Two weeks, one book

For the past two weeks, I’ve been writing a book. Or, I guess I should say that I’ve written a book over the past two weeks. Yes. A book. A short book, indeed, but a book. In two weeks. Ok, technically it’s a draft of a book, but it’s a book, and the story is danged good–or at least as I look back on it, I think it’s great. It’s surprising and silly and has a certain sense of pathos as any good baseball-oriented book should have. It’s a follow-up to my See the PEBA in $25 a Day, an alternate history, sports crime/mystery, with a science fiction and fantasy sensibility thrown in. In short, it was just a total blast to write, and, I figure for a few twisted souls out there, it will be a blast to read.

I pulled off this little trick by using what I’ll call the Dean Wesley Smith approach.

I started only with a character, a very vague notion of the problem the world around him was facing, and his own weaknesses. No outline. No specific plan. But each day I sat down did the following:

  1. 1) Open a blank document
  2. 2) Type “Chapter XX” (whatever X is)
  3. 3) On the next line type “????????” (literally ???????? … you’ll see why in a minute)
  4. 4) Spend 60-90 minutes writing whatever comes to mind (*)
  5. 5) When getting tired, find an interesting way to end, ideally something that makes you ask a question about what’s going to happen next (which is easy to do since you personally have no idea what that is).
  6. 6) Go back through the text and find an interesting 2-6 word phrase, copy it, and go back and replace all those question marks with that phrase.
  7. 7) Stop writing, and go make coffee or lunch or whatever.
  8. 8) Return 15 minutes later and do it again.

(*) Don’t know how to do this? Just start with what your character thinks about the situation, or what he or she does, or make a joke, or whatever. Just start writing about the thing and get on with it. This is supposed to be fun, you know?

If you hang around here any, you’ll know that this book was not in my plan, and you’ll know that I set other things aside to write it. I did this because this book literally rose up and wanted to be written. This job is strange like that. Sometimes you struggle through time when completing stuff you like is like trying to chisel the words into a marble plate. Other times you just can’t stop it.

Today, though, I’m looking at my shattered business plan, and I’m seeing how far behind I am, and I’m thinking of a workshop I was at this spring when Matt Buchman was discussing the way he plans. Someone stopped him and asked how he takes into account surprises and acts of the powers that be. I think he struggled with the answer a bit, but we had a good conversation. The truth of the matter is that you don’t do a plan just to meet the plan. When I taught project management I used to tell people that after you finished planning, you tell yourself that you’ve just documented one way that you’re certain this project will NOT go. It’s great if it does, of course. But in reality, you plan specifically _so_ that you can make relatively efficient adjustments when something changes. So, that’s what I’m doing today. Adjusting. Changing the plan to move some things back and to account for another set of copy editing and cover prep and whatnot that I had not planned on before. I’m thinking I’ll put both of these out in paper sometime soon, too, so there’s another new item to add to the plan.

In some ways I want to be mad at this book. It has obviously set me back, after all. But there’s no way I can be mad at it. It was too much fun to write. And the truth of the matter is that if there are any other books in there just waiting to drop in on me, I hope they feel free to do just that.

I can adjust all day for the right reasons.

Ya hear that, books? Ya hear that?

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