I have this weird fear of being controversial. It probably comes from the fact that I’m not a very confrontational person. Oh, I know… some of you are laughing. Me? Non-confrontational? But it’s true. I’ve never started a fight in my life…
…but I did kill a man…
Anyway, I say I’m not big on controversy because the subject of this post balances precariously on the knife edge of debate. Some of you will agree with me. Those who don’t will throw dirt in my eye. Lucky for me, I’m wearing my glasses. Your dirt will not deter me… much.
I just saw a post on Twitter by someone I don’t know and probably won’t ever know. The question was: how many hours have you dedicated to your current writing project? His answer: over 8,500 hours.
Hey look, a calculator. How handy.
8,5000 hours divided by twenty-four hours in a day equals… drum roll please… three hundred fifty four days. Now, lets be realistic and say that this guy has a job. Let’s say he only works part-time and sleeps seven hours a night. Let’s give him some free time to do things like shower and eat and watch a bit of television. I’m going to be generous and say he writes six hours per day.
3.8812 … that’s years. Nearly four years of writing six hours a day, seven days a week. Working on the same writing project.
I have one thing to say: you’re shitting me.
Newsflash: if you ever want to make a living off of writing, not only do you not spend 8,500 on a writing project, but you can’t. Hell, give this guy a year to recover (he sure deserves it!) and that’s one book every five years. Two books per decade. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to write a dozen books in your lifetime, and that’s with a whopping six years off.
It took me eight weeks to write a 75,000 word novel. That’s seven days a week, two to three hours per day. (Full-time jobs and mental exhaustion tend to cut in to writing time.) So, roughly, I spent 180 hours composing a first draft. That doesn’t count in hours for revision and editing, but let me be the optimist and say that it isn’t going to take me an extra three years.
I get it. Writers have been conditioned to believe that writing a book should take years. We’ve somehow been magically convinced that to create something of any worth, we have to spend years of our lives torturing ourselves, picking apart a single sentence for weeks on end, rewriting the same paragraph for months at a time, all in the name of perfection, all in the name of ‘The Next Great American Novel’.
Pardon me while I kick-start this debate but you’re insane. And if you’re one of those people who’s spent twenty years on a single novel, please, enlighten me how you’re going to make any money off of your craft. Seriously, I’m listening.
Okay, I hear you. “It isn’t about money.” I tip my hat to you if that’s the case. You’re a true artist. I, however, have spent a good amount of time making a living off of something I don’t enjoy, so to think that I can make a little dough off of something I love doing… well, call me a dirty capitalist, but that sounds pretty awesome.
Quite frankly, I can’t begin to imagine spending nearly four years on a single project. I’d get bored… and not just ‘ho-hum this is a drag’ bored, but self-destructive let’s-burn-the-house-down bored. Violently bored. Maybe I’m just not capable of it. Maybe that’s some sort of Jedi writing level I’ll never attain. But to me it seems, dare I say, compulsive? You can’t let go of your work, obsessively picking at it until you eventually look like Gollum (my precious!) I don’t know why anyone would willingly put themselves through what, to me, seems like a toss up between creative constipation and flat-out torture.
If you read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, he makes a clear argument for why a first draft should essentially be a speed-write. The trick is to get the story down before the story leaks out your ears, because yes, it will run away from you. Spending too much time on a first draft is a quick way to never finishing it. Spending four years on a project, whether you’re writing or revising, is a half-baked way of writing anything. But I’ll give it one thing: it’s damn efficient at getting you nowhere.