Me and Sisyphus (again) by Bill Kirton
|This is book in question...|
My WIP is crawling along so slowly that I got to thinking about word counts and just how long it can take to write a novel. And I remembered a blog I’d written a couple of years back. I’m a believer in recycling and it’s relevant, so this is a rewrite of it. I’d just finished the first draft of a book about Study Skills for Pearson. On the basis of other things I’d written for them, they reckoned I was just the bloke to rewrite it for a different market from the one in which it was already operating very successfully. I had a meeting with the publisher and we agreed on a 145,000 word target. (Well, he said the number and I rather weakly nodded confident assent.) That was in September and my impression was that it was to be delivered the following Spring.
But when I got home from
, there was an
email telling me that Spring was when promotional work would start, which meant
having it ready by December. As we exchanged more emails, one apparent bonus
was that the total came down to 105,000. But it was only ‘apparent’ because, as
I was writing, I realised that targeting a word count makes no sense. A book
will always be as long as it needs to be. As it happens, this one came in at
It was a strange experience. It’s the longest book I’ve ever written but it was written in the shortest time I’ve ever taken. I had to put everything else aside which, at first, made me resent the fact that it was taking over everything but which, in the end, was sort of comforting. As the chapters piled up it gave the impression of purpose, progress, even meaning, for God’s sake. But don’t worry, those of you who’ve got used to me insisting that nothing has any significance; my fundamental lack of belief hasn’t altered. At times I did think of Sisyphus, but in my case, when I sat down to the next session each day, the stuff I’d already done hadn’t disappeared. (While I’m at it, I need to rethink my whole Sisyphus attitude, too. I mean, I know his acceptance of the futility of what he was doing was a fine example of the indomitability of the human spirit and stuff, but surely the best response to knowing that the bloody rock was going to end up back at the bottom every time should be ‘Sod it’ and go off for a pint. That’s real humanity.)
|...and this is the Korean translation (tee hee).|
Anyway, so I started work around 8.30-9 a.m. each day and stopped around 5.30-6. At first, as I said, I resented giving up the time but, as I got into it, it became one of those experiences where you start writing and everything (including self) disappears. In a way, you become the words. When you’re writing fiction, it’s different. Because you’re with the people in your story, interacting with them, recording what they do – but this was a book of advice. I wrote in a loose, conversational style, addressing the advice directly to the reader ‘You’ll find that …’, ‘If you start by …’, ‘Then give yourself a reward …’ – that sort of thing. But the person doing the addressing, while it was me and I was drawing on my own experience as well as the excellent material in the original book, was a sort of construct. I became a writing machine.
So, what conclusions do I draw from it all? Well, for a start, the text looks much more interesting in Korean. But also, I can play statistics. For example – the 110,508 words were written in 29 working days, which is 3810 a day or 448 an hour. But the further you take this, the worse it gets. In the end, it means I was writing just 7 words a minute. 7 words a minute! That’s crap. It’s hardly writing at all. I just timed myself as I was writing this to prove it and, even with correcting typos, I can easily manage 50+ words a minute. So all it proves is that I’m a lazy bugger. In theory I should have been able to write that book in 2.9 days.