Come On, Own Up, How Many?

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Here is a question for all my fellow writers, both published like myself, and those who just love to write for the sheer joy of doing so. How many hours do you spend writing each day and how many words is usually involved?

Ever since I changed the way I write from how I used to in the past, when I would spend hours to achieve a daily word count in the thousands, I now stick rigidly to a short but extremely intense daily session. I find this is the method that works best for me. If you are wondering how long, these days I limit myself to adding no more than one to two hundred words per day. In my case I start writing at five in the morning, finishing promptly at eight am. I find that to continue beyond that three hour working window of 100% concentration, means that silly errors will inevitably begin to creep in due to my state of total mental exhaustion by the end of each session.

The rest of the day is taken up with a lot of thought about where the story wants me to go next, not the other way round, while I carry on with my normal daily activities. You must remember that a story is a living thing…

Years ago when I was still in the workforce I used to spend two to three hours writing each night from Monday until Friday. Then on the weekends I would write for twelve hours on both days. On public holidays the number of hours sometimes stretched from twelve to eighteen. While to the unitiated, endlessly pouring out words might seem to be the only way to write a story, trust me when I tell you it isn’t! In fact its often the worst possible way of going about it. If you don’t believe me, just look at the hundreds of thousands of poorly written books out there by writers who convinced themselves that high daily word counts is the only way to go. A daily three hour session is by far the best way from my point of view.

I would love to hear how you go about it, but I know you lot of old. Most of you are too damned shy! Don’t just leave it up to the normal three or four regulars to comment. There is absolutely no excuse for you not joining in. You never know, you might even gain some useful ideas and tips on the subject from one another. So leave your thoughts for others to read as comments below this post.

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What’s The Ultimate Conundrum?

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No not the Dodo – read on!

When it comes to that book we as writers have spent many months working on, sooner or later we are all presented with the same conundrum. Will it sell, bearing in mind that this business is extremely fickle?

Daily I see countless writers both new and old, endlessly talking/blogging about spending not only a considerable amount of time and effort, but also their hard earned money, on a book they wrote some time back that simply isn’t selling, in the vain hope that what they’re doing will increase it’s chances in today’s saturated market. In short we’re talking about idiots!

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it until the day I die. If your book doesn’t work, no amount of spending money on changing its cover or having it properly edited, together with purchasing a number of copies of the new version from your publisher to give away in a book store or writer’s convention in the vain hope of promoting it to an already jaded public, will make one iota of difference in the end. What you are doing is flogging a dead horse!

Despite what so many still foolishly believe, the fact that you have availed yourself of the services of an editor and maybe even a publicist, or perhaps you have spent money having it’s cover, hook and link added to one of the countless number of book advertising web pages who demand payment for your doing so, spending your own money before the first sale has even taken place. Or maybe you even shelled out yet more money by employing a professional reviewer to help kickstart your book’s chances. Even then, using all of these options still doesn’t guarantee sales. No marketing strategy ever does, no matter how professional it may appear to be to the average man or woman.

There is no magic formula for literary success.

In the end, the only thing that does matter when it comes to sales, is whether or not the story in question actually appeals. It’s immaterial that you and your immediate family circle and close friends loved it. After all, you and they are too close to it to be objective.

So, what might the discerning reader be looking for? I can’t speak for others, but when I am perusing the millions of books currently available, first of all I narrow down my search to the genre that has appealed to me my entire life. Next, I totally ignore the often gawdy covers, if I want to look at pretty pictures I’ll buy a glossy magazine, published for air-heads who don’t read!

Instead I begin with a book’s hook. If what I’m reading intrigues me, bearing in mind that as a successful science fiction writer, I am extremely hard to please these days, then and only then will I read the first few pages. If I feel that the story appears to show promise, I’ll buy a copy. If not, I move on to the next one.

Oh, and before you ask – no I don’t take any notice of a particular book’s reviews, no matter whether they are good, bad or indifferent. Unlike the vast majority, aka ‘The Great Unwashed’, I prefer to make up my own mind. The other thing to remember is that having enjoyed reading a specific work, when I see another by the same author, I will always seriously consider it.

What do I mean when I say does a book appeal? There is nothing mysterious or complicated about it. If a story has been carefully thought out. If it builds towards a climax, with the odd red herring thrown in for good measure. If the characters and their relationships with one another are believable. Then and only then do I consider that any given book appeals/works.

There are a few other things to remember. In this business, to succeed you have to gain a reputation as a storyteller – not an easy thing to achieve. To do that first you have to have written several books, preferably honing your skills with each one. Normally your first few won’t do it for you. Secondly, you will find that even though your book or books are beginning to be read as a result of those free giveaway promotions, (more often than not by tightwads) there is no guarantee that you’re book(s) will actually sell in their thousands, meaning that you will earn serious royalties. Even if they do sell, the chances of more than ten to a dozen copies per year is slight, no matter how much time, effort and money you may have put in to promoting them.

Only one of mine ever became a best seller. Because of it, I earned that most elusive of epithets from my fellow published writers – consumate storyteller.

At the risk of repeating myself – unlike so many of you today, never once have I pinned my hopes on whether or not any of my covers appeal. What ultimately matters is what’s contained within any given book’s pages, and whether or not the story actually appeals. Remember, in this game you are only as good as your last book…

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Which is more important to you as a writer, is it quality or quantity?

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So what floats your boat? Is it a daily word count in the thousands, or maybe one hundred carefully chosen ones? While many writers don’t feel they have done a decent day’s work unless they have literally bashed out two to three thousands words – yes I did say bashed out, others (myself included) far prefer quality over quantity.

For any of you who wholly subscribe to the multi thousand words per day argument, take a moment to reconsider.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you have just written three thousand words. Now put yourself in your editor’s shoes. What will he or she do when confronted with your latest contribution to literature? When they have looked long and hard at what you have written, chances are that once they stop shaking their heads, they will put their red pen through around two thousand nine hundred of them, with notations all over the place, such as – why did you say this? How many times must I remind you – don’t use passive voice!!! They’re not there! Re-write this passage from the pov of Victoria, not Hermione, etc, etc.

Does what I’ve just said seem a bit harsh to you? If your answer is definitely, then I’m sorry, but you really shouldn’t be surprised when your editor does exactly as I have just outlined above, or something similar. Either way you won’t like it.

For the average writer, pouring out thousands of words per day in the vain hope that some of what you have written may be usable is not only a complete waste of time, but also counter productive, even though you may have come up with a vague idea. It matters little that you have thoroughly planned out your storyline, or are merely winging it, typing what immediately springs to mind. Without careful thought and taking the time to deliberately choose words of quality, ie – the right ones, you are making a rod for your own backs. One thing you soon learn to do as an Indie is to be your own editor, long before you pass your MS over to someone else.

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Now then, here’s an exercise in what I’m talking about for all of you to try. The following is the first incarnation of one specific sentence from my latest sci-fi WIP – The Guardian. One thing it is not is the version I eventually settled on. Nor is it the same length.

An intense flash of light temporarily blinded all of them.

All you have to do is come up with what you think is a worthy alternative, saying exactly the same thing, but in a completely different way.

Write your answer on the back of a postcard and… Oh wait a minute, we’re living in the twenty-first century now aren’t we, not the twentieth. I apologise for having a senior moment. Here’s what you should do. Just leave your answer as a comment for this blog post. Remember, you don’t have to limit yourselves to using a different combination of the original words. Think about the original sentence and what it tells you. Your sentence can be as long or as short as you please, just so long as it conveys the original sentence’s meaning.

Seems easy, right? Ok you lucky people, put your thinking caps on and have a go.

By the way, before you ask, no I am not going to make your lives easy by setting the scene for you, except to say that Adler, Lynne, Philippe and Anatole need to get as far away as possible from what happened.

The one who is closest to the version I finally settled on gets a smiley face. If it’s one of the many lovely ladies who follow my blog, you get a smiley face and a couple of kisses thrown in for good measure.

Have fun.

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