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The Big Damn Writer Advice Column

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It’s that time of the week when I answer your anonymous questions about writing and all that stuff connected to it. Every Thursday, I’ll be answering two questions from the Big Damn Writer Question Box.

Q: How long does is take you – on average – to get a book published, from conception of the idea all the way to like… it being available for purchase?

A: It takes me three to four months to write a Neil and Sophie or an Ian and Penny book, then another one or two to go through the editing process. For re-releases that I’m just polishing up, it usually takes about a month of rewriting and a month of editing. Say Goodbye To Hollywood took me much longer, due to just basic life stuff. I was writing that for almost six months. But I wouldn’t want anyone to use that as a baseline for their own writing. I went to a panel one time where an author said that from idea to publishing it only took her ten days but that was because she felt she wrote clean enough to skip any editing at all. I don’t recommend that. Write the book until it’s done, edit it until it’s as clean as it’s going to get, and then release the book, rather than trying to pump out monthly releases.

 

Q: Full-length novels are usually more than 80 000 words. Once you get an idea for a novel, how do you set the pace of the story and how do you keep up the motivation to continuously focus on one novel until you finish it?

A: The first thing I want to tackle in this question is the word count because there are a lot of different answers you’ll get from a lot of different publishers and writers and publishing people, and the answer varies from genre to genre. So if you’re reading this and thinking holy crap, I’ll never manage to write that many words, here’s the good news: you can just write your story until it’s done.

That said, you do have to write it until it’s done, and that’s where the focus and motivation part come in. And you’re going to need different kinds of motivation and focus depending on where you’re at in the writing process. Let me break the emotional process of a 100,000-word novel down like this:

  • First 20,000-25,000 words: The honeymoon stage. You’re in love with your book because you just started writing it and there’s nothing but freedom and excitement ahead of you from page one. During this stage, this only motivation you might need is your enthusiasm for the new story. There’s a reason that NaNoWriMo requires you to start a novel from scratch; it’s just easier to rack up a word count on something new. That’s because there’s excitement and promise and you’re not tired of your own story yet. Tip: You can extend this stage by avoiding the common trap many writers fall into, which is vomiting every idea and plan you have for your book onto anyone who will listen. The more you talk about your book, the quicker you’re going to get tired of it. Your desire to share the story is what’s going to make you put words on the page.
  • 20,000-50,000 words: It’s getting a little more difficult now. You’re starting to doubt that you’re ever going to finish the book, but you’re still optimistic enough to keep forging on.This is the stage when you’re going to have to start forcing yourself to write, even if you don’t feel like it. It’s at this point when you’re probably going to see your word count drop substantially. You might have been putting up 3,000, 5,000 a day in that first 25,000 words, but now it’s a struggle to get 500 out at a time. Tip: Sometimes this is the part of the book where you slow down because something in your outline or loose mental plan isn’t working. If you find yourself working against resistance, now’s the time to re-outline your book (or make an outline to begin with, if you’re usually a pantser). This will help you focus and feel less aimless in your prose.
  • 50,000-90,000 words: This book absolutely sucks. Not only is it the worst book ever written, it’s also been so monumental a waste of your time that you will never, ever write again. In the interest of seeing things through to the end, you’re going to finish it, but you don’t see why. You’re just a talentless hack anyway. Now you’re really struggling to make yourself write, and you’re having all sorts of new and exciting ideas that you’re sure would be much better. Tip: Sometimes, you have to dangle a carrot in front of yourself. In this case, it’s going to be the promise of writing the next book. You know, the one you’d rather be writing now? Don’t abandon your current idea for the shiny new one. Use it as a goal. “I have to finish this book. When I finish this book, I get to write this other book.” Also, don’t be seduced by these new ideas because you think you’ll forget them, otherwise. If it’s a good enough idea, it’ll still be there when you’re finished with this book.
  • 90,000 words-the end: You start to realize that your book isn’t irredeemably terrible. You think things might be coming together. You’re still convinced that you’ll never finish but you also know that the book can’t last forever. At some point, you’re going to reach the conclusion. Tip: It gets really tempting to say to yourself, “Well, the book is almost done. I don’t have to write today.” You know there’s not much work left to do, so what’s the harm in putting it off a little while? Do not do this, or you’ll find yourself back at the 50,000-90,000 word stage. You still need to be using, “I get to write the next thing” as your motivation here.

As you can see, writing a book is a journey of emotional battery and the destruction of your self-worth. And this can be applied to any work of fiction, regardless of length. The thing that’s going to keep you motivated and focused is your desire to tell the story and share it with others. Because there’s really no other reason to put yourself through the hell of writing something.

 

Bonus Question: Have you read “I’m Gay for My Living Billionaire Jet Plane”? I love how he met his billionaire boyfriend on a red eye flight. I also love the reviews it got on Amazon.

A: Regrettably, I have not read this marvelous work of erotic fiction. I particularly enjoy how the plane on the cover has abs:

The background of the photo appears to be a hotel with an outdoor pool. It's not terribly distinct, as the foreground is taken up by a young, muscular male model with his shirt inexplicably pulled half off so that the bulk of the t-shirt is bunched up behind him, but he's still wearing the sleeves. Beside him is a jet of some kind with another muscle-bound male model photoshopped onto it as though his face and torso belong to the aircraft. The title, "I'm Gay For My Living Billionaire Jet Plane" and the author's name, "Chuck Tingle" are written over the top and bottom of the image.

 

Wanna see your questions get answered (or just wanna air a grievance?) Put it in the box!

2 Comments

  1. Holy shit, your rundown for the first question was wholly unnerving. Here’s the thing: I’ve been writing stories for years but have never published them. Once I’m done, I move on. I don’t even do a second draft or anything. Last year I decided to change that and fully realise a story, do second, third o more drafts, edits, everything, so that I could self publish and have my first real book. The thing is, my motivational trajectory has followed every single fucking point that you wrote and it’s eery how accurate you were. I even stopped and started a little side project because I felt I wasn’t being imaginative enough in my world building – only to then get absorbed into my side project and then suffer the same problems!

    It’s … comforting? I think that’s the closest I can get to describe this feeling. It’s comforting to realise that I’m not being stupid but that other people go through the same process. Thank you, Jenny 🙂

    M

    March 18, 2017
    |Reply
  2. Sara L.
    Sara L.

    You completely hit the nail on the head with that word count breakdown. I have done NaNoWriMo twice now, and both times, just absolutely flew through the first 25,000 words with almost no problem, and then slogged through the second 25,000. My first one finished at 50,007, but I have pretty much abandoned it as lost. The second? Stuck in 50-90 purgatory at the moment. It sucks so much. I did make my husband read it, purely so he would kick my ass at appropriate intervals to get me to finish it. I do like it, still, mostly. But you are so right that the call of the new is starting to get to me. Need to get it done before November, or the siren song of the WriMo will be too strong!

    March 20, 2017
    |Reply

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