Writers With Goals and a Schedule . . . Or Not

For a guy who’s spent an aggregate forty-one years in military and paramilitary organizations, I’m really not very structured as a writer.

I look at my goals in writing much the same as I looked at my operational life as a cop. Back then, I wanted to make a lot of flashy arrests, get known for producing high quality work, and do everything possible to write an almost airtight case. I knew how to testify in court and always went in having more than the requisite reasonable cause to believe the bad guy was guilty. What happened in court was the prosecutor’s worry.

As a writer, my goal is to provide an end product—a story or novel—that I’m happy with. I’m a pain in the neck about detail, so if I please me, take the reasonable suggestions an editor makes, and see the finished work as the best I could do, everything else can play out however Mother Nature, the Universe, or Fate has in mind. I write with the goal of producing something that sounds good—something smooth, with no bumps, no unanswered questions, and no extreme need for suspension of disbelief. After an editor catches any typos, nits, and the little things that need ironing out and it goes to press, I’m happy.

I do my best to promote the book, but I’m not a marketing expert. If my books don’t sell, the publisher doesn’t make money. He/she needs to put forth at least as much effort as me. I do an hour or two each day pushing the books. I spend money on virtual book tours and sending books out for review. If they don’t sell, I can still look in the mirror and be satisfied that I’ve given it my best effort.

Years ago, I didn’t call the district attorney’s office to learn about a trial verdict. The courts were a circus. Felons were allowed to plead out to passing on the right to save time and money. That wasn’t my problem and I think I might have avoided an ulcer by not asking. Today, I don’t keep tabs on the Amazon sales charts to see if I sold one or a hundred books last week. I don’t check to see if I’m number one in the category of police mystery with a one-eyed, transvestite, disabled veteran antagonist. I don’t care. I care of I get well-written, positive, and honest reviews. And I care that I don’t send something out for publication that isn’t the best I can do.

When I was a young cop, I always had bosses looking over my shoulder, but I never let them keep me from drumming up my own cases. I dug up arrests without anyone feeding them to me; just as I have to dream up ways of taking actual police incidents and transplanting them from New York to Tennessee to let my protagonist Sam Jenkins work the cases. It’s impossible for me to set a daily goal or word count minimum. When the ideas and words are flowing in my brain, I write and don’t stop until my head is empty or I’m too tired to continue. I don’t outline before writing—that’s too much like work. I rough out a book and then go back—maybe several times—to revise or “flesh out” what needs sprucing up. I once read a quote (from whom I can’t remember) that I saw as a very good line. “We don’t have to be great writers. We MUST be great rewriters.” For me, the finalizing provides great enjoyment. It’s like a cabinetmaker doing the final sanding on a piece of furniture. You keep smoothing it out until you consider it properly “spruced up.”

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