[-stands up on podium-]
Hi, my name’s McKelle, and I’m a reader/writer/artist who can’t seem to stop doing math for the things she reads/writes/creates.
How old were you when you first got published?
Step One: I read a book I really liked.
Step Two: I wikipedia the author and find out his or her birth date.
Step Three: I research the date of publication of his or her first novel (sometimes the one I read, sometimes not).
Step Four: I subtract the year of publication from the year of birth to determine how old the author was when their first book was published.
Step Five: I add it to the growing list of author ages, which I then average out to determine the EPA, or Expected Publication Age.
Step Six: I start freaking out because I only have SIX MONTHS LEFT to somehow make that cut off. (A FEW WERE EVEN YOUNGER THAN ME OMFG).
I really do this. It’s a bad compulsion I can’t seem to stop. And the worst part is, many of my favorite writers were publishing at my age (or often younger). But writing is unlike other professions. For one, you don’t have to get it right the first time—like, for example, a brain surgeon. For another, it’s not the Olympics; it’s not something like if you missed it by age 19, too bad so sad. It’s never too late. Your writing will only get better as you get older and wiser. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “If you write something beautiful and important, and the right person somehow discovers it, they will clear room for you on the bookshelves of the world – at any age.”
How long should a book be and how long should it take you to write it?
Step One: Determine word count of good book. Tricky. Wordcounts are not typically advertised. You can convert e-books into PDFs, copy and paste into a Word document, and check word count there. You can estimate that each page contains approximately 250 words and calculate that way. (There used to be Text Stats on Amazon, but no more).
Step Two: Compare to your book.
Step Three: Compare to your unwritten books.
Step Four: Try and calculate how long it took author to write said book (also tricky, because you have to minus out production time, which isn’t writing time).
Step Five: Freak out and beat yourself up if you’re not writing a similar pace, or if your book is nowhere near the average wordcount for the genre.
I have a mental log detailing whenever a published author announced how much they typically write in one day.
Jack London wrote between 1,000 and 1,500 words each day. Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day, “and only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” He finishes a 180,000-word novel in three months. Raymond Chandler agreed: “The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.” Shannon Hale kicks out a 40,000 word novel incredibly fast, and then spends all her time rewriting and rebuilding what’s there. On the other hand, Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full has about 370,000 words, and it took him eleven years to write it. “My children grew up thinking that was all I did: write, and never finish, a book called A Man in Full.” That many words divided by that many working days in a year indicates he averaged 134 words a day. J.R.R. Tolkein wrote The Lord of the Rings as one novel, which contains about 670,000 words. It took him eleven years, which is 245 words each working day, or a little less than a typed page.
You see? Why do I know all of this? I have a problem. Clearly, there is no set solution, and the only way out of it is to just write the damned book. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The one certain thing is you must write, write, write every day.”