04/13/05 — Gearino's writing success comes early in the morning

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Gearino's writing success comes early in the morning

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on April 13, 2005 1:45 PM

G.D. Gearino has a foolproof way to write a book. But some aspiring novelists won't want to hear it.

Get up at 4 a.m. Monday and write 250 words before 6 a.m.

Repeat Tuesday.

Repeat Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Rest on the weekend.

Then repeat.

That schedule will produce 1,250 words a week. A typical novel is 75,000-100,000 words, so in a year or 18 months, you will be finished, he said. And if it's good, a publisher will want it.

Hard work before sunrise was Gearino's formula for writing his first novel, "What the Deaf-Mute Heard." The award-winning book was made into an acclaimed Hallmark Hall of Fame movie.

"People are always disappointed to find out that there's no incantation they can chant," Gearino said. "I am a walking and talking example of how little magic and mystery there is in the book-publishing business."

Gearino, who has now written four books, was in Goldsboro on Tuesday to deliver the annual Henry Belk Lecture at a meeting of the Goldsboro Rotary Club. He then spoke at the Friends of the Library's annual meeting on Tuesday evening.

Belk was editor of the News-Argus for many years.

Gearino told both audiences how he came to be a novelist in addition to his day-time job as a reporter and columnist for The News & Observer.

He had long thought about writing a novel, but as he turned 40, "it felt like an itch that needed to be scratched," he told the Friends meeting.

His job and family consumed most of his time. But "I realized that I was wasting a substantial part of my day sleeping," he said. "If I got up earlier, I could work on a book."

After a month of the early-morning work sessions, Gearino had completed the first chapter of his book. He mailed it to a literary agent, who encouraged him to finish it. A year and a half later, he did. Two weeks later, the agent sold it to a publisher, and six months later, Gearino had a deal for his second book.

He credited his slow-but-steady approach.

"Write something every day, even if you're going to end up erasing most of it the next day," he said. "If you wait for a flash of inspiration, that book will never get done."

One of the Friends of the Library ask Gearino if he ever got writer's block.

"In the newspaper business, you're not allowed," he joked. "You can't come back from a City Council meeting and say to your editor, 'I'm just not feeling it today.'"

It's not important for your writing to be polished or even plotted as you do it, he said. "I was only a day or two ahead of my book as I was writing it. I was two-thirds of the way through it before I even knew how it would end."

As he wrote, he grew more confident and had a better understanding of the characters. That made the process easier.

He also learned that it was better to make mental notes about mistakes and correct them later, rather than to stop the writing process.

"Revision is a great killer of manuscripts," Gearino said.

The time spenting perfecting a first chapter could be undone by later chapters, he said. It's better to complete the book and then make corrections.

Gearino also told some amusing stories about the movie that was made from his book and his visit to the Wilmington set. The screenplay eliminated some of the deaths in his book and sparked a romance between two characters who were half-brother and half-sister.

As one of the producers explained, "People don't die in Hallmark movies unless they really have to," Gearino recalled. "I said, 'Let me get this right -- Hallmark is not into death, but incest is OK?'"

As it turned out, the screenplay had eliminated the family relationship.

One of the audience asked Gearino if he liked the movie.

"I adored it the minute the check cleared the bank," he said to great laughter.

A Georgia native, Gearino graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor's degree in film studies. He then worked at newspapers in Florida, Colorado, Wyoming and Alberta, Canada, among other places, before going to work for the News & Observer in 1993. His column appears on the front of the Life section on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Gearino has also published "Counting Coup" and "Blue Hole." His fourth book, "The Wrong Guy," will come out later this year.