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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Length Matters

So, does length really matter?

You bet it does!

Especially when we're talking about how long it will take to write a particular story.

What were you thinking????


I had a visit from a friend yesterday who is working on his first book. All I'll give away here is that it is a fictional crime drama. And that he has been working on it for seven years. Yes, I said seven years. As in about 2,550 days. As in 84 months.

His target length for the book is about 100,000 words. Now, for a typical paperback book, you figure about 250 words per page, so he's shooting for around 400 pages. That's kind of typical. Now, let's assume that he actually finished the novel today at his target length, and we come up with him having written an average of 39.22 words per day.

Anyone see a problem here?

Yeah, he's going to starve to death at that rate.

So, how long should it take to write a particular novel?

That depends...

Most writers I know, and this includes me, have the plot all outlined at least in their head long before the first word hits paper. Well, screen, anyway. I'm not going to address the time needed to outline the story at all here, because that is way too variable. All I'm talking about here is the actual writing and research needed to get the manuscript written.

In many talks with publishers, both print and electronic, they estimate an author will write a certain number of words per day. They break authors into two big categories...

(1) Established, Experienced Authors: The average seems to be someplace around 1,500 words per day. The editor working directly with the author later adjusts this figure to fit the individual.

(2) New, Inexperienced Authors: The average for this group seems to be someplace around 500 words per day. Again, the editor working directly with the author later adjusts this figure to fit the individual.

If we take these numbers, a publisher would expect an experienced author to write a 100,000-word story in about 67 days. Call it two months. That same story by a newcomer would probably take around 200 days, or just over six months.

Yeah, seven years is more than a little over the top.

The key thing for authors to take from this is the need for discipline and dedication and devotion. You set yourself a target word count and a target time to complete the book. A little spreadsheet will help those not mathematically inclined. Here's an example...

You want to write a book that is 50,000 words long (about 200 pages) and you want to get it done in two months. That means you have 60 days to do it. OK, it could be as long as 62 days or as short as 59 days. Give me a break! Anyway, if you simply divide 50,000 by 60, you find that you have to average 834 words a day to reach your goal. In other words, if you write 3-4 pages per day, your book will be done on time. See above.

Some days, for some reason, you may not be able to write that much. Other days, you may be able to write more. The key is the daily average. As long as the daily average is more than 834 words, you're OK. Again, a little spreadsheet helps you keep track.

To put this into perspective, this blog is nearly 1,000 words long, and I wrote it in under 30 minutes. And the kids interrupted me three times, the cats twice, Jack was in here once, and Tripper made a stop for a cookie.

Why could I do it so fast? Because I knew ahead of time what I wanted to say. I had the outline in my head, and all I needed to do was flesh it out.

Same as a book.

Have you read The Polyamorous Princess? That book is about 100,000 words long and I wrote it from start to finish in less than a month, including the outline stage. I think I spent about 22 days on the actual writing. Even if we use a full month, that comes to 3,334 words per day. It was actually closer to 4,500 words per day.

The trick is to stay focused and don't get all wrapped up around the axle.

Don't fret over every single word. Just write. You can edit later, but if you never actually tell your story, no one will ever see it.

I mentioned that my friend has a target of about 100,000 words, but that's pure conjecture on his part. In seven years, he has about 2,000 words actually written. The story has changed—and I mean major changes—about every three or sour months.

He has no focus and if we are totally honest, he has no story. He doesn't know what to say or how to say it. He can't tell where he's been, and he has no clue about where he's going.

I think a huge part of this is that he's afraid to finish the story.

He fears that an acquisitions editor will shred him. He's afraid that someone will tell him that his story is just a rehash of a million other crime dramas. And he has over the last seven years poured his soul into this book.

My advice to him—and to all fledgling authors—is to write your story. Get through it. Focus and get it done. Get it out on the streets and have it make the rounds. File the rejections in the trash after gleaning what you can. Write more stories. Revise the first one. Send them all out again.

Get past the fear.

Grow beyond the inability to stay on task.

Become a real author.

Keep Loving!

Melodee Aaron, Erotica Romance Author
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Melodee's Books at BookStrand
Inquisitor Betrayer

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