Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Tale of Two Sets of Data

by
Scott D. Parker

A funny thing happened on the way to finished my latest book: I collected data.

I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ve been using the HoursTracker app to track the time and word count in this most recent book. I started the book on 1 March. I finished it yesterday. The book—a western titled ALWAYS BET ON RED—clocked in at 64,200 words. Take away the 7100 short story that served as the opening segment of the story, I managed 57,100 in March (plus 1 April). And, according to HoursTracker, I did it in 33.5 hours.

Now, if you’re thinking like I used to think, you might be telling yourself, “Hey, 33.5 hours is a little less than the typical 40-hour work week. I basically wrote a novel in a week.” Think about it. If you start at 8am on a Monday and worked consistently for eight hours a day, I finished this book a little before lunch on Friday. You can do the easy math as well. 57,100 words divided by 33.5 breaks down to 1704 words per hour. Coming back around to the ‘workday,’ 1704 x 8 = 13,500 words on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Friday was just the finale. Easy peasy, right? That was my thought as well…until this past Monday.

My company gave us Monday as a holiday. Easter Monday as it were. I checked with the wife and there was nothing truly pressing to do. My boy also had a holiday, so the whole family basically had nothing to do.

I decided to write. For one day, I told myself, let’s imagine if my dream job—full-time fictioneer—was real. I woke early—before 7am—got the coffee, checked email, reviewed the outline and where I had left things the day before, and put the fingers on the keyboard.

I treated the day like a job. I took breaks to make more green tea, have snacks, and a lunch hour. Every time I finished a chapter, I walked around the house or into the yard. By 4pm, I had amassed over six chapters and over 7,000 words. Wow, I thought, this is what it is like to be a full-time writer.

Then the reality check. If I were to match the hours and word count the HoursTracker app spat out, as good as 7,000 words was, I was still nearly 6,000 short. That was when the reality of the situation slammed home. It was impossible to write a novel in a “work week” not matter what the data indicated.

Wow. You full-time fiction writers have your work cut out for you, huh? This process, while producing a western novel (a first for me) had produced a book in a month, the hours actually spent on the book appeared deceiving. But that was all the time it took to produce this first draft: 33.5 hours.

Man, professional full-time writers, I don’t know how you do it day in a day out. By the time this post goes live, I will have started my next book. So my writing streak is still active. But I just can’t imagine the output of someone like Lawrence Block or some of the other golden age of writers cranking out book and book. To them, and the modern purveyors of books, I say bravo!

4 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I could never write this quickly because I never know what's going to happen next. I need to outline. Megan, a fulltime writer works from 7-4 every day. I have no idea how she does it. And that is seven days a week most weeks.

Scott Parker said...

I should have finished by 31 March...which was my goal. But even with my outline--I need'em, too--the ending took on different nuances I hadn't forseen. Thus, I had a bad Wednesday while I contemplated how to get to the ending, then blew through and had a great Thursday and Friday. Heck, I thought I was done...until the Epilogue made itself known. That short little chapter has now set up the next story with this character.

Carolyn McBride said...

Maybe when the son goes back on Monday I can try to write in that vein, but there's no way I can dedicate all day to it. Would be fun to see how many hours I could get in though. Thanks for the inspiration!

Scott Parker said...

Carolyn - It was a rare day I had on Monday. I basically never have them. I usually wake at 5am and write for an hour before I get ready for work. Weekends, I sleep in to around 6am and get more than an hour's writing in before the rest of the family wakes up.