Friday, October 03, 2008


Louisiana Jones

So, the book-in-progress, Indy and zombies and all like that, is done.

I have mentioned before how the writing cycle goes for me, but it bears repeating, for you writers who might find some comfort in knowing that no matter how many novels you write, they never get any easier to do.

What, that didn't make you feel better? Sorry ...

The flush of enthusiasm when starting a book is heady, rich, kick-ass stuff. I sit down grinning, roll along, sometimes laughing at the images I create. Speaking parts out loud, looking for ways to hook a reader, a place to put a joke, ramp up the jeopardy, thicken the characters.

This lasts, in my case, for about eleven chapters, give or take, a hundred, hundred and ten pages, at which point I completely run out of steam. Chapter Eleven bankruptcy, appropriately ...

Second acts are bitches, and what separates the pro from the wanna-be is that the pro just keeps going. Prime the pump with something, work the handle, prime it some more, work the sucker hard. If all else fails, skip ahead a couple of chapters, write a scene I know I'll need later, and backfill.

Then there comes a place, whereupon I realize that I am are coming to the end of the book, all of a sudden I have way more to say than I have room to say it.

Too little there. Too much here. Happens this way for me every time. Since I know it, I don't feel the sense of terror I did the first couple books I wrote. (I should be used to it by now, for I have now written more novels than I am old in years. Spooky.)

For me, there is sprint to the finish, there's light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, and its call cannot be denied. Last few days of a novel, I always write more pages than during any other section. My record is thirty-five pages in one day. Didn't come close to that this time, but I did manage about twice my normal daily output.

Victory! It's done, it's done! flows over me. It's quite the giddy feeling, and while it's not as ecstatic these days as it was the first time I did it -- you only lose your virginity once -- it's still a big rush.

A quick read and touch up with the spell-checker comes next, which is a pain, because my books are all full of names and words the computer never heard of and wants me to change to something that usually makes me laugh. I plug in the new terms, skip stuff I don't think I'll use again.

Then another read for editing. Since I tend to do draft-and-a-half as I go -- generally going over the chapter I did yesterday and line-editing before starting on today's chapter -- that's usually not hard. There are always continuity things that need to be fixed. In Chapter Four one of the characters does something that no longer seems useful in Chapter Twelve, so they have to be reconciled. Pacing needs to be addressed -- I want a roller coaster effect, slow, then fast, then slow, then waaahhhoohoohoohoooo -- ! Sometime I nail it pretty good, sometimes it still needs touch-up.

One more read. If nothing clunks, it's ready to ship.

Up to this point, I'm feeling pretty good about it. Once it leaves the house, either as treeware or a computer file, then the anticipatory dread sets in. This is typically represented in this light:

Editor: Hey, I got the thing you sent. Funny, great joke. Okay, where is the real book ... ?

All writers worry that what they did won't find favor. First with the editor, then the readers. It goes with the job. Get used to it.

If the editor doesn't have a heart attack and accepts it, then I move on to whatever rewrites upon which we agree, and the process of publication -- about which I have spoken before -- continues. There will be a copy-edited manuscript, more changes, a galley-proof, checked for typographical errors and anything I missed last time, and maybe a bound galley past that before the published book hits the shelves for sale.

At which point I will read it once more. So if you have been keeping count, you will see that I will have read the sucker a minimum of seven or eight times by the time the public sees it, and generally, I am sick of it. I will stick it on a shelf and if I ever pick it up again, it will be years later.

I recently read some of the early Net Force books, and it's been long enough that I didn't remember everything I'd done in 'em. They were pretty good, if I do say so myself.

And I'm going to take the rest of the day off before I start working on the next one ...


AF1 said...

Interesting insights into the nuts-and-bolts of writing. Thanks for sharing that Steve.

Worg said...

I wouldn't presume to offer advice to someone whose lifetime output requires its own wing in the Library of Congress, but what I've done to combat the sagging middle is to write my two finished novels as trilogies of 100 page novellas. Not telling anyone of course, least of all the reader. But this method helped me go from unfinished trunk novels to two finished products in the last year.

Regarding output, my goal is one novel per month, ten months of the year. I am interested in anything you have to say about keeping up output.

Congrats on the Indy novel, by the way. That's what they call a Huge Win.

Steve Perry said...

If it works for you, go for it. I'm not sure the pacing would flow for me in terms of the arc to do it that way. I think the readers would know, whether they could put their finger on it or not, and generally, the first and third acts are the shortest parts of a book or script, way I do 'em.

I don't think I could manage a novel a month on crank and with somebody holding a gun on me

J.D. Ray said...

Congratulations. I'll look forward to reading it when it hits the shelves. There was some news yesterday or so that a new Indy movie is "brewing:" Indy 5?. Maybe they'll use your novel...?

Reading your description of the writing process reminded me of Monster in a Box. Did you ever see it? Spalding Gray (R.I.P.) was brilliant.

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, I was a Spalding Gray fan, from " ... Cambodia" on. Unique mindset. Jumping off the ferry to kill himself didn't surprise me -- he was always right on the edge.

I didn't expect it when Richard Jenny shot himself, but comics who are depressed seem to be more common than not. A real loss in both cases.

Anonymous said...

Yay for finishing!

Jim said...

RE the Net Force books...they were very good. I enjoyed them very much, and wished it hadn't ended.