Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

How long should it take to write a novel?

How long would it take to write a novel if you wrote 1,000 words/day? 500? 100? How about three sentences per day? How long would that take?

I'm going to figure out some answers here. I'll start with the basic assumption that the length of a complete novel is 100,000 words. At 250 words/page, that's a 400 page book.

Let's see how long it would take to complete the first draft, sans edits, given varying rates of words put down on paper per day. I'll assume a completely arbitrary 20 words per sentence and, from that, 12.5 sentences/page (250 words/page divided by 20 words/sentence).

  Words to
Paper/Day
How Long
in Days
How Long
in Years
1 word 1 100,000.00 273.97
5 words 5 20,000.00 54.79
20 words/1 sentence 20 5,000.00 13.70
2 sentences 40 2,500.00 6.85
3 sentences 60 1,666.67 4.57
5 sentences 100 1,000.00 2.74
10 sentences 200 500.00 1.37
1 page/12.5 sentences/250 words 250 400.00 1.10
2 pages 500 200.00 0.55
3 pages 750 133.33 0.37
4 pages 1000 100.00 0.27
5 pages 1250 80.00 0.22
10 pages 2500 40.00 0.11
20 pages 5000 20.00 0.05
40 pages 10000 10.00 0.03
50 pages 12500 8.00 0.02

Starting at the ridiculous and ending with, well, the ridiculous again, you can see that were you to only write 1 word/day it would take 100,000 days or 274 years to finish a novel length manuscript. Something a little more realistic—3 sentences/day, of which I've heard of writers doing—and you're at 4.5 years. If you strive for the more often recommended 1,000 words/day, it will take you .27 years or just over 3 months. Pause for a second and think about that. My first reaction was: What?! Why has it taken me so long then to finish this bleep'in novel then? That just can't be right…

But it is.

If you can write 1,000 words per day, you'll have a 100,000 words in 100 days. A complete first draft, in other words.

It sounds easy. So why isn't it? The reasons are many: life gets in the way, we procrastinate, we edit/rewrite before we should, the writing itself leads us down dead-ends from which we have to back ourselves out. Anyone's who's ever attempted to write a novel, whether you failed or not, knows about these things. It takes a lot of discipline to keep pushing forward, especially when you know what you just wrote is crap and is going to need some serious re-writing.

But therein lies the gist of it: you have to keep moving forward if you want to reach the end. It sounds simple. If only it really were.

How do you spend your time?

clock I was driving home last night contemplating my schedule, where and how I spend my time, and, most importantly, where it all goes. That got me thinking… while I know how and where I spend my time in a general sense, I was curious as to how much time in any given week I devote to the major items in my life. Who knows? Maybe by analyzing this I might be able to make some adjustments and improve my overall time management.

For me, major items include:

  1. Work (my primary, day-time job)
  2. Going to/from work (4 days/week since I usually work at home at least 1 day/week)
  3. Exercise (cycling, running, weight-lifting; this goes up in the warmer months as I'm out on the bike more)
  4. Writing (my current novel, short stories, this blog)
  5. Reading (books, blogs, etc.)
  6. Breaks (TV watching, playing with the dogs, hanging out with my wife; everyone needs some down time)
  7. Outside work (mowing the lawn, etc.; less now but more as it gets warmer)
  8. Personal Technical Projects (various side projects I work on to stay up on programming and technology)
  9. Sleep (almost forgot this one…)

I'm not going to include some things, like listening to podcasts, which I do all the time but which I always do whilst engaged in something else. Which brings up another point: I don't consider the time I spend driving to and from work as wasted because I'm always listening to podcasts or sometimes audio fiction. I'm a fanatic about maximizing every minute.

Given the above items, here's how much time I spend on each per week (my first attempt at this I was 5 hours short; since I'm not working off a super-accurate log here, I just spread those hours out to get to 168):

Work 45 27%
Commuting 8 5%
Exercise 8 5%
Writing 16 10%
Reading 18 11%
Breaks 10 6%
Outside work 6 4%
Technical Projects 8 5%
Sleep 49 29%
TOTAL 168 100%

And, in pie chart format:

image

Some of these items are immovable: work, sleep (I only get 7 hours/night as it is), commuting. Others could be changed, such as exercise or reading (sometimes I think I spend too much reading blogs). Breaks… I'd have to take a closer look at what I do in those 14 hours. Writing and Technical Projects… if anything, I want to spend more time, not less, in those areas.

Of course, this is a somewhat rough idea where I spend my time as some of the figures are pure estimates. If I wanted to really perform a close analysis I should probably carry a small notepad around with me for a week and write down each activity and time spent on it. Maybe I'll do that at some point, but for now I just wanted to get a general sense where all the time is going.

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Dropbox

Sign-up for your free space nowDropbox has become my cloud storage vendor of choice, replacing Office Live Workspace for those times when I need to synchronize files between multiple machines (think home vs. work; no more sneakernet with USB keys), when I want to make sure files are accessible from anywhere, and when I just need to get a large file (or files) from one place to another. It's also great as a secure backup solution.

Dropbox is free (2GB of storage, 50GB is $10/month, prices/storage go up from there), secure, and fast. One of the best things about it--and what ultimately made me abandon Office Live Workspace--has to do with the way Dropbox works.

You can access your Dropbox account through their web site, sure. But they also have a client application you install that creates a special "My Dropbox" folder:

My Dropbox folder

You save/copy files into this local folder. The first time you do so, the Dropbox client app will auto-sync with the Dropbox servers, copying those files up into the cloud. Further, if you have Dropbox installed on other machines, those machines will have their individual local Dropbox folder sync'ed as well. In other words, since I have the Dropbox client app installed on my laptop at home and my work machine, anything I copy into my Dropbox folder on either machine is sync'ed with Dropbox's server as well as all machines where I have the client installed. Not only is it excellent redundancy, it's a great way to transfer files (especially when they're large) from one computer to another.

This differs from Office Live Workspace in one very crucial way: With Dropbox, you're in effect saving to your local machine. The Dropbox client software takes it from there, sync'ing automatically in the background when it notices changes. Office Live Workspace, on the other hand, saves files remotely into the cloud exclusively and in the foreground. This is slow. If you're like me and lived through the unreliability of computers in the 80's, you save a lot. Sometimes I add a sentence and hit a quick Ctrl-S. Then I have to watch as Office Live Workspace proceeds to save the document. Twenty seconds, thirty, or longer, and the save is done. I can't deal with that kind of slowness when I'm trying to save my work; I need to keep my thoughts flowing onto the screen.

The Dropbox client is unobtrusive, sitting idle in your tray (in Windows) until it detects a file change:

image

When it performs a sync it briefly changes the icon.

One of the best features of Dropbox: file versioning. Whenever you do anything with a file, including creation, modification, and deletion, a change event is recorded and a new version of that file generated. A typical file version history might look like this:

image

In this particular case I actually accidentally deleted this file. The deletion event is at the top. Fortunately, Dropbox created a new version of the file along the way so restoring to the last good version was easy. This saved me a ton of time as otherwise I would have had to re-create that content.

Some other features taken from the Dropbox web site:

  • 2GB of online storage for free, with up to 100GB available to paying customers.
  • Sync files of any size or type.
  • Sync Windows, Mac and Linux computers.
  • Automatically syncs when new files or changes are detected.
  • Work on files in your Dropbox even if you're offline. Your changes sync once your computer has an Internet connection again.
  • Dropbox transfers will correctly resume where they left off if the connection drops.
  • Efficient sync - only the pieces of a file that changed (not the whole file) are synced. This saves you time.
  • Doesn't hog your Internet connection. You can manually set bandwidth limits.

I'm happy with the service and have yet to have any problems.

If you're at all interested in giving the service a try, you can use this link to sign-up. I get 250MB of additional space for the referral. Thanks!

Podcasts for Writers

It took me a while to catch onto podcasts. Even then, in the beginning, I mostly listened only to technical podcasts (I'm a software engineer by day). But then I started thinking about writing podcasts and wondering what was out there…

This then is the list of writing related podcasts I've found thus far. It is by no means comprehensive, but I do actively listen to all of these (I have a long commute to work, so I have plenty of listening time).

Some of these are talk show format, full of interviews with notable writers, advice, current happenings in the publishing industry, and other good information. Others are strictly audio fiction.

Here is my list of podcasts for writers:

  1. Adventures in SciFi Publishing
  2. The Billibub Baddings Podcast
  3. The Creative Penn with Joanna Penn
  4. The Drabblecast
  5. The Dragon Page: Cover to Cover
  6. Escape Pod
  7. I Should Be Writing with Mur Lafferty
  8. Litopia After Dark
  9. Litopia Daily
  10. The Metamor City Podcast
  11. Podcastle
  12. Pseudopod
  13. The Secrets Podcast with Michael Stackpole
  14. SFFaudio
  15. The Sofanauts (archive only)
  16. StarShipSofa
  17. The Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy (archive only)
  18. The Time Traveler Show (archive only)
  19. Tor.com Podcasts (Audio Fiction, The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy)
  20. Writing Excuses with Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells
  21. The Writing Show

Some thoughts on traditional vs electronic publishing

You may have noticed a recent slant in my posting topics towards e-books and electronic publishing. This is not without purpose. For a while now I've been considering foregoing the traditional publishing route in favor of the electronic, self-publishing one. The reasons for this are many. For one, it's disheartening (yet encouraging at the same time) when established writers divulge sales information that poignantly dismisses the traditional route.

Second, this writing thing is not my only thing. It's something I thoroughly enjoy, yet I don't expect to make a living from it. I'm not saying I wouldn't want to make a living from it, but the realities are that my day job will likely always pay more, and I'm at the point in my life where I'm not willing to downsize or give-up my lifestyle (such as it is). Perhaps going the traditional route is a game for the young. Or perhaps it just isn't the route to take at all anymore, at any age, because the direction of things has changed.

Traditional vs. Electronic Publishing

Currently, I don't have a publisher. Nor do I have an agent. In truth, I wonder sometimes if I really need either. You see, the rules themselves have been altered. No longer do writers need to rely solely on publishers for exposure and distribution. Sure, publishers can give your career a boost out of the starting gate. But so much of it relies on the author taking it from there that the publisher/agent model soon becomes a hindrance and, in some cases, a detriment: while said writer is engaging in all the work, guess who's siphoning off the majority of the profit?

However, there's no doubt publishers have the potential to raise the bar in terms of quality. I'll be the first to admit that you have to wade through a lot of junk on the Kindle store, for example, before you find quality in the "self-published bin" (there's not really a "self-published bin", by the way). Publishers therefore have the potential to act as gatekeepers, holding back the stuff that probably shouldn't be seen by readers until it's been polished a bit more.

While I admire and envy those who have found success via the traditional publishing route, I'm seriously considering that it might not be right for me. I already have a day job; the reality of the situation is that I'll always be more self-sustaining doing that than writing. But I love putting words to paper, and especially concocting fantastic stories and the characters that populate them. Fortunately, there is hope for people like myself, and it is e-books.

E-books

E-books and the proliferation of high-quality e-reading devices are becoming the new medium for reading. Paper books will no doubt have their place for years to come, but it is a dying model. The world has gone green, and convenience coupled with instant gratification is a powerful driving force. Amazon, for example, touts their Kindle reading device with 3G wireless with this line: "...think of a book and you'll be reading it in less than 60 seconds". Competition in the e-reader space is growing every day. This, in turn, will continue to drive prices down. With many e-books already selling for $0.99, and price battles going on between the major players, this becomes a win-win for consumers.

But it's also a win for writers. Amazon, Scribd, even our own web sites become our distribution warehouses and provide the exposure we might not otherwise obtain. The middle-men—namely publishers and agents—are taken out of the equation. With more hands removed from the pot, the shares of those remaining gets bigger.

However...

Going electronic is not for everyone. For one, it's unlikely you can make a living off it (yet). But then everyone's definition of 'living' is a bit different, so a decision of this nature really becomes a personal one.

It's not an easy decision to make, either. I wonder in that you don't risk alienating yourself from ever breaking into the traditional model by jumping into the electronic one. Maybe that doesn't matter.

Of course, what I'm really talking about here is self-publishing, which has been around for a long time. Some authors (Paolini comes to mind) self-published, only to find great success under the traditional model after the fact. Is electronic publishing therefore any different?

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