. Unless a publishing contract takes me somewhere else, of course. I may have a muse that likes to play in a pretty big sand box, but he will listen to reason when there’s money involved. Thank god for that. I may be writing simply because I love the craft, but a check once in a while is nice too.   A check with commas in it is even nicer.

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