I’ve had several people curious about everything a writer goes through. Oftentimes, especially for non-writers, there are a lot of things that don’t get added to the equation. They don’t understand why a book takes so long, (a whole year until the next one?!), what goes into the process (aren’t you just printing a word document with a picture on top?), and why I don’t make a ton of money when I charge $14.95 a book. (I mean, that’s almost $1,500 for only 100 sales!)
Welcome to Part 1 of a four-part series called Look at a Book. I’ll be talking in-depth about the 4 stages of making a book so you can understand and relate to the process of a writer. Part 1: Writing a Book focuses on the writing process, from starting on a blank piece of paper, to writing THE END.
The series will continue with Part 2: Editing a Book; Part 3: Publishing a Book and Part 4: Marketing a Book. Remember, these are based off of my own experiences and feedback from writer’s I know. It’s not all-inclusive, it’s just what I’ve discovered along the way… Enjoy!
PART 1: Writing a Book
I’ve met people in all stages of writing: those who NEVER want to write a book, those who have a great IDEA for a book, those who have STARTED writing a book, and those who ARE writing a book.
All of those people still have the capacity to write a book. I don’t think anything is finite, as moods and tastes change through the years. But here’s a glimpse at what I went through to write and FINISH my first novel, ILLUSION.
Stories are broken into sections, just like life. If I tell you the punchline first or forget to tell you something and add it at the end, you’ll most likely be frustrated. A book is the same. It’s the writer’s job to tell their story the BEST way they can. That is not always the same as how someone else would. Here’s how my process looks:
A) The SCENE: For me, ILLUSION began because I had a scene pop into my head: a young woman trapped in a windowless room with no memory of who she was or how she got there. Now, I tend to write any scene that pops into my head, just so that it’s written down. This might be on napkins, the back of an instruction manual, even dozens of post-its.
B) The INTRIGUE: Once the scene is written down, I reread it. If I get to the end and I think “I wonder what happens next…” then I write the next part. If not, I either squirrel it away for later or toss it. If I’m not interested, I’m not going to care about writing it.
C) The CATCH: See, for me, I don’t outline. If I do, I tend to get bored, because I already know what’s going to happen next. I like to write how I read–curious what the next section will reveal. So if I want to know the end of the book, I have to write it. Which brings me to…
D) The BLOCK: Notorious for all writers. Whether it be for a day or a year, a block in your writing can be destructive to your flow. I’ve hit plenty of snags, more so since I’m a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” kind of writer. Everything will be going great and then BAM! the character doesn’t like what I’m making them do.
Hold on… HUH?? Aren’t you just making it up? How can the character tell you anything?
Some writers follow a specific set of rules and outlines. They make their story follow the path they want. They change the plot to fit their needs as the writer. I can’t do that. Don’t get me wrong. I CAN write that way, but when I do, the characters seems forced or the dialogue cliché or the plot drags. So as much as I’d love to just write whatever I want, I can’t really make the characters do anything unless they want to.
This concept has troubled many of my non-writer friends. So I try to explain it like this:
Imagine you see a bird flying around. Try as you might, you cannot make that bird fly where you want it (well, maybe if you entice it with some food!). If you do force it, it will probably be disgruntled and resist. My characters are the same way, except they are make-believe. But they follow the same rules as living beings, otherwise they wouldn’t seem realistic. If I make Character A kiss Character B just because I want to, it may turn out to be horrible, especially if it’s something like they are brother and sister. In other words, just because I CAN make characters do anything I want as the writer, doesn’t mean I SHOULD. And so I let things flow naturally–I try to let my writing follow what would normally happen in the situation based on the characters’ personalities. Sometimes they do something unexpected though–like a bird flying into a window. 🙂
Let’s continue on. Now we’ve come to…
E) The END: I’ve written the first scene. I’ve continued on because I stayed intrigued by the story. I let the characters develop naturally. And I made it past all the blocks! The first draft is complete. Congrats!! And it only took me… insert insane amount of time here…
Why does it take so long?
Most writers I’ve spoken to write a book in 6-9 months. Let’s break this down:
Say you type 40 words per minute–about average. Depending on the genre, a book can be anywhere from 60,000-120,000 words. Again, this is average. Let’s take the middle of that and call it a 90,000 word book. That would take you 37.5 hours of straight typing to write a book from start to finish. So basically, if you work full-time, when you get to work, start typing. Do Not Stop. Take a half hour lunch. Continue typing until you need to go home.
Do the same for every day the rest of the week.
Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty impossible to me. I dare you to go on your keyboard and type for even the length of a TV show without stopping. My fingers are cramping just thinking about it. And that’s if you know exactly what you want to type for every single word you put down on the page.
So… getting a book done in one week is possible, but pretty unlikely.
Instead, let’s say you do 3 hours of typing during a day, 5 days a week. That’s 7,200 words a day. That would take you just over 2 weeks to finish the book.
But get this. The average word count a day for writers is 500-1,500 A DAY. If you wrote 5x a week, you would reach 90,000 words in 3-9 months.
What the heck are they doing with all that time??
Do you remember writing essays/papers in school? Remember how they give you 2 weeks to write a 10 page double-spaced paper? (Which comes out to ~2,500 words.)
But I had to do research! And I had my other classes going on! And I went to that party Saturday night!
Exactly! Writers still have daily lives–some work, some have families. We all have chores, events, meet-ups, social gatherings, and downtime. We also do research! Whether writing about a fictional planet called Sintaur or a night club down the street, we need to make sure everything about it is as realistic as possible.
Writers are constantly creating, rearranging, thinking, organizing, researching, questioning, and wondering about our stories. Plus the actual writing.
So next time you wonder why the next book isn’t coming out for 1-2 years, just remember, the writer wants it finished just as much as you do, but the physicality of doing it isn’t as easy as it seems.
Another deciding factor: MONEY. It is difficult to work on something for a long time without getting paid for it WHILE YOU ARE WORKING ON IT. It would be like your boss saying they would only pay you $14.95 (the cost of one copy of ILLUSION) for every person who pointed you out specifically when they used your company. Now if you work in a place where people tell your boss every day that you’re the reason they went with the company, then great! But most of us would be upset to know we might only make ~$15 a day for 8 hours of work because only one customer told your boss about you.
That’s the world of a writer. We are expected to put hours of work into a book and never get paid for our time unless the product sells. This includes materials, too! What if your company subtracted internet time, phone time, keyboard wear and tear, pens, pencils, post-its, water, coffee, copies, printer ink, memo paper, etc. every time you used them.
Writing a book is a time-consuming, money-consuming process.
And all that’s happened so far is the first draft has been written. We haven’t even started to edit, publish, or market it yet.
So why bother?
Most of the writers I’ve spoken to, and myself included, simply love to create stories. And we want to share those stories with others. So we spend time writing without getting paid, researching/traveling without getting paid, organizing our outlines and characters bio sheets without getting paid. We do it because we love it.
I hope this has helped clear up and answer some questions you might have had. I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts, writer or otherwise!
Stay tuned for Part 2: Editing a Book
I write the same way–I don’t outline. I like to see where the character goes without my thinking about it. Thanks for posting this; I’m going to share it with some friends on Facebook.
Great Jedianegram! Yeah I just can’t make characters do anything they don’t want to do. I’ve had a lot of people not understand how that’s possible. I hope this post helps!
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great series, great first piece. it’s so true that writers do their writing in many different ways with many different styles. some have a generic form they follow, and they just substitute names, places, and situations. some have ghost writers, where they maybe outline a plot, lend their name to the book, and someone writes the book for them. and some writers scrabble through every plot twist and turn, dream up incredibly interesting characters, and utilize words as magic wands to make you want more. this last is the most difficult, most tedious, and most painful (at times) way to write. it is also a labor of love, which shows in the context of the finished product. you are in the third category, christa, and ‘illusion’ is a work of art because of it.