I once read that many neophyte authors get sixty pages into their novel before they find themselves lost in the labyrinths of storytelling and get discouraged. Sixty pages may be anecdotal, but it sounds about right to me, and I ought to know, because I’ve spent decades discarding stillborn books. Lord knows how many pages I’ve tossed into the recycle bin, but the bundles usually did seem to average sixty to one hundred pages.
After my accident I had plenty of time to write, so I rolled my wheelchair up to the dining room table and started writing scenes and dialogues for a novel, in no particular order, whenever inspiration struck. When I pulled it all together, the result was 1,760 typewritten pages! That technique got me past the sixty-page barrier, but the result was awful. I could have spent years polishing that manuscript as a no-name unpublished author, but instead I started writing shorter “quick-reads” to see what self-publishing was all about. My first book was only 15,000 words and used characters based on some of the kids I knew when I was living and flying on Cape Cod, decades earlier, to play off the Chappaquiddick Incident. Flight From Katama taught me how to finish stories and publish them on Kindle and Createspace. I’m not getting rich or famous, but I am enjoying the writing immensely.
So would you think that my days of not finishing a story are over? Hardly! Sometimes you just need to decide that a project isn’t working and move on to something else. The beauty of writing in the electronic age is that you can easily use some of those gems later, in another setting.
The key point, for me, is to keep writing something, every day.
When I was a teenager I’d get so enthused about books that I would write to the author. Every one of them wrote back, but only one offered to meet me. Dick Bach was a Flying Magazine editor and author of Stranger To The Ground, an aviation classic and a book that really moved me when I was sixteen years old. Dick lived in Iowa but he just happed to be in New York working on a new book about JFK Airport when we met for lunch. It was going to be an in-depth study of a major metropolitan airport, although he lamented that the Arthur Hailey novel Airport had just been made into a blockbuster movie, so he would probably put his project aside and work on something else. Then we spent a few hours talking not about airplanes and flying, but about metaphysical matters; self-levitation, suspended animation, walking through walls, and so forth. As far as I know, Dick never wrote the book about an airport.
Of course, Dick Bach was Richard Bach, and his next book was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which shocked the publishing world and launched millions of people on voyages of self-discovery.
So we should all have the courage to put our pet projects on the shelf and launch onto something new. We can’t go wrong if we just keep writing, writing, and writing.