Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Chapter Three: Writing a Novel in Five Days While Traveling



First day of writing on the novel. Here we go.  And as planned, it didn’t happen exactly as planned by a long ways.

But it still happened and I got just over 8,000 words done.

So day one success. Not as planned, but remember I said flexible was the key on this and today I was flexible.

Detailing out the Day

I made it out of bed by noon and by 1 p.m. I had showered, gotten dressed, had a bunch of water and a power bar and was sitting down at the computer to first get my e-mail, then write.

It took me about five minutes to just look at my e-mail, then I got to writing.

In the first hour (remember, I have this broken down into seven hours of writing per day) I managed to get 1,400 words and a really nifty start for one of these mystery novels. I’m used an old Las Vegas hotel, now torn down, as setting in the prolog.

I took a five minute break and then in fifty minutes did another 1,450 word. Two hours down and right on schedule. Hot damn. It was three p.m.

I took a break and went and played some blackjack, then took a walk down the block to a famous toy store. I had talked to the owner at one point and at some time in the future our two WMG stores will work with his on buying large collections. That should be fun when we get to it.

I got back a little after 4 p.m. and set back to write. And that was when plans started to go sideways. They were having big planning meetings at WMG and I needed to be part of it at times. So every ten minutes or so the phone would ring.

I still managed to get some writing done over the next two hours, about 1,000 words, actually. Then my friend Jim, who was flying in today, texted me that his plane was having some problems and he was still sitting at the gate in Idaho.

So for the next hour between texts and phone calls, I managed another 500 words, which I considered a miracle to be honest.

So finally around 7:30, with 4,300 words or so done, I took a nap.

After the nap I watched a little news and then did another hour session of 1,300 words.

A short break with texts coming in from my friend about his airport adventure, I wrote another 1,200 words. (My plan was to have dinner with him at 7 when he arrived, then later on come back to the room to write. That was long since tossed out.)

So by the time ten-thirty in the evening rolled around, I hadn’t had dinner and my friend was headed to the hotel in a shuttle.

I went looking for him and we went to dinner around 11 p.m. Great time, great seeing him again. Jim and I have been friends now for 51 years. So great seeing him again. This will be a fun week.

Finally around 2 a.m., I left the bar and headed back to the room. I talked with Kris for a time and then went to writing again. In one hour I got another 1,100 words and got the novel to 7,900 words.

I walked around for a little bit, then came back and got just over a hundred words before deciding 8,000 words was enough for the day.

So lots of business, a ton of e-mail, about fifty texts and two dozen phone calls, all while on vacation and writing. Plus a two hour dinner with a great friend, some exploring, an hour in a bar, and some blackjack.

And 8,014 words.

Day one down. On target.

Some points…

— Someone asked why 40,000 words?

Well, to start with, I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, where the standard length of most novels was between 30,000 and 50,000 words. Very few went over that, especially in commercial fiction.

So I grew up with that length, it feels right to me, and my mind works in that length. I have said often I always hated that New York changed the form of literature by forcing writers to bloat out books so that the publishers could make more money and sell their books for more money.

So when I was allowed by the indie world to write what I wanted to write, all my novels now end up between 35,000 words and 50,000 words, with most coming in around 40,000. And these Cold Poker Gang mystery novels are all coming in around 40,000, at least the first six or seven of them.

— Flexible is everything.

Today I wanted to be in contact with my friend while he was trying to make it down here. I enjoyed the texts. And I really enjoyed being part of the planning of the coming year at WMG. Some great stuff happening in this new year that has me excited, actually.

So with the writing, I had set my mind that I needed to be flexible and right off the bat that mind-set kept me going.

When traveling, flexible thinking is everything.

And since I wasn’t stressed about getting back to the writing and staying on schedule, I had a really fun experience. Jim and I were sitting at the bar near the poker room and this chatty, half drunk young girl and her completely drunk sister sat down at the bar next to us. The really drunk sister tried to show me how to play blackjack on a bar machine.

Considering I paid my way through architecture and law school playing blackjack, that was funny and I played along with her, taking her slurred advice because she could “feel” the cards on the machine. I doubt in her state she was feeling much of anything, to be honest.

The really chatty girl had just turned 21 today which was the reason they were out drinking. They had sent mom back to the room an hour before. The chatty girl asked me about my NASA jacket I was wearing, asked me if I worked there. I said nope, so she asked me what I did for a living. Since they were both feeling no pain, I decided to mess with them a little.

I said, “I sit alone in a room and make shit up.”

The poor girl said what? Clearly confused. Her sister wasn’t yet passed out. I figured the bartender was going to have to call the mom to come get the drunk older daughter at any moment.

“You asked me what I did for a living,” I said to the younger birthday girl. She nodded. So I said, “I make my living by sitting alone in a room and making shit up and people pay me a vast amount of money to do that.”

Jim was laughing at this point and the older sister’s head was going for the bar, so I suggested the younger sister get her older sister to a bathroom fairly quickly. She had that look that drunks get right before they throw up.

The older sister slurred, “Good idea.”

And the two staggered off with Jim and I both laughing. I really shouldn’t pick on young, drunk kids, but an old guy has to have some fun at some point. (grin)

And that brings me to my third point of the night.

— Don’t forget to have fun.

If you can’t have fun writing and traveling, what in the world are you doing either for?

Just saying.


The Writing of ACE HIGH: A Cold Poker Gang Mystery

 Day 1… Words written… 8,000.  Total so far… 8,000 words.


  • D S Butler

    Thanks for letting us follow you on the challenge, Dean. Have you cycled back in the book yet? Do you cycle back at the beginning of every session?

    • dwsmith

      Always cycling. It’s just part of my process, usually about every 200-300 words. It’s just part of my natural process.

  • Sheila

    Off to a good start, despite the obstacles. It’s a good object lesson for me, who tends to get pulled away from writing and can’t manage to always get back. I’m a work in progress, though!

    Anyway, seems you and your friend has a blast of a reunion, and maybe those two girls won’t regret all that drinking too much. 😉

  • Alexa

    Fun trip. Amazing challenge. Thanks for sharing the journey! (Will be signing up for February Speed workshop and am looking forward to it.)

  • J.A. Marlow

    Laugh-out-loud funny what you did with the two girls. Messed with them, for sure! 😀

    As to book length, I’ve been finding that for most books 35-40k is my sweet spot, as well. The great thing is that with the new world of publishing that’s not a drawback. I’m going with it and so far my highest selling titles have been those right in that word count span.