Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rewriting is hard


Rewriting is hard. Bloody hard. Cut your wrists hard.


Not necessarily. How much you hate rewriting depends in large measure on how seriously you want your work to be top drawer. A lot of writers don’t care that much about this. They just want to get to the last word in their book. A decent goal. But if you want the book to be the best book of the year, you’re going to have to do a lot of reworking. A lot. More than you imagined when your book was just a gleam in your naive eyes.

Rewriting makes books good. It’s that simple. And all books are different. Your novel may call for three or four rewrites, or it may need a dozen or two dozen, or in the case of many famous authors, years and years of savage rewriting,

It’s just that simple. Get used to that idea. Or write a really awful book.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Goodreads Book Review: The Nixon tapes by Douglas Brinkley

The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 by Douglas G. Brinkley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Nixon Tapes, edited by Douglas Brinkley. President Nixon left behind a mountain of tapes that revealed secrets of the White House he perhaps never intended for public consumption. Many of the tapes formed the basis for the Watergate prosecutions, but most were kept secret until their recent release by the National Archives in Washington. Brinkley does a yeoman’s job or organizing and presenting these explosive documents and this is a fascinating glimpse behind a very closed curtain or secrecy, Nixon White House style.

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Giving Yourself the Time of Day as a Writer

The first thing people want to know about you when you tell them you’re a full-time writer is this: when is the best time to do your work? For most people, this isn’t a matter of choice. We have jobs–day jobs that pay the bills. So the question really is: do you squeeze your writing schedule around the morning or the evening?

 For me, working in the morning seems the best, most optimal time, and from talking to a lot of my writer pals, that seems to be pretty much the most desirable space of the day. You're fresh from a good night’s sleep, your functioning without all sorts of substances clouding your thought: food, drink, whatever. I can do more work, more good work, faster during the first few hours of the day than I can in the afternoon, when I’m distracted by this and that, and that and this.

Other people prefer the evening, when the kids are asleep and its quiet in the house. I actually like the evening hours, too. There’s kind of a second wind that comes up around those hours after 7 or 8 o’clock and I try to take advantage of it to add a few pages, or do a bit of editing.

But this is a subjective decision, obviously, and I don’t pretend to have the one-size-fits-all answer for everyone. If it works for you to start your writing day at three in the morning, more power to you. And by the way, good luck with that...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Goodreads Book Review: #girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

#GIRLBOSS#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso is the unlikely rags-to-riches story of a young woman with an idea, a girl who is too naïve to realize that her American Dream is beyond reach.

Amoruso wants to start a clothing business at a time when clothing businesses are falling faster than hemlines. Needless to say, she is quickly rewarded with outsized success and a corporate empire that is expanding exponentially. The book is well written and the story is intriguing, a business book for people who don’t generally enjoy business books.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

I’m always asked how long it takes to write my novels. People think that because I’ve written thirteen books, the words just flow easily and dependably from my pen (now known as a keyboard). That couldn’t be farther from the hard fact of the matter. Truth is, most days, it goes fast and slow at the same time. You have a great idea for a scene and you’re excitement carries you a long way–but only so long. If you’re on a roll, and the pages are coming out at breakneck speed, you end up with a bulky manuscript of...garbage.

     And than you get to work, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. That can take anywhere from forever to forever. Or longer. There’s certainly no one size  measure for writing a novel because there are as many writers with habits of their own as there are possibilities to finish a draft, or a rewrite, or a floor-to-ceiling revision.

     The point is this: we are not talking about a question that you should be giving any serious thought to. If you want to take on a writing project, do it without any time constraints, especially if you’re starting out. How long will it take to finish? However long it takes to finish.

Friday, August 29, 2014


A lot of people write fiction these days. They do it because the various roads to publication are, in so many ways, more accessible to writers and wannabe writers. It used to be that the only way to see your name on the front of a book was to spend years trying to knock down the walls of the seemingly impenetrable Publishing Palace. You had to get past the thousands of self-elected gate-keepers and hope you passed a very strict test (a test whose rules were coded and fiercely protected by those gate-keepers).Now that code is a little easier to crack, even if the words “Simon and Schuster” and “Random House” may no longer appear on your book jacket.
So I continue to write, after years and years of effort and pleasure and frustration. But do I write because it’s easier to get my work to readers? That’s part of it, of course. It’s a great thing to be able to build up a readership that cares to see what you’ve been working so hard to bring to completion. It’s a turn-on, no doubt about it. But that’s only part of the reason I write fiction. And it’s not the main reason by a very long shot.
The main reason I continue to wrestle with plots and characterizations and sentences that just won’t bend to my demands, is that I have no choice.
Writing is worse than an addiction and writing fiction is probably the worse addiction of all–its an obsession few people, except dedicated scribblers, really understand. “Come on, boy, snap out of it,” people say. “No one has to write anything, except checks to pay the bills.” Not so simple.
A lot of people write books today but they do it because they think they’re going to make a living at it. Real writers write for other reasons, too. They write because they have no choice. They read and read, and study craft, and read some more. Years and decades pass. Their writing gets better and better, if they’re any good. They grow tired and old and frustrated. And they keep reading and studying and writing. It never gets easier and sometimes, it doesn’t get better. But they keep doing it, year after bloody year.
That’s why I do it, too. I have no choice.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How long does it take to write a novel?

If you ask two or three writers how long it took them to write their novels, from start to finish, you will always get two or three different answers, of course. All writers work in different ways, according to different schedules and with different imperatives.
     The genre a writer is working in dies not necessarily affect the length of time he or she spends composing the work. A thriller writer may spend years working on his book, while a “serious” author dealing with timely matters and psychologically difficult issues may spend just a few months at it.
     What is the difference? I will use myself as the example, here.
     Over the years I have spent as much as three or four years working on a single book of fiction. Or I have spent as little as a few months. The longest I ever worked on one book was seven years, off and on. This was a novel about heavy issues but it was really a Trojan Horse work because, on the surface the story was presented in one of the most popular genres. I won’t go into the plot here because the novel was published under another name and I don’t want to give you too much information and let the cat out of the bag.
     Suffice it to say that the characters were cartoonish, the plot was made-t-order for a big, splashy Hollywood adaptation and the whole package was nothing that might have been written by Shakespeare. Over the years, people who have read this particular book have told me that they really like it, that it has a lot of merit on its own, and that I really did quite a good job recreating the milieu of the story. I have always found the book lacking in many fundamental ways, although there are sections of it that I really like. This is why I published it at all and this is why I published it under a different name.
     Still, of all the books I’ve written, this took me the longest to complete. Why was that? I have a few ideas about this. First of all, if anything I’ve written can be officially considered to be a first novel, it would be this one. Though I had written millions of words over the years, this novel was the first that I had completed. It had a beginning, a middle and something of an end (though that might be debatable–that is for another place and another time; I never was anything near satisfied with the crucial final scene (final scenes are, after all, almost always a bitch of epic proportions!)
     First novels mean first experiences and not just for the characters. You’re are sort of feeling your way as you write, learning about all kinds of aspects of organization–pacing, time use, time passage, continuity (this is a big one because, especially in a long novel, as this one was, it is always easy to lose your place and sense of events.)
     You write and write and write and think the whole thing is going somewhere. By the four hundredth page you think, well here. I’ve written all these pages–they must all add up to something, right?
     Then you read what you’ve written and realize that you very well may have spend the last year or two writing a lot of nonsense that doesn’t add up to much at all. So you go back to it, and take out the scenes that don’t make sense or don’t fit or just don’t belong anywhere near the rest of those pages. This hurts a lot but what else are you going to do. You’re struggling to find your way and you know if you don’t think a little harder, you’re just going to be stuck and the wonderful final words of your story are just never going to appear.
     I rewrote and rewrote that book for months on end and all the while I was learning on the job. This is not the most wonderful experience but it is required of every writer. There is not a wordsmith in the world who has not had to go through this special experience; there simply is no other way to find out what the right routes are.
    After gathering all this information, I was able finally to finish the book. But, as I said, I was never very impressed with the final product, though it has its moments.
     Later, I would spend half that time writing another novel and this one pleased me a lot more than the previous one. After that I would find my fingers zipping across the keyboard, as I wrote an entire novel in two years. Then, one year and finally, in significantly less than a year.
     And I liked those books, progressively more, as a matter of fact. So, why was this? Why was it that I had spent almost a decade writing a book I did not love, while I now find myself able to write a book I can enthusiastically embrace, in just a few months?
     It has something to do with using the time you have more adequately. It has something to do with knowing what you’re doing, rather than just flailing around. It has a lot to with knowledge and experience. You can’t get those things through anything other than work–lots of work. I don’t consider the years I spent working on that “lost novel” to have been a waste of time. I now consider those years to have been my learning years and I look upon that jumbled, confused, all-over-the-map book to have been the best teacher a writer could possibly have had.

     The next time I sit down to write a novel, I’m going to keep all that in mind. Maybe I can write a novel in a week or so. Well, probably not. I’m never going to be quite that adept–or talented.