For me, anyway.

In the beginning, I didn’t know if I had the talent or the discipline to write. Talent is part gift, but mostly about experience and practice. It was too early to do anything about that, but write. Only time could tell me if I had the knack. I could, however, determine easily if I had the discipline. That’s what I want to talk about, today…

When I decided that I wanted to write a novel, I really had no idea how to pull it off, or if I could. My biggest fear was that I might have the talent, but that I would lack the skill to turn out work at an acceptable pace. So, I did some research on the web. I visited every site I could find on how to break into writing.  I took the tips that were repeated by the different  authors – Joe Konrath is a freaking self-publishing deity, BTW – and added them to my master plan.

Once you eliminate everything that has to do with inspiration, mechanics, grammar and the creative process – I’ll talk about those in later entries – the remainder mostly concerns itself with setting and maintaining a writing schedule. There are many reasons to set schedules, not the least of which is the fact that if you land a book deal, you will be required to meet deadlines.

I hate deadlines. I hated them when I was in school, and it has only gotten worse. To be honest, I can’t stand to have structured work hours either.  Luckily, my day job allows me to work a flexible schedule. I knew when I started my novel, that if anything took the joy out of writing, deadlines would be what did it. I told myself that, after finishing my book, if I looked back and saw that my need to meet a schedule had caused me too much stress or had made me compromise my artistic needs outside a reasonable amount, writing was probably not for me.

From what I have read, a first time author needs to have a 100,000 word manuscript in hand before approaching an agent. If that author gets a book deal, said author will need to produce additional manuscripts. Almost always, the publisher will demand that the author get the manuscripts to them in plenty of time to have them edited, typeset and released at a rate of about one a year. In my estimation, the author will probably have six calendar months at most to complete each manuscript. It’s usually less than that, BTW, but, I didn’t know that back then and six months was my best guess.

If the author treats writing like a day job and writes 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, he (or she) will have 1040 hours of writing time in that six month period. For a 100,000 word manuscript, that is about 100 words an hour. Some authors prefer to measure output in words per day, so let’s say that in order to meet that deadline, the author must write 800 words a day. That may not have any resemblance to reality, but as I like to say on my day job, “It gives us a metric to measure our performance against. If we have to, we can always tune the metric, later.”

Speaking of my day job, it keeps me occupied, one way or another, from about 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM, Monday through Friday. I like to sleep, so slip in a few hours between midnight and 6:30 AM. I also have a wife and three daughters who require my attention regularly, and a grandson that plays sports year-round. Oh, I almost forgot, all of my doctors got together and demanded that I get more exercise. You get the picture. I’m busy. I probably don’t have enough free time to churn out a 100,000 page manuscript in a six-month period. We’ll have to just measure output and compare it to the ideal later.

I decided to start my book on 15-November-2009. I set 31-May-2010 as the deadline to finish the manuscript. I set a goal of 100,000 words, but I didn’t think that my story would need that many. I would have been happy with 85,000 and take a chance that somebody would consider it anyway.

The first 10,000 words came in the first five days, even though I tended to write and do my content editing all at once. I have since learned that tweaking as you write slows you down and may even cause you to write yourself into a corner that requires major re-writes to get out of later. By 01-December-2009 I had written 32,000 words, but only half of those were in my manuscript. I pulled 4,500 words for use in my second book, because once the story started to flow, it looked almost nothing like the original concept I had. Another 11,000 or so, were pulled because I needed to rewrite them to fit the changing storyline.

I had also written about 7,000 words that had nothing to do with my novel by 01-December-2009. For some reason, I got inspired to begin a short story from an idea that I had been carrying around for almost twenty years and I also wrote a couple of scenes for a short story that popped into my head from out of nowhere.

I was scheduled to be off work for the last two weeks of 2009, and I was looking forward to taking that time to write. If I could duplicate my efforts from November, I should have my book halfway done by the first of the year. As it happened, I didn’t write a new scene the whole of December, even though I had ideas for at least half a dozen chapters running around in my head. I did spend a few days rewriting existing scenes and by the end of December, my manuscript was back up to 29,500 words.

January and February of 2010 were rough. I spent most of that time sweating over a three chapter section that wasn’t working for me. Other chapters were coming to me here and there, and I was recording them, but if I couldn’t work this conflict out, the other chapters that I had written since the first of year would lose their context and have to be scrapped. The first week of March 2010, an idea came to me that would fix things, but I still needed to scrap some of what I wrote in January and February. Looking back at the old saves on my hard drive, I had written 67,000 words by that time, but only 45,000 were in my manuscript.

By 12-March-2010, I had worked through the section of the book that was bothering me, and had found a way to add most of what I had cut at the end of February back into the manuscript. Up until the end of March 2010 the words flowed until I had almost 80,000 in the manuscript. Then it seemed as if every bit of creativity had been sucked out of me. I knew where the book should go. I had solved all of the conflicts I was having with the storyline. I just could not write. I couldn’t force myself to write. I would sit at my computer and stare at the screen. It was strange. I had the storyline in my head, but couldn’t put any of it on the page. I tried skipping around, but no part of the story flowed. I stopped trying and let it rest for almost three weeks.

Then, out of the blue, I sat at my computer and just started to write. Words started flowing again as mysteriously as they had stopped. The problem was, I was writing new scenes that conflicted with my manuscript. They were just too good to throw out. I had to go back and do rewrites again. Somehow, by 01-May-2010 I had put over 95,000 words in my manuscript, but I estimated that in order to end the book with the change in storyline, I would need at least another 30,000 words. I wondered if I should rethink what I had written and consider splitting it into two books. No. That caused more problems than it solved.

May 2010 was another difficult month. I wrote a lot, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that the storyline needed to be rethought to give the book a satisfying close. My manuscript deadline came and went. I had met one part of it. I had written over 140,000 words, but I still had a manuscript that was not finished, even though it contained 110,000 of those words. I was cutting into my editing time, now. I had planned to have the manuscript edited and ready to shop around by the end of August.

I can’t remember writing anything of consequence in June of 2010. I didn’t write at all for the first two weeks of July. I went on my second honeymoon. But, somehow I ended up with a 159,000 word manuscript by the end of August. I still needed to finish one chapter. It was hard to write and I had put off writing it. It was pivotal and there were holes in some of the logic that were bothering me. I spent all of September and most of October doing copy-editing of the existing chapters. I also took another look at some chapters that I pulled out. One made it back in. It actually helped fill in one of the holes I had.

On 24-October-2010, I added a status entry to my Facebook page celebrating the fact that the manuscript was done. The manuscript was huge. More than 165,000 words huge. I spent the next two months checking the manuscript for errors (I didn’t find them all, but that is for another post.) and then on Christmas Eve, I packaged it for distribution to Amazon DTP.

I had my book done, and I had enough material running around in my head for another book, maybe even two or three more. I was whipped, though. The manuscript was way over the size where I thought a publisher would consider chancing it for a first time novelist. I had decided that sending it around was not a good idea. The Kindle Store was the best I would be able to do. Worse yet, I missed every deadline that I set. I determined that after thirteen months of hard work, I should hang it up. I felt that I had failed miserably and couldn’t cut it in the world of publishing. Even though my finished book enthralled everyone who read it.

Then, somebody asked me a really interesting question. How much actual time did you spend writing? As in, “How many man hours did it actually take you to finish your book?”

I got to thinking. I made the best estimate I could. Even though the manuscript was a little over 165,000 words, I wrote around 205,000 total during that period. About half of that difference (21,000) is in the manuscript for my second book. and another 7,000 words are in my short stories. So, in the 343 calendar days from 15-November-2009 to 24-October-2010 I wrote over 193,000 words that I have included in final products. That is about 563 net words per calendar day. Of course, I didn’t write quite a few of those days, so my output was much higher per calendar day. I just had to make a good guess at how many days I did any work.

I know for certain that I didn’t write a thing from 3-Jul-2010 to 11-Jul-2010. I didn’t have my computer with me. 343-8=335. I didn’t work Thanksgiving or Christmas in 2009. That brings me down to 333 calendar days. Come to think of it, I didn’t work at all from 20-December-2009 to New Year’s day. Knock off another 13 bringing me down to 320. I didn’t write for three weeks in April-2010 even though I thought about the direction of the story for all that time. Subtract 20 days. That is 300. I was in a certification class for 5 days in May, and I was out of town on business and didn’t have my computer with me for 7 days in August. That leaves us with 288 calendar days. I was on a trip with my wife and daughters for 3 days in October 2010 and they didn’t allow me to open my laptop. Down to 285. My wife works every third weekend and even though the house would have been quiet and that would have been the perfect time to write, I never seemed to be able to work at all on those days. I know for sure of the 18 weekends that she worked, I only wrote on one of those days. Three of her work weekends fell on days that I already counted, so subtract 29 days from the total. that leaves us with 256 calendar days where I may or may not have written anything.

That is 754 words per day. Pretty close to the 800 a day that the writer who does nothing else would need to produce to finish his manuscript in 130 8-hour work days. Now I don’t feel like as much of a failure. I do have a high output per day when you consider that I rarely worked an eight hour day. It would be a stretch to try to figure out my output per hour for that time period, because I can’t give you an average of how many hours a day that I worked. My output rate may also vary from day to day. I finished a 3000 word chapter for my second book and re-read it for errors in a space of about two hours one afternoon. There have also been chapters that were so difficult, I spent multiple days getting that same number of words on paper and arranged to my liking.

Writing my first book was fun and writing the second has been even more fun. I will probably start keeping a journal from now on to help me determine my true net usable word rate before deciding if I actually have enough discipline to write under an unmovable deadline. I’m also not sure after my first book, if I could produce a certain length manuscript on demand as of yet. I will have write for a while longer to be able to figure that out.

BTW, It took over 7 hours to get this 2400+ blog posting just right and I still think that I failed to tell you anything about discipline.

US readers can download Chamberlain’s Folly for your Kindle HERE. UK readers can download Chamberlain’s Folly your Kindle HERE.