Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The pleasures and problems of writing

A couple of people have asked why it takes me "so long" (!) to write a book. They're impatient for the next instalments in the Maxwell and Laredo series.  I thought it might interest some readers to learn why it takes so long - for me, at any rate.  Yes, I know that someone like Kevin J. Anderson (whom I had the pleasure of meeting at LibertyCon last year) has produced over five novels every year, on average, for the past quarter-century.  However, he's so successful that he can hire assistants to help with every extraneous task - editing, cover design, writing the blurb, marketing and PR, and so on.  He's even set up his own small publishing house as part of the process.  I can't afford that, so I get to do it all myself, with the help of my wife.

To start with, let's look at the work that goes into writing a book.  I'm writing in the science fiction genre, so I have to build a consistent world in which the action takes place. I can't have something happen one way here, then change it to a different way there, because if the world I've constructed is to remain consistent then things have to happen in the same way.  Similarly, I base my fictional world on a real one, because I want to keep my novels rooted in reality.  Therefore, each book will draw on names, cultures, etc. from one or more geographical regions on Earth, and build on that foundation.  For example, right now I'm working on a book proposal - of which more later - that will draw heavily on two subsets of Filipino culture from the 20th century.  I'm looking up family and given names, geography, etc. to use it in the world I'm constructing for this book.  I don't just suck these things out of my thumb:  it takes a lot of research to get them right.  All those non-writing activities can become a real time sink.

Second, all my novels so far have been written as part of a series.  I have to work out what happens in the current story in the light of where I want my hero/protagonist to go in the next book, and in the books after that.  I can't have things happening at random that don't help him get where he needs to be (although minor random events are OK for the 'local' plot).  For example, I've plotted the Maxwell series out to a dozen books, of which only the first three have so far been published.  I may not write all twelve - that'll depend on whether I can keep them fresh and interesting, of which you, my readers, will be better judges than I - but if the series continues to attract your interest, I can work on it for several years to come. I can also add more books at a future date, depending on demand.

Then there's the problem of having other things to do.  Being partly disabled, I work from home;  so I'm also the house-husband.  I shop, cook and clean, and have various things that need to be done every day.  Miss D. does her share, particularly during her days off work.  Nevertheless, when she's at work I can't write exclusively, and when she has her days off I need to spend time with her - otherwise why would she stay married to me?  There's also this blog, which occupies at least two hours every day.  That's important, because this blog is my primary interface with you, my readers, so I give it a high priority in terms of keeping it interesting and enjoyable.  To make things even more interesting, my spine locks up if I spend too long in one position:  so I can't sleep for more than a few hours at a time before pain wakes me.  I therefore sleep for two periods every day, a few hours in the afternoon and a few more during the small hours of the morning.  To cap it all, we moved house in August and my pickup began to give all sorts of problems that aren't fully sorted out yet.  Both activities have taken up a great deal of time in recent weeks.

Putting all those things together, it means there aren't many days when I can write for an uninterrupted eight to ten hours.  I have to use what time I have available - and if the pain level is high that day or something else simply has to be done, I'm not going to write very well regardless.  That's just the way it is.  I do the best I can with the time I have.

Finally, the writing is (in my experience) only about one-third to one-half of the work in producing every book.  Editing, proof-reading, cover image selection and cover design, writing a good blurb, choosing the right keywords, formatting the book for publication in both e-book and print versions, setting it up on Kindle and Createspace . . . there's an immense amount of work involved over and above writing it.  Being a self-published author, that all falls into my lap.  I'm extremely grateful for all the help Miss D. gives me, but I still have to do a great deal of it myself.  I'd say that it takes me anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 hours to write a 100,000-word novel, edit, correct and polish it, and format and prepare it for publication.  That translates to (at best) a production rate of about one novel every three months, or four per year, under ideal conditions.  Since conditions are seldom ideal, right now I'm averaging three books a year.  I hope I'll be able to write faster (and better) as I become more practiced and more efficient;  but there are many things that can interfere with that.

Right now I have three projects in progress.

  1. The fourth volume in the Maxwell Saga is currently being written.  I've thrown away a lot of my early work on it, because it just didn't feel right, and I'm re-working those sections.  I hope to have it ready for publication by late October or November.
  2. The second volume of the Laredo Trilogy has been outlined and is ready to start writing, but delays on Maxwell 4 and the work involved in project (3) below have prevented me from getting to it so far.  I had hoped to bring it out in late November or December, but I think it's going to slip to January or February next year.
  3. At LibertyCon I was invited by a leading SF publisher to submit a book proposal and three sample chapters.  I would, of course, continue to self-publish my existing book series, but this would be over and above that, and - if accepted - would get me into a mainstream publishing house as well.  I've tried and discarded three ideas so far. (Along the way I've learned that I just haven't got the right sort of mindset to write good fantasy - at least, not yet).  I've come up with a fourth idea for a SF novel that might work either as a stand-alone book or as the first in a trilogy.  I'm writing the first three sample chapters now, and will submit them to the publisher over the next month or two.  Here's hoping!

I'll do my best to keep the books coming.  They're my primary source of income, so I can't afford to slack off!  However, for those of you champing at the bit to get more books faster, I hope you can now understand why they're slower to arrive than you (and I) would like.



Jefferson Selvy said...

I understand Mr. Pusher Man, but I need my fix. I do hope you understand that it's all meant in jest.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Perhaps you are too modest to mention the first requirement; talent.

Roger Ritter said...

You authors never seem to be able to write the books as fast as we readers can read them! Fortunately, we can fill in with other authors while we wait.

Keep at it, and I eagerly await the next issues for both Maxwell and Laredo. Also, I hope the bit with the publisher works out - good luck!

tweell said...

Good luck with Baen!

You have an impressive output for an author in most genres. Thanks for the entertainment!