Thoughts on Ten Thousand Words…

17 Apr

In my experience, it takes a long time to write ten thousand words. I’ve noted that my manuscripts take an eternity to produce. As a writer, then, working on a manuscript, that figure appears significant. It signifies that something of weight, of greater length than a short story, has begun to emerge, that the results of one’s labours are starting to take shape. And two people have mentioned this particular figure in the last week. Firstly, my Internet acquaintance, Tamar Hela (see Tamar’s WordPress blog here) mentioned on Facebook that she’d completed ten thousand words of her second book. And secondly, an acquaintance who shall remain nameless and who also writes fiction (blimey, we’re all at it, aren’t we?) told me that during the recent break she’d started work on a new book. I asked her how it was going and she told me that she’d got ten thousand words. ‘Wow’, I said, ‘and how long did that take?’ I invite you now to guess how much time she expended on it. Suffice to say, it wasn’t long. All will be revealed in the next paragraph.

I’ve ranted on this subject before. In my post, November: Can a novel be written in a month?, I cast doubt upon the quality of anything that might be produced in such a time frame. It seems to me symptomatic of the mindset that art can be created with a minimum of endeavour. You don’t have to put time into learning your craft. Nor do you have to spend much time on producing it. Looking at Tamar’s Facebook posts, I see that she began her current project back in September. Ten thousand words in eight months – now that sounds like crafting to me. And my unnamed acquaintance? ‘Six hours,’ she replied, ‘on the beach with a laptop’. Six hours? Who knows, perhaps she’s a genius? That might explain the ‘light bulb’ moment, the 1% of genius that is inspiration. But what about the other 99% of Thomas Edison’s equation? Where’s the perspiration? Philip K Dick and Jack Kerouac were both supposedly able to write with great speed, but let’s be honest, their work would suggest that was exactly how it was produced…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The writing desk in a previous, temporary location (curtains not of the author’s choice)

I began work on my second fictional work over twenty years ago. My God, I’ve been writing forever! There’s a sense in which my current project could be considered my seventh work of fiction, though I’ve ‘disowned’ my first three efforts. I began writing it in October and I now have 36,000 words (see excerpts here and here). This represents spectacular progress for me, though it’s worth noting that it’s nearly five years since the idea occurred to me, so it’s been slow baking for some time in the Rayburn of my subconscious. And as noted in previous posts, like my writing friend, Mari Biella, I’ve adopted a twin-pronged approach to writing this time. So I have 15,000 words of a further work-in-progress that I began in summer. That would make fictional work no. 8!

I’m sure there’s a simple phrase that sums up the moral here – something to do with the swords of a thousand men, perhaps. No, that’s not it. The words of a thousand pens, then? Nope, not that either. The pen is mightier than the sword? A picture tells a thousand words… Hmm, it eludes me. Once again, it’s suggestions on a postcard time.

All words and image © PSR 2013

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15 Responses to “Thoughts on Ten Thousand Words…”

  1. J.D.Hughes April 18, 2013 at 6:22 am #

    It depends on how much editing one does after the writing. There is much to be said for writing quickly and editing slowly. I find ideas can easiiy be compromised by too much thinking – conscious interference in a subconscious process – beating the life out of the damn thing until it’s so overworked it ceases to have any significance or relationship to the original thought. Some might call that development, but for me it’s like losing a newly acquired friend. We all have our ways of working!

    PKD? the man was a genius and the depth and strength of his wonderful ideas shine through the sometimes less than deathless prose. I wonder if a different editor would have kicked ‘Do Androids…’ into banality?

    • Paul Sutton Reeves April 18, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      Hi J.D. and thanks for your comments.

      I agree totally that different people have different ways of working. I suppose the thrust of my post was aimed at the idea that something of worth might be created with minimal effort, a perception that’s widespread in modern society, it seems to me (‘X Factor’ syndrome). Had my acquaintance said that she’d put down some rough ideas, I wouldn’t have suspected that this was a done deed. I tend to edit as I write, thinking very carefully about the feel of each word and sentence. Spending a great deal of time on editing after a speedy first draft comes to the same thing, I would have thought – putting time and effort into your craft.

      I’m aware that inspiration can strike and something may be written very rapidly, Coleridge and Kubla Khan being a well known example. I’ve experienced this myself occasionally as a songwriter in a previous existence. As a rule of thumb for the compositional process, producing the finished article in a matter of hours is probably not to be recommended, I would argue.

      I agree about PKD having a remarkable imagination, though I found ‘Do Androids’ an unsatisfying read. Each to his own!

  2. Mari Biella April 18, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ is the best phrase I can think of at present. It’s neither original nor particularly apposite to the writing process per se, but it’s the best my sleep-deprived brain can dredge up today!

    I truly envy people who can bash out 10,000 words in six hours (!), as I am nothing if not a slow writer. (I’m quite capable of spending an entire day rewriting a single sentence, and a short story of about 4,000 words took me over a month to get right.) That said, I often find that my first drafts tend to take shape relatively quickly: I don’t really analyse things too much at that stage, but just concentrate on getting the basic story down onto the page. The result, of course, is a mess – and it is at this stage, I find, that the real artistry comes into play. Anyone can write a terrible first draft, but – in my experience at least – the process of turning that raw product into a finished manuscript involves a lengthy and occasionally quite miserable process of editing, redrafting, and worrying.

    It’s all worth it, of course. The moment when you are confident that a manuscript represents your best effort is wonderful. I’m sure that both your works in progress will be well worth the wait!

  3. Paul Sutton Reeves April 18, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    Hi Mari and thanks for your kind comments and encouragement!

    Rome wasn’t built in a day? Hmm, I’m suspecting an Italian bias here! Yes, that’s better than my phrase – you’re the current competition leader.

    It’s always fascinating to read how other writers go about the compositional process. Your approach and J.D.’s are different from mine, and I suspect that there are dozens of ways to construct a manuscript. Ideas certainly come to me in a flash, but unlike you, I never manage to complete a first draft in under a year. I do redraft several times, but what I have at the end of a first draft is closer to a final draft than it would be for many writers, I suspect. You’re certainly right that anyone can produce a rough draft – turning it into a work of art requires dedication and talent. As you say, though, it’s all worth it in the end for the satisfaction of having completed the job.

    I hope that you’ll be proved right about those far-off finished items and thank you for your confidence in me (possibly misplaced!). How are your WIPs coming along?

    • Mari Biella April 19, 2013 at 9:33 am #

      The WIPs are coming along slowly – horribly, frustratingly so. I’ve actually put one aside for a little while, as I just can’t seem to take it any further at present; it seems to me that it almost needs to ‘cure’, like ham! Hopefully just leaving it aside for a bit will give me a fresh perspective. Hopefully…

      When I’ve managed to turn it into something a little more like a finished manuscript, could I possibly email the first few chapters to you for some feedback? I value your opinions, and I really need someone to tell me whether there’s anything there at all, or whether I’m just wasting my time!

      The other one is actually coming along rather well. It’s easier to write, in a sense, as it consists of a novella and four short stories grouped together. I like this approach: there’s always something different and interesting to work on. Hopefully it will be finished by the end of the summer. I hope that this is not unduly optimistic, though realistically it could be…

      • J.D.Hughes April 19, 2013 at 10:00 am #

        Reading Mari’s post I’m reminded of how fragile our opinions of our own works can be and how, sometimes, a story stops of its own volition without a by your leave and for no apparent reason. This doesn’t refer to your works Mari, but rather in a generic sense. Despite my normal method of writing I have at least a dozen novels that stopped ticking and became inert. There was something unconvincing about them. One has its 33rd anniversary next week.

        It’s still unconvincing.

      • Paul Sutton Reeves April 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

        Back from the bolt-hole!

        Sorry to hear that you’re struggling with the first WIP, Mari. Sometimes, I find, it’s a problem with the manuscript that slows one’s progress, sometimes a matter of tiredness/being in the wrong frame of mind for writing. I’m sure that you’ll turn it around. You’re more than welcome to send the opening chapters to me – I’d be happy and interested to have a read through.

        The other idea sounds interesting. It’s a good combo. I grouped a novella and five short stories together for one of my unpublished works (several extracts from which are on the ‘Writing’ section of this blog). I’m pleased to hear that it’s going well. That’s the beauty of the twin-pronged approach, isn’t it? Is there a theme linking the stories together?

        J.D. – I’ve got a batch of aborted novels and novellas too. 33rd anniversary? Even I can’t match that! Sometimes one has to write many thousands of words before it becomes clear that a manuscript is going nowhere.

  4. franny Lloyd April 18, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    Hi Paul. Sensible as ever. This jogged my memory of something I was reading this afternoon (it’s unreliable if time spans go any longer than that!) by Anais Nin. She seems to have been very prolific. Some of her writing is lovely; you want to take out paragraphs here and there and keep them as precious

    But to the point: In the late thirties she compiled extracts which covered 600 pages for a friend who wanted to publish her. When he was given the extracts to read he changed his mind, saying, having read some in the complete versions, that they should be published in their entirely or not at all. I think if the extracts, which must have been about 210,000 words, was only a part of what she had written the complete volumes must have had and enormous span. And this written before she was thirty.

    She says in her diary of Winter 1954-1955 than on the day she wrote this ‘I burnt these pages in the fireplace’.

    It’s just wonderful though to think of someone writing like this all her life and leaving such a legacy to the reader. She is a great writer and one hardly acknowledged during her life and very neglected today.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves April 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

      Hi Franny and thanks for your comments.

      A friend of mine who writes is a big admirer of Anais Nin. You’re not alone! To my shame, I’ve yet to read her. It’s symptomatic of our age that fine writers lie neglected while middlebrow populists are elevated to the status of geniuses. Some of the great writers have been capable of writing vast amounts – one has only to think of Dostoevsky. As a child I loved H.G. Wells and he wrote vast reams of words so I was never short of books to read!

  5. Tamar Hela April 19, 2013 at 3:36 am #

    This post was very reflective and (I feel) true of quality artwork. Anything worthy of note should be crafted, and crafted means that artwork/writing/projects/etc. take time. When I read this post, I thought immediately of George R. R. Martin and Game of Thrones. 20 years+ to write a masterpiece! Very well written. And thanks for the mention!

    • Paul Sutton Reeves April 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm #

      Hi Tamar and thanks for dropping by!

      I’m pleased to hear that your with me on the crafting argument. Wow – twenty years to complete a novel! Imagine the dedication it would take to do that… I believe Joyce took something like that to complete ‘Finnegans Wake’. It makes the six years that I spent on my war novel look like undue haste.

      Always happy to give my fellow writers a little extra publicity!

  6. Paul Sutton Reeves April 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Off to France for the weekend – replies to follow!

  7. Marian May 16, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    Reblogueó esto en marian395's Blogy comentado:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  8. theunpolishedjourney December 3, 2013 at 11:18 pm #

    I’m so glad I have stumbled across your blog. It’s insightful and encouraging. I look forward to reading more posts.

    • Paul Sutton Reeves December 3, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

      Thanks very much for your comments. I’m also glad you stumbled by and look forward to talking to you.

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