Much as I used to enjoy watching major league baseball, I quit following the sport long ago. My interest waned with the introduction of modern free agency. It became a chore keeping track from one week to the next which player was on what team. Plus, I found myself chaffing at the notion of grown men getting paid tens of millions of dollars every season to play a kid’s game, then always threatening to strike unless they made even more money. But while I may no longer track team standings, I continue following the performances of hitters who can finish the season having maintained a batting average of .300 or better. For someone like me who is incapable of connecting with a 75 mile-an-hour fastball in the batting cage, let alone a 95 mph one, I can tell you that .300 is a mighty impressive accomplishment. Which brings me to its relevance for purposes of this writing-related post.
For me, 300 represents a personal milestone. After months of teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling toil and trouble, to have finally produced 300 pages of a double-spaced, carefully plotted, typewritten manuscript feels like a huge accomplishment. I allow myself a congratulatory slap on the back whenever I do, along with a celebratory adult beverage or two. The book may not be finished at that point—any writer knows that no book is ever really finished; it can always stand one more rewrite even after it’s published–but I know that at 300 pages and 80,000 words or so, I’m rounding third base and heading for home.
More than two years elapsed before I was able to finally produce a 300-plus first draft of Flat Spin, my first Cordell Logan mystery. It seems like an interminable length of time when I look back on it now. Part of the reason the book took so long to write was that I am a relatively slow writer. I labor over my prose, rewriting incessantly–too much, perhaps–trying to get the rhythm of the words just right in my mind’s ear. But the more pertinent explanation is that I had other, more pressing obligations. Few authors get paid to write their first novel. I certainly didn’t. Until such time as you become a best-seller and can quit your day job, attention must be paid to the demands of the day–to finding work that helps pay the bills and to focusing on what matters most in life: your family. The last thing you want to do is miss your kids’ soccer games or musical performances. You work on the book in what little spare time you can find, like in the middle of the night, when everyone else in your house is asleep. Weeks become months and months become years as you eat the proverbial elephant one bite at a time. And then, one day, you reach 300 pages and everything preceding that glorious moment, all those strikeouts and foul balls, those overwritten passages and poorly executed subplots, begin to blur.
I’m fast approaching the 300-page mark of my latest Logan mystery, #8 in the series, tentatively entitled The Impossible Turn. I hope to finish the first draft within a month. There’ll be the inevitable rewrites after that, followed by even more rewrites. After that, after I’ve submitted the book for publication, I’ll start over with an idea for a new book, aiming for 300 pages, because the old cliché applies as much to creative writing as it does to baseball: you can’t knock it out of the park unless you first step up to the plate.