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Don't forget what went into that book

May 21, 2008 |  3:21 pm

Matt Bell's personal writing milestone, recorded in his blog post "100,000!," should be a splash of cold water to readers and reviewers everywhere.

In our Book Review offices, editorial assistants deliver finished books and galleys by the boatload. It's not an exaggeration (maybe even a little conservative) to estimate that we receive 300 to 400 books daily. That can lead to insensitivity if you're not careful. Someone else's long, intense labor can become the flavor of the moment until the next load arrives. I've been susceptible to that, and Bell's post is just the right antidote. He writes of his own manuscript:

It took 132 days to get here, which means an average of 726 words per day -- Sounds low, doesn't it?  My biggest word count gain in a single day was 2,390 words, and I've only had four days where I wrote over 2,000 words. My writing goal for the novel is five days a week, at least two hours or a thousand words a day.

Another interesting aspect of the writing life is captured in the blurb on the back of "Guernica," a novel coming from Bloomsbury in September. Yes, it arrived in today's deluge. The book tells the story of many lives in a Basque fishing village during the Spanish Civil War. The accompanying publicity material, seeking to draw parallels with other works, likens the novel to "The English Patient" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." More interesting to me was a comment about its author, Dave Boling, a sportswriter for the Tacoma News Tribune: The novel was written "almost entirely on the road as Boling traveled with the Seattle Seahawks football team..."

I've heard novelists explain that composing a novel roots them to one place and a predictable routine. Anything more disruptive threatens their concentration. Boling had no choice, of course. But I'm curious to know a little more about how constant travel, changing hotel rooms and sports deadlines detracted from -- or aided? -- his composing of this tale. You can be sure Jacket Copy will talk to him when the novel appears this fall.

Nick Owchar

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