Discipline trumps talent.
That’s my motto, anyway. You want to be a mystery novelist (or any kind of writer, for that matter) you need to work on your craft. Every day. No exceptions. No excuses. You need to apply your posterior in a chair and type, and type, and type, and stare out the window, and think, and then keep typing until something good appears on that stupid little white screen.
But here’s the rub: a good bit of what you write will, I can assure you with supreme confidence, be crap. At first. Write it anyway. And then edit. And then drink–for courage to soldier on.
So today’s post is meant purely to inspire those of you struggling to write your first book (or your second, or your eighteenth). Below is the first 350 words or so if my first attempt at a mystery novel. I wrote another 30,000 after this, but what you’ll read below is the only bit worth saving. The rest was crap, but writing that crap taught me something invaluable: that I had a “voice.” I just didn’t have anything else yet. The rest of it I would have to work on, and you should, too.
So enjoy this tiny glimpse into my first big failure as a writer.
Say you’re fifty-six years old and you’ve got something you love that isn’t a wife or kids. Suppose it’s a restaurant: a huge hollowed out sailboat made of eighty-year old oak that’s docked in an inlet on the North Carolina coast. Call it SHARKEY’s. Picture a cartoon-y-looking killer shark with white fangs painted on the hull outside. Three massive white sails up top, flapping in the breeze. Go inside and order a strong pomegranate margarita from Kitty, the bartender. Check out the autographed glossies of Jack Nicholas and Catfish Hunter behind the bar. The circular windows to starboard offer a peephole view of the water. Creaking floorboards and the smell of saltwater make you feel like you’re walking the plank for Blackbeard. There are tuna steak sandwiches and homemade potato chips on the menu, plenty of Handy-Wipes for the greasy fingers. When the weather’s nice, a solid eight months out of the year, there are picnic tables on the rectangular deck facing the water, a long pier adjacent to work off those extra jumbo shrimp.
Now, picture yourself there, with your old man paunch, a full head of gray hair, and most of your own teeth. You flash those sparklers at everyone, wear Levis and boat shoes the whole year ‘round. Like most poor boys that figured out a way to keep your belly full, you take pride in your work. Slapping high-fives with little sluggers in ball uniforms. Refilling sweet ice tea for the red-faced tourists. Lying to the Country Club Set about your single-digit handicap, all the fish you’ve caught. You turn a healthy profit and keep a bulk of the cash in a wall-safe at your second-story condo overlooking the Atlantic. But somehow you pick up bad habits like drinking Jim Bean before noon and blabbing to everyone about your nest egg. It isn’t long before someone cracks your safe and now the IRS says you’re in arrears.
So, about to lose the one thing you love, what do you do?
The answer: you invite Jack Burns, local millionaire and quasi-philanthropist, and his idiot son, Greg, over to your bar to see if there is anything you can do to help get Greg elected the Mayor of Kill Devil Island next week.