Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Time Isn't On Your Side As A Writer

There are a lot of writers out there who take comfort in stories of late blooming authors. Tales of how someone didn't start releasing books until well into their forties, fifties, or sixties, finally standing up to tell their stories long past when other people would have given up and moved on. And I agree, there is something heartening about a story whose message is, "It's never too late."

This applies to more than just writers, of course.
With that said, I would like to grab all of you who are hanging onto that feel-good message, and give you a thorough shaking. Because it might be true that it's never too late to succeed, but it is definitely never too early to get started!

Are You Ready For The Marathon?

I've said it before, but it bears repeating; a writer's career is an iceberg. The part we all see (and the part those success stories I mentioned earlier focus on) is the actual release. The book, the collection, the work making it into the light of day, and being consumed by the masses. What we don't see is all the effort that went into making that project a reality.

That bottom part is what we're talking about, in case you were wondering.
That huge, pendulous foundation? That is the amount of work you put in behind the scenes. That's all the reading you do to brush up on technique, and to get genre savvy. That's all the sessions of taking notes, fleshing out ideas, and talking with your friends, loved ones, and occasionally rubber ducks about your stories. Most importantly, though, it represents the amount of time you spend actually writing, reviewing, editing, and publishing your work.

Because that's a thing that a lot of folks seem to forget... writing takes a long time. And good writing takes even longer, as a rule.

First off, let's talk about getting the idea ready. For some lucky few of us, stories come in a flash of inspiration, all gift-wrapped and ready to go. For the rest of us, though, we have to sit on the idea, and sculpt out the basics. Figure out who the main cast is, what is supposed to be happening, what world we're writing in, stuff like that. In my experience, and factoring in other writers I've talked to, this can take anywhere from a few hours, to a few days, to a few months. Some writers spend years on this stage, though I wouldn't recommend that.

So, let's say you're lucky, and it didn't take you more than a few days to nail down all your specifics. Cool. Now it's time to hammer out that first draft. If you're a Robert Louis Stevenson, or a Stephen King, you can bang that puppy out in a month or two. However, most of us don't get anywhere near 10,000 words per day. And given that most novels these days tend to trend more to 100,000 words than 50,000 words, you need to ask how long it's going to take you to reach that goal. Especially if you aren't writing every day, or you run into road blocks that require you to go back and change parts of your story in order to keep things cohesive.

For me, this process typically takes about a year or so. Lots of writers I know can do it in half that time, but I don't know too many folks who can claim less than a season for a first draft. And, typically, folks who can pound out a rough draft in such a short amount of time already have a lot of experience as authors, which isn't factoring into this equation.

Let's say you're really good, you write every day, and things go smoothly. So it's been about 7-9 months since you first decided to write this novel. Solid length of time for giving birth to a project. But wait, you're not done. Not even close! Because now you have to go through and edit that book you just wrote to make sure all those pesky mistakes, plot contradictions, and other errors are handled. Depending on your skill, experience, and how straightforward things went during the rough draft, this step can take anywhere from a few weeks, to most of a year.

Oh but wait, you're not done yet!
Once you've gotten that book as good as you think it can be, you then need to turn it over to your beta readers. Because no matter how good you think you are, you need fresh eyes on it to detect any problems you aren't seeing. Because what seems clear as day to you might confuse your readers, and they will notice when you spell a character's name differently in chapter 3, or when you give conflicting explanations about an event.

Depending on your beta readers, this review can take as little as a week, or as much as a few months. So let's say they're attentive, and get the changes back to you within a month. Then you need to make changes based on their feedback, which can take even more time.

At this point, we're looking at about 10 months to a year and change of effort, just to get one book to the point where it's ready for submission. If you want to put it up for sale yourself, that means you need to convert the file, make sure it follows all the guidelines for where you're publishing it, acquire the cover art, and generally handle all those loose ends. If you're fairly tech savvy, and you can handle all the blocking, conversion, and getting an attractive book cover put together. This could take a few hours on the weekend. If you're buying art, aren't all that familiar with the formatting requirements, etc., you can tack on more time. So, in general, getting your book ready to go up will take between a day and a week, depending on a bunch of different factors.

If you don't want to go the self-publishing route, though, you've got a long wait on your hands. Submissions to publishers often take months to get looked at, and bigger publishers can have you waiting years on a yes or no as they skim through all the other hopeful novelists out there. And a lot of publishers don't accept simultaneous submissions, so you have to get a yes or no before pitching your book to someone different. Also, even if your book does get accepted, it can take several months to several years before it gets released.

So, to recap. From inception to release, if everything goes smooth, you work hard, and you don't run into too many issues, you're looking at between 6 months if you're really good, and a year or so if you experience set backs for a self-published book. For a traditionally published book, you're looking at a year to several years, assuming your work doesn't get caught in the grinder just before it slows to a halt.

What Was The Point Of All That?

So why did I walk you through all of that? Especially since every writer is different, and average times are just a shot in the dark? Mostly, it was to point out all the time, energy, and raw effort it takes to get a project from being an electrical impulse in your brain, to being a fully-rendered story people can buy and read. Because it doesn't just happen overnight, and if you take comfort in the "some day" approach, then you might be overlooking how much work you have to do just to get to the point where you can see if this book was a winner or not.

Because more than anything else, writing takes time. And while you're never too old to tell stories, there isn't really any time to waste if you want to actually do this thing. If you want to be ready for that marathon in two years, you need to get off the couch and start your training today! Same goes for being a successful author. Pre-season started yesterday... so what are you going to do?

Also, for those who were interested in this post, you might also enjoy Making A Living As A Writer Is A Waiting Game and Don't Wait Until You're "Good Enough" To Get Paid.

That's all for this installment of Craft of Writing. Hopefully it did something to stoke your pilot light, if you were still in that "one day" frame of mind. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and to stay on top of all my updates follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to support me and my work, you can Buy Me A Ko-Fi, or drop a few quarters into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Either way, my eternal thanks and some free books are yours for the asking.

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