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I won't lie to you, gentle readers.
2015 has been one of the hardest years of writing I've faced.
By this time last year, I'd written and sold two complete novels.
Now I'm just hoping to wrap this one up and get the new Mug and Meralda started before Halloween.
Why is that?
As with most wounds in this business, they've been self-inflicted. I think my biggest mistake was my blind determination to churn out a couple of thousand words a day. Yeah, okay, I did that -- but they weren't often the right words.
Which resulted in moments of gut-wrenching horror when I'd re-read things and realize the last 70 pages or so were, to be blunt, crap.
Badly-written? No, not necessarily. But even a bad story, told with eloquence and passion, is still a bad story.
Crap, in other words.
So I'd identify the spot there the narrative went off the rails, and I'd delete everything after that, and I'd start over.
I lost count of the number of times I did that with Way Out West.
The only thing worse than gutting a book and going nearly back to page one, chapter one is NOT gutting the book and starting over. I am happy to say that, even though I was sorely tempted, I didn't shy away from taking a big sharp ax to my pile of words.
Not necessarily because I'm committed to my Art or any such lofty nonsense. No, I know my editors and my publisher and my readers, and they wouldn't be fooled for a moment by second-rate storytelling.
So, the good news -- the new Markhat book (Way Out West) is one I am truly proud of. I've done some new things, taken some risks. I think you'll see Markhat and Darla and their friends do some interesting and unexpected things, take off in directions no one saw coming. At least I hope so.
I am less than 20 thousand words from typing out the blessed phrase THE END. Now that I've gotten my head right and I'm working steadily, that won't take long at all.
How did I get my head right?
Back to basics. Fun, in other words -- forget strict adherence to some rigid outline. Forget walking the characters through intricate character and plot arcs that look good on paper but come off dry and rehearsed in the actual book. I think people read the Markhat books because Markhat makes them laugh, because he's a hero they want to cheer on, because he and Darla are a fun couple.
So that's what I went back to. Sure, there's character development and arcs and subplots -- but there are also moments when Markhat spits right in Evil's eye with a wisecrack and a sneaky kick at its groin, while Darla prepares to shoot it right in its big red eyes.
So while I may not finish two full novels this year, I'll at least have written one good one and have a healthy start on a brand new Mug and Meralda that I hope is a worthy successor to that series.
And maybe I learned something, too. Writing isn't typing. Word counts are important, yes, but 500 good words are preferable to 1500 mediocre ones all day every day.