I've met many gifted writers over the years who rarely write. Inside of them, there is a great book, short story, poem or screenplay. They have the talent to put their idea onto paper, yet they don't. Desire isn't their problem; they feel the urge to write just like I do. Yet something stops them. They worry about an issue that is one of the main drawbacks to being a writer: time, or rather, a commitment to time.
Other villains that prevent people from writing are a lack of talent or a lack of imagination, and the ability to sustain these things for very long. A poor knowledge base of grammar and punctuation can also do it, just as a home builder would have a difficult time with their task if they had a shortage of basic carpentry skills. Embarrassment or a fear of failure are another two that kill writing before it even begins. But the time factor is the usual one I see that prevents people from finishing the work they want to do.
When writing Elephants, I did a time study on myself. In this, I learned that, on the average, it takes me one hour to write one page, single-spaced, 1-inch margins. Pages heavy with dialogue are much faster, but when combined with pages of straight prose, they average-out to a page an hour. Elephants' first draft manuscript was 824 pages long, written over two years. That comes out to 412 hours per year. I did this on top of a full-time job. That's ten 40-hour work weeks per year.
A lot of time? Hell, yes; like I said, it is a commitment to time. I have found that the one-page-per-hour rule is fairly common; it is probably what most writers, even the pros, can manage. That means you. Now, most books aren't as long as Elephants. You, being a sane person, should have a manuscript of normal length, like 300 pages (which will translate into about 225 pages in a 6x9 book). If you wrote that manuscript in a year, expect to spend 300 hours, or 7 1/2 work weeks. Daunting? Scary? Crazy? You're probably saying to yourself, "There's no way I can do that. I have the kids, the job, the yard work, the church duties, grocery shopping...forget it!"
However, these are lies you tell yourself. Writing-Killers. Creativity Bombs. In actuality, it is quite doable. 300 pages a year, if you work just five days a week, comes to about 1 hour and 10 minutes per day. Factor in days where you work more than 1 hour per day, like a vacation day from work or a Saturday per month, and that daily figure comes down even more. At the end of a year, you'll have a manuscript, and you'll find that your life has gone on, you're still alive, the lights are still on, and your mortgage is current.
Just like investing money, take care of yourself first. Plan ahead. Set a goal. Say to yourself, or write it on a piece of paper and tape it to your mirror, "I will have a manuscript by July 26, 2004." Then make a plan. When doing your plan, be realistic. Commit the time you can really take. A Sunday per month, four days a week from six to eight o'clock, a day of vacation or sick leave from work every other month... Plan what you can do, for you don't want to have to alter the plan once you've begun. Part of your plan should be not only the time factor, but a location factor, too. Where are you going to write? My suggestion is to distance yourself from your regular life as much as you can. Write at the library or coffee shop. Get away to a sleazy hotel room for a day where the phone won't be ringing and the household chores aren't looming.
The second thing you must do is inform everyone in your life of your plan. If they laugh or scoff or blow you off, make a mental note of this and continue on. Believe me, after your year of self-sacrifice, you will find out who your friends are. Tell them what you want to do (but never reveal your story to them; that's another blog entry coming soon) and that you will appreciate their understanding, yadda yadda. Believe me, I've done this before; pave the way for your plan. It is well worth the effort and will save you much misery in the future.
As noted, having a schedule, with a clear goal in mind, will focus you on your writing. If you write one page per hour, it will take the average writer about one year to finish a 300-page manuscript. Since most books fall there or well short of that mark, you can have a rough draft in a year or less. If you set the goal of having your book done in a year, it can be done. However, 300 manuscript pages (about 225 book-size pages) translates into about 7.5 40-hour work weeks. Fitting this much time into your busy schedule will take sacrifice, and that sacrifice will impact you and those around you to a degree you might not expect. I concluded by saying those people who are important in your life will have mixed reactions to your dedication.
First, they will tell you they admire your determination. When you disappear for your scheduled writing time, they will feel a mild sense of unease. Abandonment will be there. So will envy. Jealousy. But in the early stages, their respect for you and your work will overpower those emotions. Now of course, those who don't support your writing, those who dismiss it as fantasy, will not have a sudden sense of admiration for you. But those who do will see your determination, your scheduling, as you chasing your dream. They will be willing to go along with your plan. For awhile.
Next, you will find them growing anxious. Their anxiety as the days turn into weeks, the weeks into months, will grow. You will miss important things, like birthday gatherings, your weekly coffee sessions at B&N with them, your monday night football parties. You won't be there; you'll be writing. They will try to contain themselves, but their anxiety will turn to anger. They'll resent your writing at this point. It is a mistress keeping you away from your friends and family, a usurper, a concubine. As their anxiety grows, your emotions will soar. Freed from these mundane activities, you will find that your book is finally taking form. It is becoming a living thing, consuming not only your time, but your thoughts as well.
When they finally lay their guilt trips on you to reel you in, which they will, you will put your schedule on hold. They will sense victory as you go back to your former life. You will feel bridled. They will feel better, and you will feel worse. Your dreams are slipping away. In your mind, you will still be writing, piling up the ideas so your dream doesn't grow cold. Sitting at the bowling alley or the church pew or teeing one up on the golf course, you will be thinking of the next chapter, the next plot twist, the way you will develop the main character... Your friends will see that you are with them, but you are not really THERE. You go through the motions, but your heart and mind are not into it. Their anxiety and resentment will reach a peak at this point. You may even get the big ultimatum: It is either me or the writing; choose now.
At this point, you will have to make a decision, and those choices will be: 1) continue as I am, and damn everyone's opinion. If they don't stand by me, then f*** them; 2) I'll scale back my work schedule...maybe I'll finish in two years instead of one, or; 3) This is too much trouble. I'll lay down the book; it was a stupid plan, anyway.
I can't help you with that decision and neither can anyone else. You just have to stand back and take stock in your writing; Just how important is it to you? I made my decision and my writing came out on top. My relationships have never been the same; those who are my true friends, and my family, have stuck it out. Those who didn't fell by the wayside. Can you live with that?
David Kilpatrick, author
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