So, you want to be a
Well, get in line, don't we all...
I am not what is known as a
Sure, like everyone else, I think I'd enjoy wearing furs, being lavished in pearls (no mind that I'm a dude, I have an open mind about these things), and otherwise aspire to live the good life (yes, I have a very open mind about living the good life, count me in, sounds like fun). So, presumably, if I knew how to write a successful book or turn a book into a success (any old book will do or so it so often seems), I'd do it. Bottom line, I'm not claiming to know much (not much of anything) about the business of the publishing industry. But a quick look at this site will confirm I write and I write a lot.
So, um, like, I write (like, a lot). And so, I've taken an interest in the subject (writing, publishing, the process thereof). And as far as
<quote>Amateur Writers<unquote> go, I'm pretty far along. I've written a good dozen book length manuscripts and hundred upon hundreds of shorter pieces (gratuitous link). In short, I've spent a long time perfecting the craft of writing.
Of course, the proof really is in the (ole) pudding, so if you didn't like the way the preceding was written or what follows grates on your nerves (really, for any reason), then you'd probably be better off ignoring what I have to say. For the rest, as follows is guidance, insight, and/or conceptual ideas that I've developed, concerning the process of writing novels. I'm limiting the discussion to novels, because writing a novel requires a different process than that used for writing a one page rant, short story, or
<insert your favourite format here>. They are all quite different beasts (especially that
<insert your favourite format here>. Thus, to insure that we're all on the same page (talking about the same beast), I'm going to start by defining what I mean by a novel.
I don't actually care if there is dialogue or the work is written as a poetic ballad; nor do I care about the length of the chapters and all the rest. I mean, I care, these things are very important as both a reader and a writer, but they don't define a novel, as a:
- As I define it, a novel:
- +/- 100,000 words
- that's 400 single-sided double-spaced pages using a 12 pt font with standard margins
- a work of fiction
- wherein, non-reality reigns supreme
- fake people
- fake settings
- fake situations
- inspiration is fine, but biographies, journalistic inquiries, and/or historical analysis are not novels (or at least, not of the subclass I am interested in discussing)
- are internally consistent
- have a beginning, middle, and end
- some sort of plot, meaning, or purpose
Yes, I know, wordy guy, seriously, all that, just to say something everyone already knows? Well, it's pretty much what writing a novel is all about: taking a basic idea and expanding it into a mind-boggling long manuscript. If you can't talk about nothing at great length (and take yourself seriously while doing so), writing a novel may not be your thing. Or, you know, you might have better things to do with your life.
- fictional story
- of approximately 100,000 words
I can type upwards of 2,000 words an hour. And I can sit at a typewriter for about two hours before getting sick of it all. So, my output is maybe 4,000 words a day on any one project. Oddly, I don't mind coming back to the computer and working on something else, but that's another matter.
4,000 words a day, 100,000 words in a novel, and that comes out to 25 days for a rough draft. But those numbers don't capture the flavour.
So, even though I can type upwards of 2,000 words an hour, I actually only output 1,000 words an hour after taking the first round of editing into account (i.e. bringing something to the rough draft stage, whatever that means).
- Hour One: 2,000 words, non-writers call this a rough draft
- Hour Two: 2,500 words, reread the entire thing and added some stuff (i.e. I added 500 words)
- Hour Three: 3,000 words, reread the entire thing again and added some more, this is what I'd call a solid rough draft
Actually, I publish at this point far more often than sometimes. In fact, this rant will probably get posted at the third read-through (yep, I'm at the third read-through now and can confirm this rant is good to go... or good enough to go). But for a novel, a winning novel, that's just the start.
- Hour Four: 3,250 words, reread
- Hour Five: 3,500 words, sometimes I publish stories/novels here (i.e. I self publish to the web, on this site, for free)
4,000 words, 7 hours, you do the math... something like 500 words an hour.
- Hour Six: 3,750 words, reread, edit
- Hour Seven: 4,000 words, second read through stage
But that's words per hour, which doesn't give a full flavour for novels. Let's assume someone was writing full-time. I'm not willing to write full-time. I don't have that sort of creative energy. I've sat at a computer for upwards of twelve hours a day from sunrise to sunset while working on a couple of projects. But when I was done with the last one, I said, 'Never again!' And I haven't (never again). But through the haze, I can sort of remember the specifics of that project.
I suppose I should point out that there's a big difference between writing that first draft when one does not know where the story is going (for me, at least, the nuances are a complete unknown) and editing a story once it has all been put down on paper (i.e. one knows how it ends and has an intimate knowledge of all the spaces in-between).
- Four Weeks: rough draft, which includes countless rewrites
- + Two Weeks: first major rewrite (from beginning to end)
- + Two Weeks: second major rewrite (from beginning to end)
Anyhow, after working on a novel for two months, I'd plan to put it aside and let is sit on the shelf for a month or so, letting the details get fuzzy... but not too fuzzy. Because once I picked it up and read it again (and again and again), the idea would be to identify where the story gets confusing or doesn't make any sense, you know, because even I, the guy who wrote it, has no idea what the author was trying to say; and then, fix it. So, long enough one doesn't remember the words, but short enough so one can do that fact checking consistency thing.
- Fact Checking:
- is what I call making sure the story is internally consistent (names stay the same, locales have the same feel, etcetera).
- Pulling the Story Straight
- is what I call ensuring that the ending lines up with beginning (and/or that the beginning lines up with the end) and the rules of the world haven't changed. Thus, would a character still behave the way they did in the first chapter, given all that is known about them now that the story is over? That sort of thing.
And that's the basic process. Repeat those last two steps (reread, break for a while, reread, break) until you are either pleased as peaches with the result or can't bring yourself to read the stupid thing any more. At a best estimate, I've read Minataur Tails well over fifty times and have a thousand or more hours into the project.
- + Four Weeks: do nothing, forget about it
- + Two Weeks: reread and try to iron out the ripples
- Repeat Ad Infinitum
150,000 words / 1000 hours = 150 words / hour
150 words / hour * $0.05 / word = $7.5 / hour
Of course, I've never sold Minataur Tails, so I've never gotten paid. I just plugged $0.05/word, because back when I was interested in such things, that was the rate the top magazines were paying.
Of course, one can also do the math more like:
$10,000 average book royalty / 1000 hrs = $10.00 / hour
But really, I'm just playing with numbers. The money is neither here nor there, because this section isn't about payment. I mean, long ago, I realized I'd make more money working a minimum wage job than writing, so it's not about the money. I just like talking about money, so I got sidetracked pretty easily whenever someone mentions the stuff...
The bottom line is that writing a novel (after all the rewrites) is a major time commitment, taking somewhere between 100-1,000 hours, with 300-600 being a more reasonable estimate.
Of course, a 'novel' only half as long will likely only take half the time. But even that is an oversimplification, as longer novels are inherently more complex than short ones; and thus, require far more effort to Fact Check and Pull Straight. Then again, there is no law that says a writer has to edit their manuscripts endlessly (sometimes I do and sometimes I don't). In fact, as one gets better, the number of required edits does decrease substantially. But that has as much to with avoiding the reasons for yet another re-write in the first place as it does with one become a better writer over time.
One of the reasons I like writing this type of page (and therefore, why I find myself writing this type of page so often) is that it is easy. I care about writing. I've spent a lot of time thinking about both writing in general and my specific take on it. Thus, I have a lot of facts and opinions at the ready on this subject. Which is all just another way of saying, I'm not really making anything up as I write this page. All I'm doing is stating facts (even if that fact is simply the fact of my opinion). It's simple. It's straightforward. It's easy. And I'll do the rough draft at about as fast as I can type; and then, read it once through (or maybe twice, it was twice) to correct some poorly formatted sentences (perhaps, this one, say, as a for instance). Of course, that's barring some cognitive blunder on my part that would justify a more comprehensive rewrite: poor organization, realizing halfway through that I didn't actually know as much as I thought I knew about writing... or as far more often the case, writing about something often changes my opinion on that something. It's one of the reasons I like writing; but there's no doubt, that sort of thing necessitates more editing. And, perhaps, counter intuitively, it's one of the reasons I enjoy writing fiction so much. I've never been able to 'daydream' a story as deeply as I've been able to develop one while writing; and although there's something to be said for being put on the spot and having to make something (anything up, during that initial rough draft) a lot of the story actually gets put into place during the endless rewrites.
Know what would go here? Should go here? An example, an elaboration, perhaps a splitting out of The Reasons to Edit into subsections. I call that kind of stuff Color Text: descriptions, conversations, and those little details that aren't important; and as such, as a writer, one doesn't think about them until the moment they are committing them to the written page.
For example (yes, we must have an example, that is after all, what color text is all about), I've been playing with a character called Beauregard as of late.
'Please, just call me Bo.'
He's an actor. I've been staying at his house. He's sitting on the couch. He's wearing a blue (his trademark color) polo shirt, which along with the white shorts, brown belt, and leather sandals is his casual, lounging around the house (more like a mansion), outfit of choice.
And he's reading a book. But what book?
'What book are you reading, Bo? The folks at home want to know.'
Of course, it's not a fair question, because I know the answer before I ask it: Zen and the Art of War. And although, it is true, it is what he had been reading; but now that I've put him on the spot, he's switched and is now reading, Machiavelli's Prince, which he informs by way of displaying the cover for the readers at home to see. It's a new cover, soft back, fresh from the printer. Personally, I would have hoped for an old hardback, first edition, with a special introduction by... some nefarious character, his arch-nemisis probably; so clearly, we'll have to come back to this. But for now, he's reading the paperback. Though, since there is a sort of communion between an author and his creation, Bo knows my thoughts and points to the glass covered, locked bookcase, behind him, wherein such a tome resides. 'I got nervous, didn't want the pages to rip,' he explains, hence the throwaway paperback in his hands.
And all this is color. And all this will move the plot forward. On some level, that book, that author, his nemesis, it is a call to the future, a promise to the reader (just not the reader of this blog) of things to come.
I find Color Text to be amazingly fun. It just rolls right out of my mind, lifts my fingers, and literally types itself onto the page. But it doesn't always make sense. Does that last sentence make sense? Or more importantly, because in the world of fiction (especially fantasy fiction of a farciful nature), sense (of the common variety) does tend to take a back seat. But it (whatever the it is) has to be consistent.
But whatever. It's all getting too confusing for me, so back to the example at hand.
Who is Bo's arch-nemisis? Probably Duke. So, it was probably Duke's grandfather who edited that first edition volume of The Prince and not Duke. But then, did the first edition of The Prince even have an introduction? If so, who was Duke's grandfather? Well, right, a duke, obviously, but which duke? And why was he editing The Prince?
If this was a story (and not an example of the writing process), I'd have to go back and reconcile these different ideas and make it all (somehow) consistent. I mean, only Duke or his Grandfather edited The Prince, clearly not both... unless the one had a time machine... or editing The Prince is some sort of familial right of passage... or Duke traces his lineage through Machiavelli...
Ah, so many delightful choices. But choosing a single choice and sticking with it is the essence of fact checking: making sure the story (i.e. the lie we commonly refer to as fiction) is consistent.
And finally, we come to nested constructions, which are sentences (thoughts really, but thoughts are expressed as sentences) that add a richness to the reading experience (and to the writing experience, if you'll allow me to say).
Basically, all the parenthetical comments in the above are Nested Constructions. And in a good story (or any bit of writing), the piece is close to being finished when adding more color and/or Nested Constructions (got to differentiate between the two) don't really add much... and in fact, get in the way (though, seriously, if you're not reading my stuff looking forward to me 'getting in the way', you might want to reconsider why it is that you are reading my stuff in the first place; but, ah, classic newbie mistake on my part, never invite your readers to leave the page, so scratch that thought).
And it would be about here that I would say 'Whatever' or insert some other transitional phrase, so that redirecting the focus back to the main narrative flow doesn't seem like such a jarring experience.
So, anyway (as opposed to whatever, because sometimes, anyway just seems to work better; but, whatever), adding nested constructions that actually make sense if pulled straight, along with attending to grammar and proper punctuation, that's a reread or two right there. And in an article like this, that's what I'm proofreading for (write the rough draft, pull it straight, correct for grammar; and that equals one, two, three rereads, and it's time to post the page). But in a novel, if it's any good (you know, any good in my opinion), for the first two, three, or four rewrites an unbelievable amount of color is still being added, which means additional facts are continually being inserted, facts that need to be kept in order (i.e. fact checked) and the effects of which trickle down the line (does the story still make sensse, oh, this contrasts with something said elsewhere, and so on). And this continues apace... until one day, the story is 'done'.
After experiencing how much depth and flavour is added during the rewrites, I can't see how they can be outsourced to another (as much as I'd like to do just that, I suppose that's the Holy Grail of a writing partner). On the other hand, once the story truly is 'done', I like the idea of letting someone else do the final proofread for punctuation, grammar, and even rewording a few of the trickier sentences. I say a few, because there will only be just a few, never mind what my editor says, probably time to get a new editor now that I think about it...
I figure I've got maybe a thousand hours split over six years invested into the Earth B©und edition of Minataur Tails, what, between editing, translating, and all the rest. I guess it would have taken me longer if I'd actually written the blessed thing. But maybe not. Word is, Celli (the Happy Go Lucky Celaphopod) is said to have written the rough draft in a K'fr induced stupor/spree in just over a month. And really, after six years editing, what's one more month between friends (especially if that last month is spent in a K'fr induced stupor 'slash' spree).
When I explain programming to non-programmers, I sometimes like to use the metaphor of gaming (not that I'm a gamer, but), one can either play games or make them, I choose to make them.
The same holds true for writing. One can either be a reader or a writer. Sure, this page is perhaps a colossal waste of time. But before I started writing, I'd just have spent the time reading. And the truth is, I've spent enough time reading to know my stuff isn't any worse than the rest.
Brett Paufler: His Stuff Wasn't Any Worse Than the Rest...
None of us should take ourselves too seriously. Not even Beauregard, staring out the window, watching the birds, trying desperately to plot out of his revenge... or at least, figure out his comeback role.
like Celli does.
Read the book,
find out why.
© copyright 2016 Brett Paufler
written 5-30-16 to 6-3-16
+/- six sprees of around an hour each
so, roughly, a day's labour to make this post
was it worth it...