Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Finish the damn book...

Miller loved the word count but he loved the "broads" too
Henry Miller, the romantic middle-aged bon vivant of 1930s Paris who gave up a career as a tailor in Brooklyn to become one of the most experimental authors of his or any other generation, is often thought of as being slovenly, free-spirited, drunk, and just generally a believer in the life of the starving artist. It might surprise your to discover that he was anything but.

Pay the writer 

Miller was actually very neat and organized with his life. He drank moderately, and he was an early believer in exercise as a palliative to the physical laziness that often rots our brains as much as our hearts. Mens sana in corpore sano is the Latin for this, I believe. In any case, Miller would ride his bike all over Paris and the countryside that surrounded it. And despite his Bohemian lifestyle, he was a big believer in being paid for his writing. Something in these the days of the democratization of the written word, is becoming more and more paramount.

Classic Harlan Ellison: Pay the fucking writer! You listening publishers? As usual, I digress...

The writer/lover with the work ethic

Miller, the cafe frequenter, the arm chair philosopher, the prolific lover and tail chaser (see Anais Ninn, and also read her diaries, they are amazing...), was also a hard-as-hell worker. He adhered to his own strict set of rules to follow as a professional author, one of which was "Finish the damn book." Miller believed that one of the fastest ways not only to burn out as a writer, but to stifle your productivity altogether, was to start other stories before you finished the final draft of the story that came before it.

I've always tried to write one book, novella, or story at a time. But now, because I have so many options on how to publish (and publishers for that matter, including my own label), I find myself writing more than one story at a time. While it's okay and probably even a necessary thing in the 21st century to keep a couple projects going at once, so long at they are in varying stages, I would caution against writing too many at once.

Finish what you write

Like Miller said, if you're at work on a full-length novel of 60K-plus words, you're going to want to get it to a point where the first draft is complete before moving on to something brand new. That way you can work on the new words for the second project in the morning when you're fresh, and in the afternoon after lunch when you're more tired, work on edits for the first novel-length project.

You with me here?

 Scenes from the steamy if not erotic, Henry and June (1984)

But by all means, finish what you write before putting it to the side in order to begin something else. Otherwise, it will get stale, and you will lose your momentum or even interest in the project.

I currently, have about 15 projects either on the boards or in one stage of editing or another (I have a Skype meeting with my editor later on to discuss this mountain of words). Admittedly that's too many and because of it, the spinning plates are falling to the floor and shattering. But as of today, I'm shifting gears in order to clear my desk. That means finishing everything I've started before going on to a new idea.

Don't listen to those numbskulls who are always bragging about the 3K or 4K per day word count (they're not writers but typists). Okay, I too am guilty of this, but I'm the first one to admit, I write 3K per day when I'm writing new words. I don't write new words everyday. Some days are filled with edits, and others simply chasing down ideas. Some days are rest or travel days. Some days you just say Fuck it and go to the bar (and chase some tail...haha).

Writing for other outlets too

Don't forget, you're going to be writing for other outlets as well, including your blog. This too takes time. So take Miller's advice, and finish what you write before starting in on something new. I realize that publishing these days is more like standing before a big buffet or moveable feast of possibilities. Take it slow, if not methodically, producing one good, finished product after the other. Only when it's done can you enjoy your just dessert in bed with champagne (Okay, I'm stretching the metaphor here, but I wanted to end on that line, and besides it's my blog...).




  1. Loved the Harlen Ellison clip! I did my master's thesis in England on Jean Rhys and writers of the 20s and 30s (mainly the Paris scene), so I found the whole post interesting. Thanks!!

  2. Thanks Lynda. I bet that is a very interesting thesis! Love Ellison...