Scott D. Parker
I finished my first book of 2017 this past Thursday and it only took me a week…and 26 days.
Confused? Don’t be. Let me explain.
Those of us who work a typical day job work 40 hours a week. We go to work around 8:00am and leave at 5:00pm. We get an hour for lunch and end up working 8 hours a day. If we work a typical Monday through Friday, we work 40 hours a week.
Now, I’m not sure about your job, but mine is pretty specific. I show up at 7:00am (I actually work a 9/80 schedule where I get every other Friday off, but I have to work 9-hour days) and I’m expected to work. I don’t have time for “I don’t feel like it” or “I’m having writer’s block on this technical manual.” Within five minutes or so of me walking in the door, I’m working. And I’m working for five days on most weeks.
Somewhere along the line, we fiction writers got it in our heads that making stuff up for a living is not a real job. It most certainly is. And I discovered a little about myself over the first 26 days of January.
On New Year’s Day, I started writing my first book of the year. I have a title: CALVIN CARTER AND THE EMPTY COFFINS. It’s a 65,000-word (pre-edit) western/mystery novel, first in a new series. Anyway, whenever I sat down to write, I literally clocked in using the HoursTracker app on my phone. I wrote about tracking your writing time a couple weeks back. It’s also good to see the numbers add up over time.
One of my columns was “Time (cumulative)” where each day’s hours spent writing are totaled. If you look at it one way, it’s simply a column with an ascending series of numbers. Here is the data for the first six days in January: 2.35; 4.43; 5.43; 6.78; 7.83; 8.65. This column’s number go all the way up to 36.03 hours, which I hit on Thursday morning.
But if you stop and look at this column from another point of view, you see something completely different. If you imagine your day job 8-hour day, then when you hit 8 total hours, you’ve worked a “Monday.” When you reach 16 hours, you’ve worked through “Tuesday.” The math works all the way up to “Friday” and 40 hours.
By examining the data in this manner, I imagined what it would be like to have fiction writing as a full-time job…and realized that I could write a book in a week! That’s only 8 hours a day, time off for lunch, and no working the weekends. (Side note: I worked every day from 1 Jan to 26 Jan but that’s because fiction writing is not my full-time job.)
A big caveat: words written per hour. I have only one hour a day to write on weekdays, a tad more on weekends. I absolutely must be efficient in my writing time. Chances are that my overall word-count-per-hour would decrease if I truly worked eight hours straight, but when it’s an hour at a time, I can fly, especially when the guns are blazing and Carter has to get out of scraps. But even if my word count dropped to 1,000 words per hour, I could still work out a 40,000-word novel—enough for the westerns back in the day—in a week. Anything higher than that is gravy.
It’s not difficult to project forward the idea of working as a full-time fiction writer and the output that could be achieved if the constraints of another day job were not in the way. A book a week pace is crazy! I know. Not only would the physical aspect take a toll but the mental gymnastics to come up with a new book every week might prove too much. But some do it. Robert Randisi, in an interview published just this week, lays out his working day. It’s incredible, but he does it, day in and day out.
Just like a real job.
Because writing IS a real job.
Some have the opportunity to do it full time. Others, like myself, have to bide our time, all the while training up for success. For one month in January 2017, I realized I could write a book in a month, and maybe, just maybe, given the opportunity--or a deadline--I could do it in a week.