anghara (anghara) wrote,


On the VOyageronline messageboard, a poster just wrote the following:

Here's a question that occured to me after my legs started cramping because I've been sitting in the same spot one too many hours writing. I've been writing every weekend for the last month (writing during the week is impossible) but I'm now up to 50,000 words on my third manuscript (that's not just a months worth). However for me that's fast.

So the question...

What sort of writing speed is required of a full time author? How long are you given to write for example 150,000 words?

Out of curiousity how often does everyone in the PZ sit down a write and how many words do you churn out a week or a month?

I know most of the non-published authors here have jobs and like me have to find the time to write. How do you manage?

Also is it possible to have a job and be a full time writer? What are the demands of being a full time writer?

It's the classic sort of thing that young writers ask, so I'll give it a bash :

Question 1: There is no such thing as "writing speed". Producing 150 000 words of novel A might take half as long or twice as long as producing 150 000 words of novel B - because they are DIFFERENT WORDS, and you are writing them at different times, and there simply is no "Average" for this. My "Secrets of Jin Shei" took me three and a half months, and was 200 000 words long; my first YA book took closer to SIX months (five and change) and that's less than half the wordcount. It takes as long as it takes. But having said that you'd be really surprised how deadlines put a motor in the boat...

Question 2: for me, ALMOST every day (let me get back to that in just a sec). Sometimes it's 10 000 words, sometimes it's 1000 words, and sometimes the 1000 words are better than the entire 10 000-word screed. I can write fifty thousand words in a month or in two months or in two weeks - see question above. A note about that "almost" just above, though - not all writing is putting words on paper. SOmetimes I do research reading. Sometimes I go for a walk to clear my head and get my characters to start talking to me one at a time instead of everyone yelling for attention at once. It's all writing.

Question 3: People have written (and published) novels sitting at the kitchen table at 4 AM while the rest of the famly is asleep. Back to question 1 - it doesn't have to happen in a month, or even a year. A novel will take as long as it takes. If it wants to be written... trust me... it will ride you like a demon. My mother calls this my writing virus - when something bites I will MAKE time to write it. You will make the time, or you will quit. One of the other. Most writers... make time.

Question 4: MOST writers have fulltime jobs. Some survive on their writing income. A number might even live on such income. A handful live WELL on such income. But some means of paying the day to day bills is necessary, so there's either that job, or havign a spouse/partner who can commit to paying those bills while you chase your Muse around the kitchen table at 4 AM. Here's a few things you might need to know:

* reputable publishers will pay an author an advance against royalties. What this means is that you won't see another cent from that book until it's earned out, i.e. until your 6% or 10% or whatever percentage of the book's price that your contract states you are entitled to receive as your royalties equals and then surpasses the amount you were handed for your advance. This, for first novels, rarely happens. High advances are great, but do remember that they are doled out in installments, and a six-figure advance gets broken into three or sometimes four pieces, and THOSE get docked for agent fees (if you have an agent, and you probalby do, if you're getting a six-figure advance) and then the taxman takes a cut, and you have to live on a chunk of your money until the next chunk comes in. Unfortunately you can't pay your rent or your utilities the same way. Don't get dollar signs in your eyes if you see a large advance - start budgeting, now.

* agentless writers - the beginners, the ones starting out - will get much lower advances to start with. This makes the odds against earning out a little better, but the chunks are smaller, too, and the gaps between them don't shrink.

* holding down a full-time job while writing your books is NOT easy, and cheating (such as writing your books while at said job) tends to be frowned on. If you have any kind of a life - friends, a social calendar, spouses, kids, the responsibilities of home and hearth - your writing will be wrung out of spare minutes, the commute to work, the coffee breaks, waiting for the watched pot to boil. YOu will have to make choices, in the end - write another 500 words or watch "Lost" on TV with your sweetie, for instance. You WILL have to make choices. Writing can be a demanding thing to commit to, and it is simply not easy - and if you think that it's easier if your day job too involves some sort of writing or literature of any kind, you couldn't be more wrong - people like tech writers who spend their days in front of computers typing tech manuals are going to find it very hard to come home and spend their free time in front of a computer producing deathless prose; librarians who shelve a hundred books in a day are going to find it hard to get enthused about yet another struggling to be born. In one sense a perfectly mindless manual job is precisely what the doctor ordered - you can let your mind go into overdrive and "Write" something in your head while doing a routine and repetitive task. Whatever the job, there WILL be drawbacks. There is always stress when you allow yourself to be pulled in several different diretions at once. Ambition plays its part too, and you might find yourself turning down a good job with the possitilities of advances or a raise because... well... because it will take take time from your writing. THat is a courageous choice, a choice of someone who knows what writing means in the context of their lives. Not all people might have the courage to make such a choice, especially those in a position where they have to support a family. The point is this: you and only you can know how much you are willing to commit to your writing, in terms of resources, in terms of time, in terms of sacrifice. Most writers have written their published works while making such sacrifices. The things that matter come at a price. Be prepared for the bill.

As far as the demands on a fulltime writer are concerned, it's like this.

There are a bunch of things that a writer needs to know, or to have.

* humility - in the sense of being able to take editorial commentary and changes and understanding that they are sometimes necessary to make a better book.

* stubbornness, for when such suggestions are really something up with which yuo cannot put.

* the ability to face rejection, and not to let it destroy you.

* a knowledge of your strengths

* a knowledge of your weaknesses

* perseverance, for by losing hope you lose your chance of success

* a sense of wonder

* A knowledge of the rules, so that you know when to break them and how to break them.

* enthusiasm

* an understanding of "sic transit gloria", and knowing how to catch your instant of "gloria" and use it well.

But those are all pesonal qualities required in order to aim for success in this career. The demands ON a writer are...

...first and foremost,TIME. There is never enough time. There aren't enough hours in a day, there aren't enough days in a month, there aren't enough months in a year. Ask a writer what they want for Christmas and you're liable to get "TIME!" yelled at you at high volume. WHy? well, it isn't just writing. It's the rewriting. And the revisions. And the copyedits that come back at you from the publisher. And the publicity that the publisher wants you to do. And the research. And the preparing of taxes. And that isn't even taking into account the laundry, the need to go out and buy groceries, the concoction of said groceries into something resembling a meal, the walking the dog, the cleaning of cat litter pans, the fetching and carrying of potential kids, the taking the car to its service or going to a child's school play or a doctor's appointment, or the reading of a book that you WANT to read and not HAVE to read for research purposes. I for one am not super organizsd, but you have to have SOME sort of priorities; work out what they are early. And in between all this, while your current book is being prepared for being born, you are *supposed* to be working on the next.

...something to say, and the ability of saying it. There are two kinds of writers in the world really. One kind is the pure storyteller whose infelicities of language or a slight tin ear for dialogue you forgive because of a gallopping good story and yuo just don't CARE about finessing the craft; the other is the finesser, who loves the language, who writes luminous prose but who may or may not be comprehensible to the average reader. They usually gravitate to different genres and have a different readership, and there are as many different readers as there are writers and things will find their audience - but that basic idea remains. You HAVE to have something to say, and you HAVE to have at least a basic ability to convey it. This is what cannot be taught in a writing class - you can be taught grammar or how to construct a story on a purely intellectual level - but that spark, that something to say, that has to come from you, and it's unteachable. People have certainly been known to write scintillating prose that is supremely empty of anything other than a self-obsession with its own perfection. I'm not saying that everything you write has to have a Message. Not every story has a moral. But it has to be a story, and at the heart of it a story is about change. You have to understand what makes people change.

...and on that note, you HAVE to be able to understand motivation and what moves characters to make choices. Making the wrong choices moves the story forward just as much as the right choice does. Characters who are real people are rarely purely bllack-and-white - there are shades of gray in everyone and you have to know people well enough to perceive that. You have to give even the most powerful of protagonists an Achilles heel - for if he can do everything and is completley invincible, where's the story? Nothing can ever happen to that guy.

...professionalism. Dealing with the people in the chain of publishing. You make your reputation in this business with everything you do, and editors talk to one another - you do the right thing once, it'll spread. You behave like a prima donna, that'll spread too. One of my editors told of a fellow who somehow managed to get THROUGH directly to her - not easy in today's cutthroat world! - and then, even more importantly, to catch her interest with a couple of sample chapters. She said she was interested in the MS. As soon as she suggested any changes, however, she got a letter from the author explaining why his writing was Holy Writ and could not be touched and was, as it stood, much better than anything that she had ever published before. She didn't publish him. It is doubtufl if any other editor to whom she might have mentioned this story would have made him an offer either. I am not saying you should simply fold on everything - but choose the battles you want to fight and make sure that if you choose to stand your ground on something you have ammunition to defend your decision - make sure yuo can explain WHY you want something to remain untocuhed. Editors will generally work with you, not against you. Hand in your work on time or ahead fo deadline, respond to questions asked of you in a timely and comprehensive manner, and then write the next book that that editor is likely to want to buy, particularly given that (s)he now knows that you are a professional who is easy to work with.

...Basic social skills required to do even the most rudimentary of publicity. You WILL be asked to help with it. It isn't all in the publisher's court. You have to know how to be polite, how to smile, how to talk to a bookseller, a colleague, a fan. A little of this goes a long way. You also have to learn that being friendly and even pro-active does NOT mean being obnoxious, that talking on no other topic than yourself gets old really fast, and that you will sell more books by being an interesting human being. Of course, when you're rich and famous and have a huge following you are free to cultivate a curmudhgeonly reputation and are expected, even encouraged, to occasionally put both feet in your mouth when quoted in public. But in the beginning... be kind. Be nice. Be polite. Be friendly. And cultivate being interesting.

...stick-to-it-iveness. The ability to push throught the thorn thickets, and come out the other side - scratched and bleeding, perhaps, but proud of your scars. There will be vales of tears. They are no easier for that they are expected, but they may be more endurable that way. Faith manages, as Lennier in Babylon 5 once said - and faith - in yuourself, your work, the people who help you publish your work and the people who read it - will get you through in the end.

Write. Accept critique from qualified persons. Be kind to others. Believe.
Tags: cogitations, writing, writing life

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