Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Welcoming Steve O'Brien to my blog again

I'm delighted to welcome Steve O'Brien, author of Elijah's Coin and Bullet Work, to my blog again today. Steve is answering the question:

How Long Did It Take To Write?

Definitely an interesting question, and I really enjoyed reading his answer. Over to you Steve.

One of my favorite remarks comes from violin virtuoso, Itzhak Perlman. And it was only two words.

Perlman is regarded as the preeminent violinist of the 20th Century--at his craft, a man without peers. Following a performance in Vienna, an adoring fan came up to Itzhak and gushed about how fantastic the performance had been. Then the fan said to Perlman “I would give my whole life to be able to play the violin like you did tonight.”
Perlman smiled and said, “I have.”

The remark is so true. Despite the enormous natural talent he possesses, Perlman practices and rehearses at a frenetic pace. To get to where he is artistically took total dedication and “his entire life.”

I won’t pretend to have near the writing ability on par with Perlman’s musical ability. However, people will ask me how long it took to write Bullet Work. My eyes kind of glaze over and I have to say, “My whole life.”

In my case each book I write is a culmination of what I have learned and, whether I like it or not, each book decides its own timeline.

One of my savvy advance readers noted that the early chapters of the original manuscript of Bullet Work had a different voice and different feel to them. I was a little shocked that he picked that up. I had to tell him, I had written those early chapters nearly fifteen years before.

Sometimes we don’t write the book; so much as the book chooses us. Although Elijah’s Coin was published first, the storyline, characters and basic plot for Bullet Work go back nearly 20 years. Why didn’t I write it then?

Back then, I might have said it was because I was lazy or insecure.

Today I know it was because I wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready to tell the story and my writing style had not advanced to a point where I could convey it effectively. Could I have written it back then? Sure. Would it have been any good? Probably not. It isn’t so much about the storyline as it is about me.
Elijah’s Coin was a story that just flowed out of my pen as though I were being pulled by some imaginary force. The book nearly wrote itself and it simply dragged me along as a hostage.

Bullet Work was a polar bear that I had to engage, wrestle and pin to the ground. Without exaggeration, I probably re-wrote the book three times over with very little change to the plot.And I loved every single minute of it. The final manuscript would nearly be unrecognizable in comparison to the earliest version. Still the same story, just a seasoned, more experienced writer.

Bullet Work and Elijah’s Coin are very different stories, even designed for different audiences and written in very different styles. However, without Elijah’s Coin, Bullet Work would never have come to pass. They had to come in their own order.

Unfinished manuscripts or unfinished drafts have extreme value in the effort. They are never a waste of time in the creation. The craft improves, the style advances and the writer evolves. Each book chooses its own time.

How long did it take to write Bullet Work?

My whole life.


Helen Ginger said...

Very good answer to the question. This is also why writers are advised to never throw away an old manuscript. How you view your writing will change and you may find it can be rewritten. And if not? Save it for another look in twenty years.

Ruthi aka abitosunshine said...

Excellent topic and answer to the question. Thank you! I guess I'm going to need a whole 'nother lifetime...

Steve O'Brien said...


Thanks for hosting me on your blog and for your thoughtful review of Bullet Work.

All the best,


Ron said...

Great book review Sheila :-)

Kathryn Magendie said...

*smiling* at the last question and answer ...

maryrussel said...

What an insightful answer! Not only very telling about the author but it puts my own writing into perspective. It helps me to understand why I have had to rewrite this novel so many times and why it is taking so long to complete. I just wasn't ready yet as a writer to tell it the way it should be told.