Some of you who believe you are not novelists have said something to this effect: “I would love to write a novel, but I can never find the time because of ______________ (fill in the blank).”
The assumption that bugs me in this statement is that time is the only ingredient necessary to writing a novel. We all have time that we waste doing something. If you honestly think you don’t waste any time at all, please respond to this. I would like to learn your secrets. Hell, we all would. My thesis is that any one of us can find a half hour or hour to spend at the typewriter or computer each day. Maybe it’s waking up early or staying up late. According to the Time Ingredient Hypothesis, if you type a sedate forty words a minute and can scrape up a mere 30 minutes to write each day, you could write an impressive twelve-hundred words each day. Using Times Courier and a double-spaced line, I average about 250 words a page, so this output equals about five manuscript pages. Times seven, that’s thirty-five pages a week. Times fifty-two, that’s 1820 pages of manuscript a year.
I’ve read my share of long novels, but I always approach them with trepidation.
I’ve written three novels in my life.
The first was written while I was a senior in high school. It was written in longhand and filled a three subject composition notebook. I can’t remember how many pages it ended up being, but let’s call it a short novel. Perhaps even a novella.
The second novel was written, for the most part, while I was living in Memphis, Tennessee, and off work recovering from foot surgery (the time ingredient, you see) and ended up at around 400 manuscript pages.
The third one was written while I was working (not at work; I mean contemporaneously) and weighed in at a hefty 450 pages.
I’ve written plenty of other things during my lifetime, including a short nonfiction book about Retailing Management that proved (to myself, anyway) that the sum of my knowledge about what I used to do for a living isn’t very much. I figured the manuscript could be fattened up by diagrams and charts and sidebars and photographs.
I just never got around to it. Instead, after about thirty years, I quit retailing and became a postal clerk. There have also been a slew of short stories, journal entries, one-man plotting brainstorming sessions, essays, blog posts, Facebook quips, and false starts on other projects. Add all of that together and the total is more than 1820 pages, no doubt. Of course, it also represents the output of four decades, give or take.
My point is that 1820 pages is a lot. And that’s only thirty minutes a day.
I can type about 65 words per minute when I’m in the zone. I usually write slower than that, though. If you are a writer you understand the agony of not being able to find the right word or phrase to convey what you are thinking. You also understand that most of us don’t have stories pouring forth whole from our brains onto the paper. Oh, we have an idea, maybe some great images, or the ideas for some really kickass scenes. But, once we sit in our comfy office chairs and begin moving our fingers over the keyboards, we suddenly realize that we don’t know what we’re doing or, if we have an ending in mind, don’t know how to fill that vast middle between our opening scene and that rousing conclusion, perhaps a sword fight on top of the head of the Statue of Liberty while being buzzed by WWI biplanes like King Kong.
There are many authors who claim they begin to write with absolutely no plan in mind. I believe a few of them. Stephen King, for instance, has proven this by the inconsistent quality of his later output. I’m still a fan, so please don’t jump on me. When I was young and brash and considered myself an “artist” I tried this approach many, many times and never managed to finish anything. I created some impressive pages, and occasionally some genuinely good scenes, but it all went nowhere.
I have mixed brain dominance. I’m right-handed at some things, left-handed with others. Not ambidextrous, which would be nice. For instance, I write poorly with my left hand and I throw poorly with my right. I recall, from Psych 101, that psychology-types equate right-brain thinking with creativity and left-brain thinking with organized, rational thinking. I may be oversimplifying the issue, and much of this has been discredited, but I believe it has some basis in fact, as an analogy if as nothing else.
My left-brain thoughts get in the way of my personal creativity, often being overly critical and whatever the opposite of motivating may be. However, the left-brain thrives upon planning and plotting and diagramming, activities which I find increase my creativity. The right-brain just wants to create something out of nothing. I can always tell when I’m in the right-brain zone because I forget I am typing and I sometimes surprise myself with the unexpected on the page. It’s a little like being intoxicated but still coordinated in a way. The stories never just “tell themselves.” Only psychotics believe that. But, when I’ve invested enough of myself in the characters (and all characters are facets of the writer’s personality), the characters often begin to assert themselves during the story and open doors that I didn’t know existed. You see, what separates me from the psychotics is that I know that I’m the one doing all of this, but I’m just crazy enough to allow it to happen.
When you factor in all of the planning and thinking and daydreaming I put into writing a novel, the total time spent was far more than the time it takes to type a first draft. Factor in revisions and, sometimes, whole rewrites, and the sum increases exponentially. Hell, I still don’t believe any of my novels are “finished.”
In conclusion, while time is an important factor in writing, it’s not the only one. If it were, I’d have fifty novels finished by this time. So, if you’re wanting to write a novel yourself, cross this excuse off the list and figure out what else is keeping you from doing it.