Saturday, March 31, 2012

More Writing Advice

I feel very writer-y this week, what with getting multiple questions about word-smithing from people.

At some point in the near future, I probably need to give all these Q and A things their own little section on my blog, so I can point people at them.

From the comments of my last post on writing (slightly paraphrased):

Q: How long does it take to write a novel?

A: Well, that depends. A lot of people slap together 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month (November, by the way) and, yeah, at 50,000 words, you’ve technically written a complete work that could qualify as a novel.

This, however, gets into the question of “how long is a novel?” and the answer is always, “it depends.”

Nicholas Sparks, for example, releases books on a regular basis that he calls “novels,” even though many of them are about 50,000 words. That’s probably the lowest you could go and call what you’ve written a novel.

And even then, a lot of people would say that 50,000 words is a novella. Your mileage may vary.

Granted, a lot of Young Adult novels are somewhere between 50,000 and 65,000 words. So if you’re working in that vein, you’re fine with that number. You can also go over that number to pretty much any length, though after a while finding a publisher might prove difficult.

Every time I look it up, most traditional publishers (as opposed to those publishing themselves) are looking for novels in the 80,000 to 120,000 word range. So if your plan is to sell the novel to a publisher, you need to think about that general word count.

On the other hand, if your novel is 70,000 words, and it’s amazing, I don’t think a publisher would pass on it. (Though I don’t pretend to be an expert.)

All of this is talking around the question, which is how long does it take to write X number of words?

Obviously, if you’re writing a 50,000 word novel, it will take X amount of time, whereas writing a 100,000 word novel will probably take X times 2 amount of time.

But how long is that time frame? That totally depends on the writer.

When I was writing Mercy, my first novel, I wrote 2000 words a day. I was done with the first draft at somewhere around 97,000 words, if I remember right. So maybe 49 or 50 days to write that first draft. Another few weeks to edit it the first time around (I edited it again before publishing it).

But that’s me. I have a friend who generally averages about 1000 words a day. He’s a lot more successful than I am.

And I’ve heard of novelists who can’t handle the grind of putting out a book every year, and take two years to produce a 75,000 word novel. Then they win awards and get on the New York Times Bestseller List.

It takes as long as it takes.

Q: How many pages make up a book?

A: This usually goes by word count (see the previous question), as opposed to page count.

And the word “book” is pretty open-ended. If you’re talking about novels, again, see above. If you reach 20,000 words and the story is over, well, your “book” is done, but you’re talking about a novella or a novelette (again, this words are pretty stretchy.

Q: How do you know you’re done? Keep writing until you think it’s right and get a friend to review it?

A: That’s not a terrible idea, but I’d say that everyone has their own method of getting to the end.

Patrick Rothfuss writes and writes and writes and then goes back and does enormous, enormous amounts of revision.

John Scalzi, by contrast, writes and edits as he goes, and when he types The End (though I’m sure he doesn’t actually type that) his “first” draft is pretty well finished, minus some editing and copyediting on the part of his publisher.

With my first couple of books, I was writing and revising and sending chapters to a friend, but I stopped doing that because she was too busy to read what I was writing as I was writing it.

Since then, I’ve written my books, revised them, and trusted my instincts that they were good. Opinions vary, but mostly agree with mine: The books were ready to be published.

However, with my latest book, it’s… a little strange, and different. I’m about 31,000 words into it, maybe a third of the way through the finished novel. And I wanted another opinion, so I did an edit job and sent it to a friend.

I’d say if it takes you a year to write your first novel, you’re okay. Even if it takes two. But unless you’re writing a massive 350,000 word fantasy story, anything more than two years might be excessive.

1 comment:

  1. Re: Novel length--I use the SFWA standards:


    I have a set number of revisions. I draft a book, do a substantive edit and line edits, get a copy edit, and then have 2-3 proofreaders. Then it's done. Period. But I'm pretty mercenary about the whole thing.