Saturday, May 01, 2010

31 Books and Counting

James Lee Burke will publish his 31st book this summer. Thirty-one books, to me, is a lot, even though I know there are authors who’ve done more. Burke has a very interesting writing history, though, and that history was discussed recently in a Daily Comet article.

He started his first book when he was 20 and finished it at age 26. He got a six-column banner headline in The New York Times. And yet, there was a time, from 1972 to 1985, in those young years when he could not get a book in hardback for 13 years.
His novel "The Lost Get-Back Boogie" was rejected 111 times over nine years.

"During those years, I don't know how many short stories and novels I wrote. Nobody would touch me with a dung fork. I couldn't sell ice cream in hell," Burke said.
He ended this desert period by being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

He wasn’t sitting at home crying all those years. He was still writing. He was also out working all kinds of jobs to feed his family. He hung in there, writing in the morning, afternoon and even at night.
"I aim for 1,000 words a day. If I can get 750, I feel good about it. I rewrite that every morning. And that's what I do. If I stay with that schedule and I don't take any days off, and for many, many years, I haven't — for decades — I can produce one book that I consider a literary book a year," Burke said. "Writing is a continuum. An artist is always involved in it."
He’s been rejected plenty of times in his career. How does he handle it?
Never leave a story at home more than 36 hours. I've followed that rule for the past 53 years. Nothing stays home longer than 36 hours.
In other words, if you get rejected, send it back out. If you follow his plan, then you’ve got a day and a half to make any changes you feel you need to do in the query or synopsis or full manuscript, then get it back out there to an agent or editor. And no matter how many times you are rejected, don’t give up and keep writing.

When it comes to writing, what are your personal rules?
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  1. 31 books! I'm amazed. What great advice! Thanks so posting, Helen.

    My own writing rules? I aim for 2000 words a day, whether it's rubbish or not. I might take one day on the weekend off, but I try to keep the flow going as much as possible.

  2. Good rule, Talli. Do you edit as you write, like Burke, or wait until it's done to go back and begin an edit phase?

  3. One hunded and eleven rejections!? It's a bloody good book, too. I suppose self publishing wasn't so easy then!

  4. Attitude is so important, and I love Burke's. What positivity, and to turn a work around in 36 hours? That's determination. I don't set an actual word count, but do set weekly goals with whatever project I'm working on, and give it my all to complete those goals to keep moving forward.

  5. This is inspiring. Sometimes I think we all need that push to keep going. This story certainly did that for me. Thanks.

  6. I admire someone wiht such discipline. I don't edit as I go but rather do a first rough and then go back and completely rewrite it.
    I don't have a 36 hour rule but I try to have a manuscript out to three places at any one time unless someone has asked for an exclusive opportunity.

  7. Wow - 31 is a lot of books :)

    I don't have rules for myself - life is just too chaotic. I just try to do what I can when I can.

  8. I'm a bit like him. I read what I did before and edit, then move on to new material.

  9. I LOVE James Lee Burke, Helen. I have every single one of his books and consider him the contemporary Faulkner. (This isn't an original thought--lots of others think this, too.)

    I turned on a writer I privately coach to him recently, and she became an instant fan, devouring every one of his and his daughter's

    Burke is the contemporary Faulkner. (This isn't an original opinion--lots of people think this.)

    I met him at a booksigning years ago at Borders in Ft. Wayne, and wanted so much to talk to him, but to be honest was intimidated. He wore his cowboy hat and was as laconic as his Dave Robicheaux character. I did get to shake his hand and mumble something incomprehensible about being a writer too and then slunk off. (Or is that "slinked?") Anyway, one of my all-time favorite writers. None better. And, it rocks we're both from the same part of the country--Placqemine, Houma, Opelousas--God's country.

  10. And here I thought Texas was God's country, Les!

    My husband just bought an iPad. I think I'll download a Burke for him (that way I get to read it if I can ever have access to the iPad).

    Les, the way you acted at Burke's signing? That'll be me if I ever get to one of your signings. When is the next one due out?

  11. I haven't any hard and fast personal rules with regard to my writing, but I do have some habits that I guess one would call rules, that is, I always keep a pen and notebook handy for any ideas that spring up. My work flow may be 250 words one day, 5000 the next. It just depends on what else I have going on.(I wear a lot of hats: writer, artist, real estate assistant, mother, wife, book reviewer/promoter.) And I'm like you, I edit as I go, but that's not to say I dont' go back to the beginning and revise/edit several times more when I'm done.

  12. Rejected 111 times and not giving up, that's impressive patience and endurance. I've never read James Lee Burke, but appears as worth checking out >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  13. Great tips from one who knows!

  14. Same here, Lee. I do many partial and full read-throughs.

  15. Enjoyed this story about Burke. Especially like his 36 hour rule. I remember learning something like that a long time ago when I was doing a lot of freelance work. It is so easy to get dejected about the rejections and not do anything for a week or longer. Can't do that when you need to sell a story to pay the light bill.

  16. True Maryann. Set a limit on being depressed about rejection and move forward.

  17. 111 rejections, I admire his determination. It paid off, 31 books is a grand number to write.

    Inspirational post, thanks Helen.

  18. I've always looked on his 111 rejections as a milestone. My first novel was rejected 76 times, so I think of it as 35 rejections short of a Pulitzer.


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