“All my dearest companions
Have always been villains and thieves…
So at my time of life
I should start turning over new leaves…?”
–from Oliver! “Reviewing the Situation,” by Lionel Bart
This may not be the most apropos quote, but I thought of it earlier today as I started my first new manuscript in over two years for book three of the Dickens Junction Mysteries, The Our Mutual Friend Murders. Should I be so fortunate as to finish it on schedule, expect to see it in the marketplace in the spring or summer of 2014.
I drafted the manuscripts for the first two novels, The Christmas Carol Murders and The Edwin Drood Murders, in the fall of 2009, in quick succession. I spent the next year marketing The Christmas Carol Murders through traditional channels—agency queries, writers’ conferences, and the like. I received early enthusiasm followed by, well, nothing. I decided to take another break to decide whether a long-term career as a writer was likely to be in my future. I decided in summer 2011 that it was.
Thus I embarked on the exciting world of independent publishing, with the result being that The Christmas Carol Murders will debut in the world in September 2012, several years after its completion. This is a normal occurrence in the publishing world; except for quick grocery store journalistic accounts, most books don’t hit the shelves until a year or two after completion, and that may be many, many years after their authors first put words down on page one of the first draft. So I’m seeing print sooner than many might. And for that I’m grateful.
The act of drafting a new work from an idea or, in my case, a scene-by-scene outline (in itself several thousand words long and the product of weeks’ of planning and execution) is my favorite part of writing, even if it is the most stressful. I can edit existing text for hours (once the manuscript is complete), but creating new words takes more concentrated effort. For each day I write, I set a daily word count (1500 words for a short story, 2500 for a novel), and I don’t let myself do anything else of substance until I have achieved the word count for the day. While this may sound mechanical and cold, it has worked better for me than any other method I’ve tried over the years, and I’ve finished every work I’ve started this way, each time working from a detailed outline (called a stepsheet) that I learned about when studying with James N. Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel. Frey’s main point (and he has many) is that good story has structure, and structure doesn’t happen by accident—it is planned and reviewed and then executed on the page. I credit him with teaching me that many years ago, and I use his teachings every day I sit at the computer.
So today I turned over a new leaf or two, several pages toward a new manuscript. Tomorrow, maybe, a few more. Slowly the words march toward the inevitable—“the end.”