Someone recently asked me this question: how long does it take you to write a book? I paused for a moment before answering, because I was pretty sure the other person expected a pretty straightforward answer. Something like, “three months, two weeks and four days, give or take”.
Of course, as anyone who’s done any kind of fiction writing knows, the answer is way more complicated than that.
Every book is different
For a start, the answer is different for each book I’ve written. And in some cases it doesn’t even have anything to do with word count. Some books just write themselves – they come quickly and relatively easily (I’m cautious about using the word “easy” when it comes to writing!) and before you know it, you’re typing “The End”.
Other books make you struggle for every word. Or they start off fine, and then the muse up and disappears after chapter three. Then, six months later she’s back, whispering in your ear, “Hey, remember that story we abandoned? Well, how about...”
You can’t really count the time in between as writing time. Although obviously, somewhere in your subconscious, it’s still been kicking around, working itself out. So it still kind of counts!
What do you mean by “finished”?
As we know, there isn’t one finish line when it comes to writing. Typing “The End” on your first draft is really a beginning, just as much as a finishing. There’s editing, redrafting, rewriting, restructuring...
And then, when your story makes it into the hands of a publisher there’s a whole new finish line ahead. Editorial/structural edits. Then line edits. Then author alterations. Then, THEN, finally, your book is done and off to the printing presses (or equivalent e-book formatting!).
“I never finish anyway...”
I know a lot of writers who struggle with finishing their stories. A lot of agents and publishers only want the first three chapters for submission, so there is a temptation not to bother with writing the book much past that. And, let’s face it, the first part of a book is usually the easiest – we’re still in love with our characters and the novelty of our story is still fresh and exciting.
I’m a bit of a believer in the school of thought around the law of attraction. It basically says that your attitudes and behaviours have a lot to do with the kind of opportunities life sends your way. And I think if you only ever write three chapters, you’re kind of putting it out there that it’s okay that no one ever asks you for more than that. Not to mention the fact that you’re really not giving yourself the full experience of being a writer. Writing the opening of a story is relatively easy. Seeing it through to fruition, watching your conflicts play out, keeping the tension alive, avoiding the “saggy middle” – they’re all writing skills that you’ll never use if you never go past the first three chapters.
And, on a very practical level, when the right editor does hit upon your work and asks to see the rest, if you’ve already written it (or at least most of it) you’re in a fantastic position to do some polishing, some final writing and send it off quick-smart before they forget about you! Responding quickly as a writer is important (even if responding quickly as publishers and editors is practically unheard of!).
So what’s the answer?
How long is a piece of string? How long it takes is up to you. As with so much in writing, there’s no right or wrong answer. The only misstep you make, I think, is in not meeting the challenge to reach “The End”.
Emmie’s latest book is a novella, Spellbound. She thinks it probably took about three weeks to write, three months to polish, and three years to get published.
Spellbound link: http://www.destinyromance.com/products/9781743481035/spellbound
Find Emmie on the web:
Have you read the weekend papers and now sit, with third latte in hand, looking for something writerly to read? I have it for you. Here at the MRWG we are blessed with talented writers.
As it’s the first Sunday of the month, I thought I’d round up some of February’s blogs, just in case you missed a gem.
In alphabetical order, here’s a brief outline of what’s been posted.
Anna Cowen has been blogging about the art and essence of storytelling on her blog, Diary of an Accidental Housewife. (http://annacowan.com/
),yes this is the right link. During February, Anna visits the movie Dirty Dancing and also recounts an enchanting fairy tale with a strong heroine as opposed to the kind that waits around to be saved.
Emmie Dark (http://emmiedark.blogspot.com.au/
) has been posting an informal diary of her sojourn in the USA. Her photos and experiences take us off the usual tourist path and show us some of the quirky side of Texas and California. Even though we’re quite Americanized in many ways, here in Australia, Emmie shows us some fun differences.
Louise Reynolds at Lou Writes ( http://louwrites.wordpress.com/
) has been entertaining subscribers with a series called Cooking The Books. In my life as a bookkeeper it mean’s telling a few porkies, however Louise’s guests have been talking honestly about writing and cooking. A reoccurring theme is the emotional link food creates with our past and how that can evolve into inspiration for stories.
Serena Tatti of Story Editor (http://serenatattistoryeditor.blogspot.com/
) has been interviewing writers during Feb. Her guests have been sharing accounts of their writing experience. Juanita Kee’s explores loving your character and Suzanna Ross shares her experience regarding the magic of writing friends.
Well that’s a taste of what some of the MRWG members have been offering through their blog’s. If you've read them, I hope my post helped you to remember how great they were. If you haven’t seen them yet, you have a treat in store.
On the other side of “the call”
by Emmie Dark
I realized the other day that I’ve just reached the year’s anniversary of the date I got my “call”. It’s been an amazing twelve months and I thought it was timely to re-cap some of the key moments of my journey. So, with a whole one year’s experience as a published author, here’s my recap on the year so far.
Things I expected:
There are lots of exciting things that come with being a first-time published author. Holding your book in your hands for the very first time. Seeing your book on a shelf in a store. The first time a reader – someone you’ve never even met – writes to you to tell you they enjoyed reading your story.
So is finally getting the call and seeing your dreams come true as exciting as you always thought? You better believe it.
Things I didn’t expect:
All the things I just mentioned become even more precious because of the blood, sweat and tears you put into your book AFTER the call. That’s right – unfortunately the hard work of polishing your manuscript until it glows in order to get it noticed is only the very first step in getting it out to readers. You’re going to have to polish that book until your fingers cramp and you’re so sick of every single word you never want to see it again.
Of course, I knew there would be work to be done – no book is perfect. But I don’t think I’d ever properly thought about what life would be like as a proper author, when writing was a job and not just a passion.
And that leads me to my third and final point:
Things I wish I’d known:
Unless you’re incredibly fortunate, odds are you won’t be able to quit your day job when you get your call. But you know what? Being a published author is pretty much a full-time job. So prepare to work two jobs for a while.
Sleep is overrated, isn’t it?
One other thing I should mention, and I guess it goes under the heading of “Things I didn’t expect”, is the pleasure of seeing your book under various different covers.
Cassie and Ronan’s story is out this month (July) in Australia and New Zealand as a “Blush” imprint from Mills and Boon. It has a pretty pink/mauve cover with a lovely, happy-looking couple who I’m quite happy to consider to be Cassie and Ronan.
I imagine the thrill must wear off for some of those authors with dozens and dozens of books in translation all around the world. But for me there’ a special thrill in seeing Cassie’s Grand Plan with a different cover – perhaps because it’s the Australian release, right here in my very own home town.
We’ve all been there. The words have been flowing, we’ve been powering through the story, our characters and story have been unfolding before our eyes. And then . . . out of nowhere . . . it stops.
You don’t know why your previously wonderful story has suddenly mired itself in what feels like the Bog of Eternal Stench. But all of a sudden opening that file and sitting down to work is no longer the pleasure it was yesterday.
It’s very easy at this point to send yourself into a downward spiral – questioning yourself, your story, your characters, your writing skill. But my advice, when you’re stuck like this, is that this is the very worst time to start editing or revising. It’s like being mid-battle and stopping to rearrange your troops—unlikely to help you win the war.
What you really need to do is get writing again. You need to get that spark back and push through that swampy mud and get to the other side. Then, once you’re through, you can go back and re-work things from a place of positivity and optimism.
Here are a few techniques that have helped me when I’ve been in exactly this kind of spot.
Change point of view (POV)
This is a very old idea, but I have used it more times than I can count. Scene not working? Switch it up. If you’re in the heroine’s POV, stop right where you are and take up again in the hero’s. Or try re-writing the scene completely—again if it’s the heroine’s POV, make it the hero’s. I don’t really know why this works, but it has done the trick for me over and over.
Get comfortable with pondering time
You know what? Sometimes maybe you’re not writing because your ideas just need time to simmer. For someone like me who’s pretty focused on productivity, the idea that thinking is sometimes more important than doing is a little tough to accept. But it’s something that I’ve come round to, the more writing I do. Having goals and deadlines are important, absolutely, but so is space and time to get things right. Give yourself a break and remember that what you are doing is an act of creation and you can’t always schedule creativity.
Be more disciplined
On the flip side to what I’ve just said, taking too long to mull things over isn’t going to get your book finished either. Sometimes the hard work of writing is sitting down to do it when you don’t want to. When you can think of a hundred other things (like cleaning the bathroom and sorting out that messy second-drawer-down in the kitchen) that you’d prefer. Perhaps, what you have to do is just sit there and not allow yourself to get up again until you’ve written 500 words (or a 1000, or whatever your personal goal is). It might not be great, but at least it’s more than you had before.
I’ve found that sometimes you just have to write yourself out of that corner. You can go back later and make it perfect, just move things along – getting your characters to the next point of the story is the most important thing for now.
Have someone new read it
You probably already have crit partners who love your work and are ready with encouragement and support. (If you don’t, you need some!) But sometimes, I hate to say it, that old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” starts to take hold. It’s not that you no longer value their opinions, it’s just that you can kind of predict what they’re going to say. Or perhaps they’re just going to say wonderful things about you when what you need is a kick up the pants (or vice versa!).
Having a fresh set of eyes look over your work can be a great way to get a new perspective on what’s happening. Someone who hasn’t been part of the journey to get to where you are now might just see the glaring point where you narratively turned left instead of right.
And sometimes, just seeing your writing through a new set of eyes can help you to look at it freshly again and perhaps find the thread you need to follow (or unpick) to get you back on track.
If you’re feeling a little blocked I hope these hints provide some help to set you going again. Whatever you do, don’t lose your momentum.
By Emmie Dark
It’s a strange recommendation to make, I know. Why would I urge writers – especially romance writers, whose key tool of trade is dialogue – to go see a silent movie?
If you haven’t heard about it, “The Artist” is a new release movie that’s not only filmed in black and white, it’s almost entirely silent. (It has a beautifully orchestrated score.) At its heart, it’s a love story between a fading silent-movie hero, George Valentin, and a rising talking-movie diva, Peppy Miller.
As I was watching the movie, I was struck by how the actors and all the things surrounding them (the set, lighting, costumes, music, etc) had to work so hard to tell their story in the absence of dialogue. How do we know George Valentin’s wife is unhappy in their marriage? Amongst other things, she draws fake moustaches and blacks out his teeth in the photos of him that appear in the newspaper. She doesn’t ever say, “I’m not in love with you anymore.” But we see it, clear as day, through her actions.
I loved the opportunity to observe, without the distraction of dialogue, all the elements that go into telling a story. Facial expressions, body language, habits, tics. All the vital things writers need to use to envelop a reader in their story, to immerse them in the life of their characters.
Without giving away any spoilers, there is an important scene, a turning point in the story, that is beautifully shot on a multi-level staircase. Apart from the obvious symbolism of George going down the stairs while Peppy is going up, there is acres of meaning in their postures and expressions that tell us what is going on for each of them at that point in their lives. There is a tiny amount of dialogue in the scene – provided through captions on the screen – from each of them, but many layers of meaning behind their otherwise superficial words.
Perhaps it was because the actors had to deliberately exaggerate their expressions and movements that I was suddenly noticing elements of movie making that I don’t usually pick up in the average Hollywood blockbuster. Perhaps today’s movies are so much more subtle than those of the silent era that we don’t notice the characters in quite the same way. Or perhaps it was simply that without the audio queues of dialogue I had to rely on my other senses to “feel” what was going on. Whatever it was that was happening, I was constantly amazed at the level of meaning the story managed to convey.
I couldn’t help thinking that it was just like a good book, when there’s more happening than what appears on the page. When an author has skilfully shown you their characters, has drawn you into their lives, you feel their pain, share their excitement, cry when they grieve. And this occurs without the author telling you what’s happening, without queues that say “feel sad now”.
“The Artist” manages to tell a fascinating story without actually “telling” you very much at all. That’s a trick most of us writers can learn from.