I’d already planned this week’s topic and then the writing discourse, as some call it, veered toward length anyway. So call it happy coincidence. Or serendipity.
Okay, granted, they were talking about how long a manuscript should be, and we’ve talked about that here before
. It’s old news, right? This week, when I’m talking about length, I wanted to talk about time. How long some of this takes.
I’ve blathered on before about how easy it is to follow your favorite writers on social media these days. So many of them are active to some degree on one platform or another. And they toss out advice and updates about their work. Plus, we can find authors at our own level
, people who are going through the same struggles and frustrations.
Not surprisingly, we end up comparing ourselves to these other folks. Yeah, there’s dozens of reasons not to, but we can’t help ourselves. It’s human nature. We’re curious how we measure up. Has she written more than me? Does he write faster than me? How did their career take off so much faster than mine?
And a lot of the time, the answers to these questions are a bit intimidating. Maybe even discouraging. I mean, I’ve been working on this book for over a year now and she just pumped one out in eight weeks? What the hell? I know other writers aren’t my competition but seriously… how am I supposed to compete with that?
So the point I wanted to make is that… well, art’s a little subjective. It’s not like a construction project where we can say we broke ground last May and people are moving in this month. A lot of the starting and stopping points of art can be a little fuzzy. And some people… well, play with that fuzz. So to speak.
Like, we’ve talked before about how long it takes to write a book. Some folks consider the starting point when they started outlining. Some consider it when the idea first struck them. And others say they started writing when they typed Chapter One.
Let’s consider my first published novel– Ex-Heroes
. When did I start writing it? Well, I made up a lot of the characters before I hit high school
, so that was the early ‘80s. I jotted down my first rough notes in the summer of 2006, but I didn’t start actively working on it until mid-2008. So when did I start? Depending on how you want to look at it, we could say it took twenty-five years or about six months to write.
That’s not even considering most traditionally-published novels
go through an editing process that can be a few months, and it might be even more months before the book’s actually out there in the world. So when are we saying the book’s done? When I turn it in? When the publishers edits are done? When the layouts are locked and it goes to print?
Or how about this one–a common yardstick people like to look at. How long was it from when you started writing until your first novel? But again, both of those points are kind of debatable. Yeah, I sold Ex-Heroes
in late 2008, but it didn’t actually come out until early 2010. And there were a couple novels before it, but they didn’t sell. The first full novel that I actually completed
was started in early ‘93 and finished in 2001… but then I spent about three years editing and rewriting. So when was my “first” novel?
And when did I start writing? When I was eight and blocking out original Star Wars stories in my Kenner Death Star playset? When I started using my mom’s massive electric typewriter? When I first started submitting stuff? When I started writing the first novel I actually finished? When I quit my film job to start writing full time? When I quit that job to start writing fiction full time? Any of these is a valid starting point, but they cover about thirty years.
Hopefully you see what I’m getting at. I can easily—and truthfully—say I started writing anytime between 1979 and 2010 and give solid justifications for why that’s the point I chose. Likewise, I can manipulate how long it took to go from “starting to work” to “first sold novel” and make it look really fast or really slow. I mean, we’ve talked once or thrice about the overnight success with a decade or more of work behind them
And there’s a lot of reasons people might give these different figures. It could be a marketing thing. It might just be what they think counts as actual “writing.”
Maybe it’s a deliberate attempt to fudge the numbers to try to make themselves look more impressive. It might be how some MFA professor
taught them to do it and they’ve never shaken that particular habit.
My point is… don’t worry about these numbers. I shouldn’t worry abut how long it took to write my book. I don’t have to freak out because it feels like my career hasn’t taken off yet. My speed is my speed
. Yeah, we’re all going to compare ourselves to other people’s numbers, but just remember… those numbers may have a bit of range to them.
Actually, before I talk about next time—if you happen to be of the reviewing type and have access to NetGalley, my new novel The Broken Room is now there and can be requested. For the rest of you… holy crap, only eighteen more days!
Anyway, next time let’s talk about… the unknown.
(cue spooky music)
Until then, go write.