How Long does it Take to Write a Novel?

The answer? Fifteen days, twenty hours and fifty five minutes.

I know that because I finished Dream Paris yesterday and I’ve been clocking the time I spent working on the novel.

The time includes the writing of the first draft of the novel and three redrafts: first redraft, the second following feedback from my wife and a third following feedback from other readers. The novel is now with my editor awaiting his feedback and will probably undergo at least two further redrafts.

I’ve not counted time spent planning the novel or the notes I made prior to embarking on the writing. As some of the ideas, scenes and dialog that appear in the novel have been collected over several years, it was difficult to measure this.

Some statistics you might find interesting:

I started on the 18th February, 2014 at 9:58am
I finished on the 20th February, 2015 at 3:00pm exactly

If I’d been writing an 8 hour day the novel would have taken around 48 days to complete.

The book is almost exactly 100 000 words as it stands, given that it took just short of 381 hours to write that gives an average word rate of a rather pitiful 262 words an hour. Given that the first draft took around half the total time to complete, that makes the word rate a more respectable 524 words an hour. As I normally average around 850 words an hour, the missing words are partially accounted for by the fact that I cut around 60 000 words from the novel due to mistakes, changing my mind or no good reason.

If you’re interested how I collected this data, well, have I mentioned Emacs? I recorded the time taken using org-mode. You can find out more by reading this post on My Emacs Writing Setup.

10 Books I Couldn’t Put Down

I don’t know what my favourite book is, but the following are books I read at various times of my life that, at the time, I couldn’t put down. Most of them I finished in maybe one sitting – definitely no more than two or three – perhaps whilst lying ill in bed or on holiday.

Some of them I’ve read over and over again, two of them I’ve only read once (one of those because it’s not yet available on Kindle and I don’t buy paper books any more)

Most of them are expertly crafted, one of them is appallingly written. All but two have very good stories, half of them are strongly plotted, three of them are character driven, three of them made me laugh out loud, three of them made me smile, four of them had me on the edge of my seat, none of them made me cry. Maybe three of them would get into my top ten books ever.

In no particular order…

  • Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keys
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe
  • The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
  • The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • Complicity by Iain Banks
  • A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
  • The Rainmaker by John Grisham
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

My Ubuntu Set Up

Installing Ubuntu is quite straightforward. One thing that stumps many new users, however, is which programs to install next. Windows users can find themselves faced by a bewildering range of programs, many of which appear to do the same job.

The following are the applications I install. I’m not saying they’re the best, but they will get you started with a system that does most of the things you require. I’ve included applications already included in the Ubuntu install for the benefit of those using other distros. These pre installed applications are marked like this

  1. Install Ubuntu

  2. Check for software updates

  3. Install the things that will help me install everything else

    • Dropbox: for access to my files
    • Emacs: Text Editor
    • Lastpass: password manager
    • Chrome: because waiting for Firefox to install updates each time its opened is really irritating.
  4. Install encfs: encrypts Dropbox files

  5. Install productivity and entertainment applications

    • Libre Office: Word Processor, Spreadsheet etc
    • Shotwell: Photo Manager
    • Gimp: Image Manipulation (like Photoshop)
    • Shutter: Print Screen
    • Geary: Lightweight email client
    • VLC : Media Player
    • MediaTomb: UPnP Media Server
  6. Install a number of useful drivers and utilites
    sudo apt-get install…

    • aptitude: alternative to apt-get
    • nautilus-open-terminal: right click in nautilus to open current location in terminal
    • nautilus-image-converter: right click in nautilus to quickly edit image
    • gparted: Graphically edit disk partitions
    • nmap: Scan networks
    • vim: Old text editor
    • feh: fast and flexible image viewer
    • filezilla: ftp client
    • ubuntu-restricted-extras: support for such things as mp3, avi, mpeg, TrueType, Java, Flash, Codecs
    • sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/ Play restricted DVDs
    • Deja dup: Simple backup software
    • backintime: snapshot backup software
    • openssh: Networking
  7. Install Wine, the Linux windows emulator, and the Chrome UA Spoofer app. The spoofer app fools the browser into thinking it’s running on a different machine. This makes it easy to download and install the Evernote Windows client

  8. Install the following External Packages

    • Tomahawk: Unified Media Player
    • Calibre: ebook management
    • Spotify Client: Not really needed now I use Tomahawk…
    • Kodi (formerly XBMC): Media Player/Home Theatre
    • Handbrake: Video ripper and transcoder

PLR – Have you signed up?

I just received my PLR statement for this year. If you’re wondering what the PLR is, then read this, taken from the PLR website:

Public Lending Right (PLR) is the right for authors to receive payment for the loans of their books by public libraries.

I’m a huge fan of the PLR and not only for the obvious reason that they send me money each year, but also for the fact they are so good at their job.

I first found out about them a few years ago when one of their operatives phoned me up to say she’d noticed I hadn’t registered with them and was due some money if I did so. Since then they have operated with quiet efficiency, paying my money directly into my bank each February without fail. They’ve also got an excellent website – nothing fancy, it just works.

If you’re a published writer and you’ve not signed up yet, you could be losing money. Where does it come from? Well, again, as it says on the website:

Under the PLR system in the UK, payment is made from government funds to authors, illustrators and other contributors whose books are borrowed from public libraries. Payments are made annually on the basis of loans data collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK. The Irish Public Lending Remuneration (PLR) system covers all libraries in the Republic of Ireland and operates in a similar way.

To qualify for payment, applicants must apply to register their books.

It takes less than ten minutes. There’s absolutely no reason not to sign up.

There’s a nice end note to all this, too. Many top selling authors waive their PLR payments, allowing them to go back into the pot to help out other writers.

PLR, they really do bring a ray of sunshine into these dark January days.

The Twelve Days of Christmas – Simplified

If, like me, you’ve found yourself repeatedly performing The 12 Days of Christmas over the last few days, you’re probably in search of some way of remembering where you are in the score. After all, most scores make much use of repeats to keep the page count down, so when you’re performing the song for thirty fifth-time it’s easy for the attention to wander and to lose track of where you are.

The following is an attempt to provide a simple aide-mémoire that will help you keep your place.

  1. The song consists of 12 verses. Let n = the current verse
  2. For n = 1, play the phrase as written.
  3. For 1 < n < 5, there is a repeating phrase on the present count. (Three French Hens, Two Turtle Doves etc.) Repeat this phrase (n-1) times.
  4. When n = 5, play the phrase for the current present and then repeat the subsequent present phrase 3 times
  5. For n > 5, repeat the present phrase (n-6) times, then play case n = 5

This can summarized as follows

* For n < 5, repeat the phrase (n-1) times
* For n = 5, play as written, then repeat next phrase 3 times
* For n > 5, repeat the phrase (n-6) times, then goto case n = 5

Incidentally, my carol book has a tempo of crotchet = 132. In order to maximize jollity, this tempo should be varied according to the formula

crotchet = 132 + 2(n-1)

thus ensuring a steadily increasing pace that increases the excitement of the singers.

Tip: if time prohibits a full performance, simply play a selection of verses such that n is a prime number

And there you have it. Festive fun delivered in a rational and logical manner.

Merry Christmas.

First Drafts

I finished the first draft of Dream Paris on Wednesday (at 14:40pm precisely. I know that, because I texted my wife to let her know.)

I think of first drafts as being partially inflated, like a half pumped up a bouncy castle or an air bed: you can see the rough outline of the finished article but it’s bent out of shape, it’s still full of creases.

Today I started on my favourite part of the creative process, the second draft. Now I know that the story works, now that I am sure of the shape of the piece I can go through and put in the detail. I can take my time, I can enjoy the scenery, I can really get to know the novel.

I remember once hearing John Cleese talking about writing Fawlty Towers. He said how he and Connie Booth would spend ages plotting the scenes. It was only at the end they put in the jokes.

I started that this afternoon. Not putting in jokes, but beginning to make the book more like I want it to. This isn’t the end of the process. There are quite a few drafts before that comes about, but, for me, this is the best part.

I Have no Opinion

Who says that Weetos are just for breakfast?

I have no idea. I’ve never heard anyone express an opinion on the right time to eat Weetos, one way or the other.

But advertisers love these sort of challenges. They appeal to the rebel in people (hey, no one tells me when to eat my breakfast). More than that though, they want to make you part of the debate. Advertisers validate the thing they are trying to sell by tricking you into having an opinion on it one way or another, because once you have an opinion on something it becomes important. That’s why the adverts want you to believe that you have to either love or hate Marmite, they want you to believe that indifference is not an option.

Well, yes it is. Indifference is a vital thing. I have no opinion on many things. I haven’t got time to have an opinion on everything, because if I were to try it would stop me concentrating on the things that are really important.

This is the politician’s trick. Concentrate on the fact that it’s important to vote and you validate the people you are voting for, the politicians themselves. Keep telling people that they have to vote or the wrong party will get in, and they’ll forget to check if the right party has anything going for it.

The Internet is full of people with opinions, many of them keen to get you involved in their debates. That’s how they validate themselves. That’s how they promote themselves. They want to drag you into the argument, they’ll tell you that you have to be involved, that if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.

Well, no. You’ll just have to excuse my indifference.

Live Writing

I’ve just returned from a few days in Paris where I’ve been finishing off the first draft of my next novel, Dream Paris.

Did I have to finish the book in Paris? Well, there’s no denying it was an enjoyable experience: walking down the boulevards in the unseasonable autumn sun; stopping at a cafe to drink a Leffe and watch the world go by; taking my time over coffee in a restaurant at the end of a meal…

But was it really necessary to go to Paris? I think so. It gave me the opportunity to take lots of photos to use as reference images. But more importantly, It gave me the opportunity to use my note book. I’ve written about this before (and I’ll mention it again in the future), there’s nothing like capturing a scene live. One of my favourite definitions of a novelist comes from Sol Stein: a novelist is someone who communicates emotion.

I’m not a photographer, I can’t capture the emotion in a scene with a camera, all I can do is to take snapshots. I do like to think that I can capture a scene in words, however, and this has to be done live. You’re capturing your emotional reaction to the scene, or the imagined reaction of your characters. Failing to realise this is a mistake that many beginners make: a simple description of the scene before you is not good writing, no matter how detailed that description, no matter how many fancy words you use.

In a story, the scene you are describing should be there to communicate some emotion: tension, happiness, fear, excitement. You can recreate this emotion at your desk or in the coffee shop, but if you are moved by what you see before you remember, it’s not play of sun on the leaves that you are trying to record, capture those emotions there and then.

Cherry Blossom in the Moonlight

Years ago I read a passage in a book about an ancient Japanese party.

During the day the snow had fallen amongst the cherry trees. On the night of the party, someone commanded that snow be brought into the room, and a bough of cherry blossom placed upon it. The lanterns were dimmed so that the scene could be viewed by moonlight.

A poet was present, no doubt the greatest of Japanese poets, for that would make the story better. The poet was asked to write a poem about the scene. He replied

The snow, the blossom, the moonlight. Sometimes things do not need to be improved upon.

Or words to that effect. I’m sure he put it a lot better. I’ve hunted through my books for the passage many times and never found the original passage.

Then again, as the sense of the passage has stayed with me, perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

Something to read on a Sunday morning…

I often think about this poem when people ask me about a novel I’ve written. Usually people are being polite: they’re making small talk. I ask them about how their weekend went, if they had a successful fishing trip, and they ask me about the family and how the book is going.

But occasionally someone is genuinely asking the question, they really want me to distill 100 000 words down into a couple of sentences. That’s when I think of this poem…