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Monday, 21 January 2013

WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE?

Am I a millionaire? Yes.
   No, I’m not rich. Spammers – stop salivating. Sell your Rolex watches elsewhere. In one form or another, I’ve generated a million words during my first year as a self-publisher. I didn’t set out with that objective in mind.
   As I neared the first year, I noticed the word-count. Stories I’d dusted down and reformatted. Blog posts, gathered with a view to publication. New tales I concocted. Old tales I recycled. Leaving aside the repetition that arises from listing the same ALSO AVAILABLE sections at the end of my works, I was a millionaire.
   How would I have fared, writing from scratch? Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords runs to 195,000 words including notes. That’s three long weeks of writing, right there.
   I wrestled with formatting that story and I managed to throw something together inside two months. A story that was already written. My first attempt at formatting was a cautious affair. Had I written 50,000 a week instead of formatting, I’d have knocked out an epic of 450,000 words.
   That Odyssey may not have made much sense. Writing isn’t editing. After Neon Gods was published, I turned to the creation of INCOMPLETE UNCOLLECTED SHORT WORKS. The editing and formatting process was now on a six-week clock.
   I handled the deal inside the time-limit, adding new fiction to old tales. That book runs to 116,000 words. If I’d written 50,000 a week over the revised editing and formatting period, I’d have come up with an epic of 300,000 words instead. After the second book was out, I turned to LYGHTNYNG STRYKES.
   This book runs to 295,000 words. So if I’d elected to write something new instead of editing and formatting an old novel, I’d have been in the same area for once – given the writing of 50,000 words each and every week.
   It isn’t always possible to write 50,000 words in a week. With Hallowe’en 2012 looming, I wanted to put out a 30,000-word story called WITCHES. I wrote that story in three days. It runs to 35,000 words. The rest of the week was given over to editing and formatting.
   What could I write in a year? Let’s say a five-day writing week generates 10,000 a day. I try to write seven days a week. This isn’t always possible. Sunday is usually the day of rest. Output is often down. Monday is a day of reading. If I could read a book a week, I’d feel good.
   However, sometimes you have to throw the stack of books aside and write a bloody chapter on the Monday. Or read publishing articles on a Monday. A long time ago, traditionally, Wednesday night was a design night. Now and again, I hark back to that era. Mostly, design happens as and when. I am no longer ritualistically tied to that specific time. (The radio show ended.)
   If you are knocking out 50,000 a week, then your writing year is half-over by the time you’ve hit a million words. Is that how things went for me? After twelve weeks, I’d produced those three products and I had 600,000 words out there – equivalent to being banged out at 50,000 per week. And now, the important bit.
   Coincidence.
   Mm, this is all crap. Don’t pay attention to a single figure. The amount you write in a day is irrelevant. Written is not edited. Edited is not published. Published is not indicative of sales. Sales may not relate to quality. Oh, I’ll return to quality.
   I’d love to knock out 50,000 a week every week, but there are other considerations. A 10,000-word day can seem short. Or very long. A 15,000-word day IS long – even though days like that are days on which the story flows like molten fucking lava. Hot. Fast. Spewing ash. Roaring along faster than a man can run.
   My word-count drops to nothing on heavy editing days. And on reading days. Also, sometimes, on design days – if I go mental on design. I can’t put a value on what’s written in a day. Next day I might cast a glance over a piece of writing and curse at the typos I glossed over as I rattled away on a creative streak.
   National Novel Writing Month occurs in November. I’d only heard of it in 2011. November was a busy month that year. I didn’t take part in the challenge to write 50,000 words. My task was to finish editing and formatting my novel for sale in December.
   For 2012, I decided to support people who were participating. I’d shadow the whole thing, and post a daily word-count on Twitter until I hit the 50,000 level. After eight days, I was done. That included a knee-folding day on which I wrote 17,500 words.
   Take plenty of rest-breaks. I did. The story flowed like molten lava. Destroying everything in its path. Including the continuity of the story. I switched to writing an unconnected scene knowing it would be placed later in the story once I turned to editing. There was no pause, bar the double-tap of the ENTER key. I simply made space and got the hell on with it.
   Eight days. I didn’t manage 10,000 a day every day. Life stepped in. Sunday was the day of rest. Could I write 10,000 words a day for a whole year? Yes, if I cut and pasted FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY FLY into files and then fucked off to do something else.
   No. I’d have to devote time to reading books. And to editing. To formatting. Design. Hell, I’d occasionally have to eat meals and fall in and out of hot soapy water. Go for a wander. See the sights. Take time off. (A writer is always on the job. I took two stints off in 2012, and got stories out of both breaks.)
   It doesn’t matter how much you write. Some days, 5,000 seems low. A slow day. And on other days, that 5,000 comes across as a job well-done. My limit of 20,000, that I hit once, was ridiculous. I had to spend the next day editing. So the fantastic 20,000 in one day became 20,000 the next. No advance.
   As though I’d written 10,000 one day and 10,000 the next. This is an important point. The 20,000 on day one wasn’t as good as the same 20,000 sitting there on day two. By day two, it wasn’t the same 20,000. It was edited.
   No, it doesn’t matter what you write that day. My word-count may increase by nothing or even drop a few words after editing. Events intrude. Life. You may be forced to write nothing for a week as you deal with hospitals, maintenance issues, or weird technical stuff that slows your world to the consistency of something that has fossils in it.
   Don’t get hung up on word-count. One smooth word trumps a thousand rough ones. There are other aspects of the business to deal with. Reading is so important that I should have spent this entire blog post typing READ READ READ READ.
   I may actually do that in a blog post. It would be quick to write. Ah. But how long would I spend editing?
   Let me turn to the issue of quality. Quality is unimportant. That’s right. Say it again. Quality. What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’. Basic quality is vital. Your story is about something. Oh, you may feel inventive and write a story that appears to be about nothing. That’s your affair.
   Develop a minimum standard, and write beyond that. Beyond that, opinion takes over. So don’t concern yourself with the quality of writing. Whether you write in television or not, ask yourself what you would do if you wrote in television.
   I’ll delve into the second person.
   You are a writer for an American TV show – the series runs episodes in the twenty-odd range. Scripts must be churned out through half the year. On a weekly basis. A few weeks after your script goes in, someone is building a set in which to film your wonderful piece of writing.
   Quality?
   Doesn’t matter. You have seven days to turn in a script, or you won’t eat food. If you are the sort of writer who sits there aching over the construction of a perfect sentence, I imagine a voice just popped into your head.
   Well I wouldn’t eat that week, ha ha.
   Laughing? The joke’s on you. If I had a week in which to write a story by contract, that story would be written. Tom Berenger is scowling over you in the jungle. TAKE THE PAIN! You should write as though you have a weekly deadline, even though your deadline may be further off. Stop worrying about quality. About perfection.
   A perfect one-sentence TV script makes for a short show.
   What am I getting at? You wrote 10,000 words that day. Irrelevant. The piece may not be up to scratch. You wrote one sentence that day – and it shone through the storm, healing the sick as it passed by. Irrelevant.
   Somewhere in there, is your own balance. You write stuff. It looks okay. You’ll tidy it later. After many days of this, you have a story in front of you. This is a story you decide to put in front of others. Job done. Thus endeth the lesson.

NEXT BLOG: BLACK HOLE.

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