Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous | Jacket Copy Home | Next»

Don't forget what went into that book

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

 
Comments () | Archives (2)

The comments to this entry are closed.

"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."

At the moment I'm not a real novelist -- I've received numerous rejection letters but found no agent -- but I essentially can't work on the road. It's too distracting, it takes too long to get in the zone, and, perhaps most importantly, I'm too likely to be interrupted. Still, apparently some people do it because circumstances dictate they must. I also think it would be easier for a sportswriter or someone who travels regularly: you'd get the sense of routine others might have only from sitting at their desks. If I recall correctly, Truman Capote wrote almost entirely in hotel rooms, although I can't find a citation for that with an easy search.

Incidentally, I do find it must easier to do grant writing, which is less creative and more formulaic. Even then, I'm not as efficient as I am at home.

The last paragraph of Nick Owchar's comment about receiving review copies by the boatload and the following dismaying (to an author) results comparing a tendency to gloss over to the intense and extensive level of time and creative energy going into the work by the writer, has another perspective -- the mobile authors I know, and am representative of.

Having the review copies of my 7th novel heading out during the next month or so (toward an Oct. pub date), I am sensitive to the condition of reviewer insensitivity overload, but knowing there is no solution to the problem short of publishing far fewer books (not an option when trying to save the book), this is something authors know and live with begrudgingly.

Regarding staying in place and unvarying routines, that is the antithesis of my life as a writer. My wife and I move frequently (she is a foreign service officer), into new apartments or new cities scattered widely across the planet. If I have any kind of routine as a writer, it is that I mostly write in cafes. With ever-changing locations, maybe one could argue that the similarity of "literary cafes" around much of the world would be my constant.

I write first with a pen on paper, using computers later in the process as super typewriters, for editing and printing. Because all I need to work is paper and pen, I have probably tended toward adapting to mobility.

I do not know many other authors personally, but the few I do know, while not as mobile as my wife's career makes me, do move around a lot, and seem to have no trouble working in any environment, including one who carries a notebook and pen so he can sit down anywhere and work.

I will be curious to read Jacket Copy's interview with the author of "Guernica," to see how he responds to the stable versus mobile consideration.

(If you want to interview me, just give me a call anytime.)

Donigan Merritt


Connect

Recommended on Facebook


Advertisement

In Case You Missed It...

Video

Explore Bestsellers Lists

Browse:

Search:

 

 


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.


Categories


Archives