Mark Terry

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Bookis Interruptus

September 9, 2010
I seem to have a problem. I've accumulated a number of unfinished novel manuscripts. In fact, for a guy who routinely finished one or two novels a year, it occurred to me today to check my files and sure enough, I realized I haven't finished a novel manuscript since late 2008. Of course, in 2008 I believe I finished 2 or 3.

Yes, although I had a novel come out this year, it was written several years ago. Same thing goes with next year's Derek Stillwater novel. And the things I've put up on Kindle were generally written in 2007 or 2008.

And yes, I did finish a nonfiction book this year, which will be published sometime next month.

I also wrote dozens, if not hundreds, of magazine articles, market research and survey reports, blog posts, etc.

And it's not like I haven't been writing. I've got about 45,000 words of China Fire completed; 49,000 words of a SF novel, Plague of Stars finished; 25,000 or more of a mystery-thriller (that my agent didn't like, so I quit working on it); bits and pieces of other novels, plus 45,000 or so of the next Derek Stillwater novel. In fact, when I look at all those numbers my stomach does a bit of a flip-flop, because if I'd just stick with one of them, it would have been done by now.

Which makes me think that working on more than one novel at a time is a bad idea. Granted, a lot of this occurred after I was dropped mid-contract by Midnight Ink/Llewellyn. I had a 4-book contract with them and I completed the last one, The Valley of Shadows, and they dropped me. It took some time to find a new publisher for the last two books. (And I just got the 4th blurb for Shadows yesterday and it's a thing of beauty, let me tell you).

Being dropped inspired me to try the YA and MG books, which although they came close, ultimately didn't get picked up by a mainstream publisher. It also inspired Hot Money, a book I like a lot, but which we also haven't been able to place (and will probably be Kindle-ized soon).

I've noted before that the closest thing I get to writer's block has to do with what I view as the commercial potential of a work. If I start these days to lose confidence that it will sell (like, for instance, my agent saying, "I hate it."), then I seem to lose steam. Or something. But for a writer, this seems a little bit troubling. This not-finishing thing strikes me as being what nonwriters do when they discover in the middle of the book that it's actually hard work.

I WILL finish the next Derek Stillwater. But man, this feels a bit like a tightrope walk.



Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I definitely think it's better to work on one novel at a time. I keep getting tempted to go revise some things I might eventually self-publish, but I'm trying to resist the temptation until the second Colt novel is finished.

I have a bunch of unfinished files too, some of them in the what the hell was I thinking? category.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Kath Calarco said...

Interesting. Now that you mentioned the commercial aspects of an unfinished piece being your nemesis, I think maybe that's what I've suffered in the past. I've hit a brick wall on three unfinished pieces. THREE! One of them I wrote by hand, over one hundred pages in order to protect a severely f'd up cornea. And now that I reflect back I can recall feeling disenchanted via my involvement with a writing group outside of my genre. In other words, hanging where I didn't fit in, thus, I let it affect my work thinking it didn't fit in either.

I've since adjusted my thinking and focus, working on one of those unfinished pieces without a market in sight. Don't know where it'll fit in, and with the way publishing is changing faster than the Windows operating system, it might not go anywhere. But at least it'll be done.

Self first, public later. :-)

8:22 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I started a blog post the other week called "Stop Finishing!" I do think there's an upside to getting a bunch of beginnings out and only selecting the best to finish. I recently had a book that took me 16 months to finish. I actually think it improved each time I set it aside for months.

Finishing is much harder than it used to be. I'm just aware of too much. I think at some point, you can choose to "level off"--and finishing will become easier but also more formulaic, or you can choose to push yourself to the next level--and finishing and getting through the book is as hard or harder than ever.

Who knows?

10:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I do think that most of these interrupted books--certainly China Fire, A Plague of Stars, and my current WIP are far more ambitious on a lot of different levels than anything else I've done.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

I wish I could write more than one book at a time, or even a book a year. I'm not surprised if you have a few unfinished books waiting because I couldn't finish a single book writing like that. Heck, I also find myself writing more and more slowly. I see all the flaws and shortcomings more clearly and keep trying to correct them.

I guess you might need to finish those books one at a time. Pick one and focus on it until it is done. Maybe that would help.

2:02 PM  

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