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So, how do you start writing a book?

So, how do you start writing a book?

Well, normally one word at a time – a simple glib answer.  But that isn’t how I started.  Here’s what happened to me.

I’ve always been a reader and deep inside my black little heart, wanted to be a writer.  But like many people with such aspirations, I was too busy with life (or perhaps too lazy) to actually get started.  I did however, have a lot of time on my hands, while driving back and forth to my various work places.  This gave me a lot of time to think about writing a book and to develop ideas.  Writing while driving is a misdemeanor here in Virginia, so all the good ideas I had while driving just flew out my car door when I got to my destination.   This was the pattern for several years.

Late in the year 2008, I joined a company that put me working at Fort Belvoir.  Once again, I was driving an hour or so each way and thinking heavily about how a book could come together.  So on the day before Thanksgiving in 2008, I sat in front of my computer and typed the first line, “Green.  My whole world is green.  Not the fresh lush green of rainforests.  Not the blue-green of the sea.”  I have since abandoned that line as way too cheesy, but it got me started.  I spent the next six weeks hammering away on weekends, over the holidays, and in the evenings.  By the first week in January 2009, I had written about 50,000 words and I was exhausted in all aspects.  My passion, which had flared in November, was spent.  I put it aside.

Then in April I was in Yuma, Arizona for work.  The scenery there reminded me of the scenery which inspired the book (Saudi Arabia and Fort Irwin); I was reenergized.   Again, back behind the wheel on I-95, I continued developing the plot and characters as I drove back and forth to work.  In July, during our beach vacation, I pounded out 5,000 words a day and almost got the book to where it is now, plot-wise.   I also let me daughter Emily and my son Adam read the draft so far and- to my surprise and delight – both liked it.  It took me two long weekends of hard writing to get it done, but on August 1, 2009 I printed ten or so copies and handed them to friends at work and in my neighborhood to read and give me feedback.    The book then was about 80,000 words.

By the end of August, their verdict was in – the ending sucked.  I had killed the protagonist at the end.  Furthermore, I had been driving and thinking again and had some ideas for a whole new plot line.  I added another 50,000 words in the evenings and on weekends (about 100 pages) and on October 1, I had, again, completed the book (and the protagonist fate is waiting for you to discover).

From that point on I polished the prose and refining the plot points as I read and re-read it.  In November I handed a couple of copies to my close West Point classmates, who gave me great advice.

I contacted another classmate who is himself a bestselling author.  He said that a 130,000 word manuscript was too big and that I needed to have another book waiting on the heels of the first.  I struggled with this advice for a month until I had a blinding insight.  I would split the one book into two books.   There was an obvious plot break about mid way through the book – so this made a lot of sense and it solved the dual problems of a large debut novel with no sequel.  I now have two medium sized books, a debut work and a sequel.

Mike Smith – April 2010.



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