Monday, July 27, 2015

Questions You Need to Stop Asking and Answers About Harper Lee.

As is known by faithful readers of this blog, Thriller Guy is in the business of helping others write books. “Business” is probably too strong a word for this activity, since the pay is meager and the only real remuneration is the pleasure TG feels when yelling at people over the Interweb. The group of people he’d like to yell at today are those well-meaning individuals, usually friends and family, who persist in asking someone working on a novel the following questions or variations of:

“When’s it going to be done?”  “How many words do you have written?” “When can I read it?” “So how much longer is it going to take?” “You’re what? Two-thirds done? Three-quarters finished?”

And sundry other questions asking for a timetable on finishing your book. TG’s answer in these situations is on the order of, “Sod off, you stupid twit, how the hell do I know when it’s going to be done?” But that’s probably not the best answer, especially if your husband or wife is asking. Why is this question so annoying and even destructive?

Because you don’t really know when it’s going to be finished. Oh, sure, guys like James Patterson have deadlines they meet, but in general a regular writer, especially one who’s got a day job, or a family, just thinks in terms like, “I dunno, Spring? Maybe?” What does finish even mean? First draft? Final draft? Copy-edited? Physical book? Other writers understand these permutations, these differing grades of finishness, but civilians (those who do not write novels) don’t, and if you try to explain, their eyes tend to wander, they lose interest in a matter of minutes, and mostly they think you’re dodging the question and whining. Which you are. The question, usually repeated over time, begins to eat away at many writers. Thriller guy doesn’t give a shit, but we all can’t be like TG. The acid of this question begins to dissolve a writer’s self confidence, and he finds himself ducking into spare rooms and crossing the street when he sees the questioner coming.

Civilians have a number of strong, general opinions about writing: First, most of them admire writers; second, they all think they can write. God knows why they admire writers, but most do. There’s an aura of lonely, sacrificial romance that hovers over the writing profession. TG isn’t going to start a rant about this because a quick glance back over the vast archives of this site will turn up plenty of rabid raves by TG on the subject. As for the second observation, civilians think they can write because they can write. All literate persons know how to write. What they can’t do is string together enough sentences in some kind of structure and order so they end up with a novel, or even a story that others might want to read. It’s difficult, brutal work – I know most of you don’t believe me – and it takes a long, long time to do.

TG’s alter ego, Allen Appel, figures that a novel -- usually one of his time travel series novels -- takes a solid year to write. His last one (The recently published TheTest of Time, available in Hardcover and Kindle HERE) took almost three years because he stopped in the middle to write a different novel. That’s two novels in three years, which isn’t bad, timewise, but certainly different from what he thought was going to happen. If you had asked him in the middle of those years how many words he had finished or when he was finally going to be done, he wouldn’t have had a clue. And the explanation of why that was so would have been as rambling and boring as this blog entry has become. So…

If you know a writer, don’t ask him or her any of the questions noted above. Just pat them on the shoulder, say, “Isn’t that interesting” or “Good for you” and drop the subject. Unless the writer wants to go on about it, many do, but don’t ask when it’s going to be finished. Because they don’t know.

Oh, yeah, there’s one other thing you can do; have a little pity for the writer. But keep it to yourself.

Allen Appel hasn’t forgotten the James Patterson, How-to-Write-a-Novel program he kicked off in the last blog. We’ll get back to that soon. Meanwhile, you can check out Appel’s memoir blog here, where he's finally getting into the sex, or you can always spend a little time HERE on Amazon buying one of his books. That’s a lot better than silent pity.

And the reference to Harper Lee in the title? TG’s pal Larry Kahaner over at The Non-Fiction Novelist has a good piece on how Go Set A Watchman probably came about. Check it out.  

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