long does it take to type a novel?
Not write. Not create. Type.
I have a friend who can type
somewhere between seventy-five and eighty words per minute. On my best
day as a secretary, I could do about sixty wpm. I’ve always been better
on a computer than a typewriter (most folks are), so I could,
theoretically, type 3,600 words an hour.
As a writer . . . well, we all
know that’s a different story. In my writing career so far, my best
time is about two thousand words an hour. For one hour.
But let’s play with the math
just a moment, taking out any needed “creative lags.” If I can type two
thousand words an hour, then a 100K-word manuscript would take me fifty
hours to type. So if you take out all those pauses to think, all those
moments to correct, all those stops and starts to allow for plot holes
and painted corners and “what color were her eyes?” searches, it would
take about fifty hours to type a novel. About a week’s worth of work.
If you received a $5,000 advance
for that novel, you’d have made approximately $100 per hour. That’s not
a bad rate of pay.
Oh, what? I see you have an
“aneurysm face” there? What’s that you sputter?
Excuse me while I get a towel.
Okay, where were we? . . . Ah,
yes. Typing is not writing, you sputtered, wetly, in protest.
No, of course not. All those
creative lags are part of the process and must be figured in. So how
long does it take you to finish a book? Say you write one in three
months, and you receive a $20,000 advance. That’s still more than $40
an hour. A $5,000 advance would be around $10 per hour. (Most typists
you insist that you need at least a year to write a great novel.
now you see why most
authors don’t make money at writing. But you knew that. So what’s my
point is priorities.
What’s your goal in all this?
There are a lot of folks,
including some authors, who think that being a writer is “easy money.”
While most of us laugh at the thought, we still cling to the idea of
the best seller, that breakthrough book that will let us quit the day
job, without really examining what it is we want out of a writing
When I ask folks at conferences,
“What do you want to get out of a writing career?”
get a variety of answers: Money! A contract! Fame! Recognition of
talents and gifts. Some write in answer to their calling from God.
Others have a message to share.
To be honest, from this editor’s
POV, there’s no wrong answer to the question. But
you do need to answer it. The answer will help you set your goals, your
writing schedule, and your deadlines. Don’t wait for a publisher to set
a deadline. Set it yourself, and stick to it.
If, for instance, you want to
make money (George Orwell notwithstanding), the easiest way is to
become prolific. Make up your mind that you will
write a novel every three or four months. Do it whether or not they
sell. When they do, you’ll find you’ll sell more often, and once you
get five or six novels in print, your royalty statements may start
showing a long-term profit. If you write only one or two a year, then
you need to give up the idea that you’re in it for the money (or pray
for a best seller).
If you have other goals, define
them clearly and draw a path to get there. God gave you a gift. Decide
what you’re going to do with it. And make it a priority.
Otherwise, you’re just typing.
Nothing can destroy the good
writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good
ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.
William Faulkner, The Paris Review, Spring 1956