John Grisham makes writing error, but does he need an online checker?

From my own experience, I have enjoyed using online grammatical aids, to a point! Here’s my humble take on them:

+ve: picks up repeated phrases, checks sentence length, and overuse of adverbs, etc. Psst, here’s where it would have helped John Grisham in “The Guardians”—on page 157, he writes, “He takes a drink and studies the ocean.” Then, on page 159, John writes, “He takes a drink and studies the ocean.” Well, software would pick that up.

-ve: does not help you develop your own writing style, nor flow or ‘voice’. There is often a cost.

Ask yourself this question: would Hemingway, et al, use an online writing tool? They might in their early days of writing, but I am convinced they would go up the wall after a while and stay their own course through the rough editing waters. Good writing and editing software are destined to call off their romance after just a few dates!

Good Judgment and Hard Work

I came across this quote during research for my new book:

“Putting a book together—really putting a book together—is a laborious, handcrafted process requiring years of experience, good judgment, and conscientious hard work” by Jonathan J. McCullough in ‘A Tale of Two Subs’.

How well put and a difficult target for any writer to aspire to. John Grisham echoes these sentiments when he talks about the discipline of his writing routine—three hours each morning, five days a week for six months. I wonder how many budding authors fail to appreciate the amount of hard work it takes to craft a novel? I am learning fast that it is a slow, painstaking process. Coffee helps!

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

This quote by Ernest Hemingway has an element of truth, although I certainly don’t ‘write drunk’. What rings true for me, though, is that you don’t have to be fully ‘with it’ when getting the rough story down. It might be a matter of grabbing a few minutes between meetings or, in my case, while waiting to teach a class. Some of my better writing seems to happen when I am mulling a plot or ‘what’s next’ while trying to sleep. In this case, I have to put the light on, get up and type the inspiration, just in case I forget when I wake up in the morning.Or, I might overhear a conversation while out and about and need to jot a thought down, ready to take back to my computer to bring into the story. For my second novel, I also set aside regular, early morning times to write. And, in the most part, I have kept to this schedule, even if the word output varies. On a good day I will type up about 800-1200 words and, on a bad day, 400-500. But, even the bad days can be good writing!

However, the editing needs time and concentration, plus a critical analysis of words, sentence structure/length, etc. Therefore, Hemingway is right—it is best done while ‘sober’. Incidentally, Hemingway also has a cameo part in my new novel, when two ladies meet an old man on the Croatian coast in a bar in Dubrovnik—the kind of place that Hemingway would, I am sure, have enjoyed!

How is the Discipline of Writing Book #2 Going?

I wasn’t really envious – well, a little! A friend was now writing his 3rd book and I was struggling to make progress on my #2. But, I reassured myself, Rome wasn’t built in a day and, besides, mine was more technical – requiring considerable research. And, I had no research assistant! The funny thing was, although about half-way through novel two, I had the last chapter sorted. Then, smug, smug, I was sure that I had gone well past the middle when a word count (hate that tool) revealed that I had only completed 32,000 words. Dang it! Still, this wake-up shook me into being more disciplined and, I am proud to say, my writing has improved. I am now into a routine of morning writing, followed by a quick evening review. I also determine to try and keep my weekends free – in the same way as I did when teaching.

The Art of Connection

It was a great conversation with a colleague over a recent lunch. We had both studied Geography at university and he mentioned the value of being able to view the world through a geographer’s eyes – looking at the landscape and how it was formed. I suddenly realized that this training had helped me connect different events to help construct the background details for 3 WISE MEN. Here is one example:

My wife and I were enjoying a late lunch in a piazza in Florence when we noticed a priest hurrying past. I could not resist a picture (below). When constructing details for the wider plot, it occurred to me that this innocent priest might play an important part.

“I had just left the Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, and was crossing the piazza outside the church when a priest approached me. He was obviously in a hurry as his cassock was waving wildly behind him. When he reached me, he paused and whispered, ‘I must see you urgently at the Statue of David at 7 o’clock tonight. Be there!’ Then he took off, heading for the hotel nearby. I was taken by surprise.” [extract, pg 192]

I am sure that readers will be equally surprised when they discover what the priest wanted to say to Pierre when he met him at The Statue of David!


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