I’m half-way through writing my next book. In many ways, this is the equivalent of trekking Mt Kilimanjaro in bunny slippers while holding tightly to my teddy bear. The bunny slippers because I feel woefully under equipped for this expedition. I always feel woefully unequipped to write a book. Most writers do. The teddy bear because being a writer is a scary place and I need soft and cuddly reassurances that this book, too, will eventually end successfully.
Part of the challenge is the sheer physicality of the task. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about how quickly I can write a book.
I usually aim for a final draft of about 90,000 words.
First draft will be 3 x 90,000 = 270,000 words. For every word I keep, I’ll write two more words that I either discard or which were never intended to appear in the text. This includes research, character sketches, plotting notes, and the like.
Second draft will be 1/10 x 90,000 = 9,000 words. For every word I’ve kept in the first draft, one out of ten will need to be replaced, deleted, rearranged, spelled correctly, etc. Fortunately, these words often come in bunches. When I decide that Chapter 14 is hogwash and completely rewrite it, that will account for about 2,000 of those 9,000 words. Second drafts are easier than they sound.
Third (I hope final) draft will be another 1/10 x 90,000 or a final 9,000 words. That’s a whopping total of 288,000 words, plus the final meticulous spelling and grammar checks before I try to sell it.
In a perfect world I’d spend two hours a day, every day, focused strictly on writing. At that rate, I could knock out a book in about 5 months. The world is not perfect, and neither am I.
In a gloriously spectacular week I’ll write two hours every day for six days. Most weeks I achieve considerably less. Life happens. That means I rarely achieve a book in less than a year.
The late Darwin Smith was for many years the Chief Executive Officer of the paper products company Kimberly-Clark. At one time he simultaneously faced serious health and business issues. This difficult time in his life led him to examine how passion, talent, and economic opportunity come together. He devised, then answered, three questions for himself.
- What are you deeply passionate about?
- What activities do you feel just made to do?
- What makes economic sense?
For me as a writer, the third question is easy. What makes economic sense? Absolutely nothing. It may take up to three years from the day I start a book until I see any economic gain from it. What sustains me, what I think sustains most writers is passion, pleasure, and persistence. Oh yes, and hugging teddy bears frequently.
Quote for the week
It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
~ Edgar Lawrence (E. L.) Doctorow, American writer, editor, and teacher