I started writing my book seven years ago, in 2005, with those nine words.
I felt the explosion before I actually heard it.
They were literally the first words I typed and, amazingly, after six years of admittedly on and off writing, and another fourteen months doing eight full edits of the book, that line is still the opening sentence.
Almost everything else has changed or been reworked or rearranged but that line has somehow remained both in place and intact.
It's still there, I guess, because I like they way it makes you say What explosion? and want to read just a teench further.
That's how it works for me, anyway.
I'm still learning how to write. That might sound funny to some who know me. I've published more than 70 articles in technical publications--hundreds of thousands of words--and I've written numerous white papers on racing and racing techniques. I write long and detailed (and, hopefully, interesting) recaps of racing weekends that read more like prose than reporting, but, well, there's still plenty of room for improvement even though I think my writing is not too bad these days.
That's one of the things I discovered over the long course of writing this book: That my writing style became better. It had more flow, and the ideas came out more easily, with more interesting sentences. After I'd finished, I found that when I read the book, the second half was a lot better than the first. Not the ideas, so much, but the way they were expressed. It was like you had to drag yourself a little bit through the first third of the thing and then suddenly it just grabbed you and took off.
So, of course, I rewrote the first half.
The other thing that really surprised me about writing this book was that a lot of the key plot points just, well, appeared. They weren't particularly planned. Rather, as I wrote, and as I tried to put my head into the characters' heads, things happened.
The climactic scene, at the end of the book, ended up with a surprise. If you read it, you'll know what I'm talking about but the funny thing is, it was a surprise to me, too. That wasn't where I thought I was heading, but there they were, in the middle of the scene, with things going on all around and tempers flaring and all of a sudden I had an oh shit! moment and realized there was more to the story. More to reveal. And, frankly, I think it greatly improved the conclusion.
But the weird thing is, it wasn't planned. Not in the least. It just appeared.
The reason it took six years to write is that writing is hard. No, that's not entirely true. I love writing the things I love to write. The best scenes in the book--you'll know them when you read them--were wonderfully fun to write, to edit, and to agonize over each of the words for. No, the problem was the filler.
The parts in between.
Filler is not fun. It's necessary, it pulls the story together, but it's not fun. Not even a little. And, with two businesses to run, and a gaggle of children, and racing, and a hundred other things pulling at my pant legs, it was easy, once I'd written a fun section, to put the thing aside and avoid writing the next part, which wasn't so fun.
It didn't help that I was worried about filling enough pages. Before I started, I did some research into how many words went into a typical novel. From what I found, the number was in the 80,000 to 100,000 words range, which sounded impossibly high. I couldn't imagine getting that many words without a lot of filler so the boring parts were also overly verbose. I described everything in excrutiating detail, which made it both harder to read and harder to write and I would eventually put it aside for a month. Or six. Or ten.
(For those I've just scared off from buying a copy, you should know that after finishing the book a year ago, I removed reams of this filler stuff and replaced it with copy that matters, and that flows. What was true when I was suffering through the early parts of the book is true no more, thankfully. Honest.)
At the beginning of 2011, something happened that changed my approach. At that point, after five years, I'd only written about fifty thousand words and the end was not even remotely close to being in sight.
What changed was my youngest daughter, Cameron, took an interest in my writing and, more importantly, in my finishing the book. Now, mind you, she was 10 and her plan was that I'd finish writing the book, it would be an immediate international best-seller, and we'd be rich. Easy as pie. So, for her, the equation was simple:
What's not to like about that? So, she was like the expectant mother, focused on the birth date as the end of the process, while I was like the prospective father, staring at that same date thinking and that's when the work really starts. Regardless, she started pushing me to get it done and, wonder of wonders, it focused my attention a little bit more.
So, I started writing more and, by virtue of doing more of it, got better at it, and the work--even the parts I didn't really want to work on--got easier and went faster.
Then I did a simple thing that made a huge difference. As many of my readers know, I'm a Lotus Notes guy. I wrote this book in a Notes database for a variety of reasons but, as a Notes developer, it was a simple matter to make a few tweaks to the database so it would count the words for me.
Count the words.
So simple, and yet so powerful. A fantastic motivator.
I'd write a good bit and see how many words it added. And that, whatever the number was, would goad me on to write even more. In a hotel room in Las Vegas last year, between presentations I was giving at a developer's conference, I wrote more than 10,000 words simply because it kept making me do it.
Within a period of about three or four months, I wrote the entire second half of the book and I can absolutely attribute that to Cameron asking me almost daily, "Is it done yet?," and that stupid word-counter. Between them, I made it. All that was left was some editing.
Fourteen months of editing, it turned out, but that's a story for another post.
1. Ed Brill09/21/2012 11:16:13 AM
Congratulations, Scott. Love the story. My burden today is page count, but filler is the issue for me too. Glad you persevered, when I come up for air to read, I can't wait to read yours.
2. Kevin Pettitt09/21/2012 11:20:22 AM
Bravo Scott! I hope my 6-yr-old son is that encouraging when he's Cameron's age. At the moment I'm just happy to hear him express the desire to learn how to change his 2 month-old brother's diaper. Perhaps that will yield enough free time to read your book and help quiet those "Are we rich yet?" questions a bit sooner .
3. francie09/21/2012 01:58:16 PM
Great post and am curious about the book! Will you be bringing signed copies to the Penumbra meeting for purchase???
4. Scott Good09/21/2012 02:24:50 PM
@Ed: I'm not sure what you're writing but what I found was that if you just tell the story in appropriate/sufficent detail, the pages fill themselves.
Another thing I learned along the way: Your narration doesn't need to happen in real time. In other words, you can very slowly describe something that actually happens very quickly but if the storytelling is good, you won't notice it and it improves the narrative.
@Francie: I'm not sure I'm going to be able to make the Penumbra meeting but I will have autographable copies in a week or so.