There are a number of truths about writing. Here are are several:
- The easier it is to read, the harder it was to write. This is counter-intuitive. We see a figure skater make it look so easy, yet all we have to do is try it ourselves to realize it’s not easy at all. It’s not that obvious with writing.
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” –Thomas Hood*/Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Just because a person can speak doesn’t mean he or she can write (artfully). It’s a different neurological process and uses different parts of the brain. Writing well is a skill honed over years or a lifetime. Because of reasons #1 and #2, the art of writing is grievously undervalued in our day.
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann
- On the flip side, recently I heard said, “It took me forever to write because I’m not a writer.” I have news: I am a writer and “it” took me forever to write. For example, a previously researched, 1000-word non-fiction article can take me as little as an hour to write in first draft form if I’m really on a roll. It will take four to five hours to edit and finalize–not so much for spelling and punctuation, but to get just the right wording and effect. So those places that think they can pay $25 for a 1000-word article? Yeah, don’t even think about it.
Fiction is slower: for me, a rate of 500-600 words per hour is top speed for first draft when the words are really flowing. A book can take years to complete. Beta readers’ and editors’ suggestions, if they involve structural edits, can drastically slow down the completion of a novel. Proposals and grant applications can take hellishly long to write (unless you do it so frequently you have a semi-automated process), making it highly disappointing when they are not accepted.
Further to writing being undervalued, a writer’s time spent is often significantly underestimated.
- It is harder to write “short” than long. Editing and revision reduce wordiness, redundancy, vague language, or errors that affect flow and comprehension. Nobody’s first draft is great. The work is in the revision.
“It takes longer to write short.”–Les Edgerton
- Most authors don’t make enough revenue off their books to pay the bills, so they work full-time before they even get to writing. In addition, there are fees writers pay: societies, writing courses, cover design, professional editing, online site fees, paper and ink, printing fees (unless they only ever make e-versions), etc. Publishing fees can be reduced by using Amazon’s CreateSpace, but many other fees remain for a professional writer. The responsibility of promotion rests solely with the author if he is self-published, whereas a good publisher can broaden the reach.
Inspired by Author Myths: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear by Hope Ann on A Writer’s Path (December 7, 2017) and thoughts that have been collected over the years.
Professional authors, no matter how good their editing skills, do send off their work to a professional editor. That’s part of what adds cost to a book before it’s even produced. This process should be performed whether you send your book to a publishing house or self-publish.
Editing is more than just reading. It is a slow process (very slow if there are many errors) and can require multiple passes. It can take years to gain the knowledge and experience of a good editor. Grammarly and other spelling and grammar checking programs, though helpful, are no comparison to a human who has judgement and insight, knows your audience and style, and has the ability to edit your work substantively.
Substantive (structural) editing “focuses on the content, organization, and presentation of an entire text, from the title through to the ending. Substantive editors help writers define their goals, identify their readers, and shape the manuscript in the best possible way. They clarify the argument, fix the pacing, suggest improvements, and draw missing pieces from the author. These essential skills apply to fiction and non-fiction alike, including books, magazines, reports, legal decisions, and corporate and government writing of all kinds. They are equally useful for writers, too, as they revise their final drafts to submit to literary agents or publishers or to self-publish through Amazon, Google, or other platforms on the web.” –Editors’ Association of Canada definition
Another useful article is Should I Be Writing Faster? by Lev Raphael on A Writer’s Path (February 10, 2017).
The question, “How long does it take you to write a book?” indeed has no definite answer. It depends on many factors.
First, as mentioned in #5 above, many authors hold down other jobs to pay bills and have to shoehorn writing around them, usually at the expense of sleep, exercise, recreation, and family time. Only paid, full-time authors have the luxury to write as a primary job, enabling them to put out books faster. Even then, books can take a long time to complete and finalize to the point of publication. Furthermore, publication (even self-publication) is another process that increases the time it takes to bring a book to readers.
Finally, I Wrote A Book–But It Won’t Sell by Derek Haines on Just Publishing Advice (August 26, 2017):
The following statistics tell a story.
300,000 books were published in the U.S. in 2003.
411,422 books were published in the U.S. in 2007.
1,052,803 books were published in the U.S. 2009.
Approximately 3,000,000 books were published in the U.S. in 2011.
Over 15,000,000 ISBN numbers were issued in 2012.
Since then, well, why bother counting?
With these numbers, it’s easy to see where one new book sits. Lost in a huge crowd.
Many thanks to Derek Haines for compiling those numbers and providing proof we can see, not just feel all around us.
It’s not only self-published books that are affected by these numbers. Books published by other than the big publishers are also lost in the deluge (and even with the big ones, you have to do a lot of your own promotion at your own expense). Moderately successful writers in 2011 were losing ground in book sales and visibility by 2012 and beyond.
Sadly, although good writing should be a no-brainer, the hard reality is that many great writers do not get discovered by more than a handful of people.
If you follow all the excellent tips mentioned in the “I Wrote A Book–But It Won’t Sell” article, it’s still no guarantee. However, they are good tips. Writing is about building an audience, as is the case with so many small businesses and online blogs and videos these days–often by one person at a time.
My observation is that we are back to an age of pounding the pavement and making personal appearances at events, talk shows, and even TV (as some of my author friends are doing). Due to a combination of social media fatigue, a gazillion users, and increasing numbers of writers and books, tools such as social media become most useful when an in-person connection has been made. Even so, many writers now claim they sell most of their books only through events, seminars, and workshops. As fun as these events may be, they further restrict the time an author with a day job can put toward writing the book in the first place!
Turning over a new leaf in 2018
Bad pun intended!
The challenge in 2018 with regard to writing will be how to incorporate the new rules of the book world into my life.
With three strikes against me before I even begin–
- I’ve had to increase my hours at work due to cost of living continuing to outpace living wages
- I will never be able to retire (and transfer that time into my writing career)
- Two shifts of a sitting job, weekends included, are a recipe for early death
–there are also advantages: videos and various other online formats and technologies. For example, it’s a lot easier to create a blog or post a video than it used to be.
However, there is still the question of how to write, revise, and edit books with only 24 hours in a day. Two thousand eighteen will be unpredictable at best, as my siblings and I continue to deal with family tragedies and travel.