Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What sustains writers?

Sharon Wildwind

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.
  1. What are you deeply passionate about?
  2. What activities do you feel just made to do?
  3. 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


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this post very much!!! The end reminds me of the years I lived in Tennessee - driving up the mountain to Sewanee from Chattanooga many nights when you could only barely see the road in the heavy fog. Thelma in Manhattan

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sharon,
Good thoughts here, but isn't the obvious answer to your title question the following: writers are sustained by their love of writing? I just love to tell stories (i.e. writing fiction) and always will. I'm fortunate in that I don't have to make a living with my writing--I think that's where all the stress originates, even if you love what you're doing. It would be stressful for me, at least.
Of course, parts of writing aren't that much fun--editing, PR and marketing, keeping track of submissions, etc. But that's like a painter...you have to clean up your messy oils or watercolors after you finish your masterpiece! Fortunately, our fun is not so dependent on critics' opinions(at least mine is not).
Take care,

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right, Steven. That's where the passion and pleasure comes in. I have other income besides writing, but I still expect to be fairly compensated for writing. Yes, I'm in this for the love of it, but I'm not here to provide a free ride.

Thelma, I've driven that stretch several times.

Steven M. Moore said...

I'm not here to provide a free ride either. I believe my ebook prices are fair, competitive, and don't insult me as a writer. I also expect to at least recover my costs (website, etc) while I'm having fun writing.
About that Tennessee fog: I experienced it years ago. It's comparable to the ground fog in California. You used to be able to tell when to stop if you could see your hood ornaments, but most cars don't have them anymore. :D