How Long Should a Novel Take to Write?

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It’s another chapter in the “How long should…” series of blog posts. I saw this question on a writing forum and immediately thought, “Should, could, would…” It’s the kind of question that someone who has never written a novel tends to ask and makes me think they want to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Boy, are they going to be shocked when they realise that’s almost impossible.

In almost every one of the “How long should…” series, I bring up the piece of string and then go into guidelines that might help somehow. But that’s unlikely when we’re talking about how long it should take to write a novel. Because it’s not like roasting a chicken or completing a school year or watching a movie, all of which will come to an end within a reasonably predictable time frame.

But here are a few things to consider about the sort of commitment it takes. Continue reading

The Unusual and Irrational Obsessions of Writers

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Miranda Margulies: We can get the Times to write something. Or that nut from the Observer.
Kathleen Kelly: Wait, what… what nut from the Observer?
Miranda Margulies: Frank something? The one who’s so in love with his typewriter. This is just the sort of thing that would outrage him!
You’ve Got Mail

Most writers have unusual obsessions. For Frank Navasky in You’ve Got Mail, it was his typewriters (yes, plural – he had several). For me, it’s my dictionaries (yes, plural – I have more dictionaries than Frank had typewriters). I’ve written previously about how my dictionary is the one book I can’t live without, specifically my Macquarie International English Dictionary.

But the version I have was published in 2004 (which was when I bought it), making it twelve years old and meaning it doesn’t contain any of the words invented in the intervening period or reflect changes in how English is used (and as much as pedants would prefer there weren’t, there are always changes).

Last year, when I was using it to ensuring spelling accuracy and consistency as I edited Project December: A Book about Writing, I thought it would do the job well enough. But it was in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t be able to put off buying a new dictionary for much longer. And this year, when I was hired (and subsequently paid) to edit an autobiography, I knew the time had come. Continue reading

Recycled writing: breathing new life into old words

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When I was studying for my master’s degree in writing, each week students were required to write a five hundred word piece on whatever topic was occupying the class at the time. I did eight subjects that were each twelve weeks long, so by the time I graduated, I had ninety-six pieces of writing.

If you’ve read the 2007 writing journal I published on this blog in July, you’ll know that as far back as then I was already thinking about how I could use all those pieces to create a book about writing (with the very unoriginal title “Everything I Know About Writing”). You’ll know I was trying to get out of having to write that writing journal by creating a book about writing. You’ll also know it didn’t work out and I ended up writing the writing journal anyway. But the idea never really went away. Continue reading

How to Write a Book Without Even Trying

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This might sound a little ridiculous – writing a book without even trying – but since I’ve done it myself (that’s how I wrote Project December: A Book about Writing), it’s not as impossible as it might seem. The key for me was not realising that all the little things I was writing were adding up to a whole book (I thought I was simply writing blog posts). That might be harder for you since if you’re reading this post, then you’re probably already thinking about writing a book. But the further you can push the idea of the book out of your mind, the easier the process will be. Continue reading

When You Don’t Want to Write Anymore

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I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. There were some casual flirtations with other career options during my teenage years: lawyer (I did work experience at a suburban law firm), political operative (I studied Australian and international politics as part of my Bachelor of Arts degree when I was 17, 18 and 19) and strangely even a hairdresser when I was in primary school (I think there may have been some peer pressure involved with this one).

But most writers don’t earn enough to just write so even after finishing my Bachelor of Arts and going on to finish a two-year writing and editing qualification and start a master’s degree in writing, I forged a career elsewhere. I started in administration (isn’t that where everyone starts?) to get some office-based experience and wrote in my spare time. I moved into an editing role in the same industry that I gained my administration experience and continued writing in my spare time.

And then finally I got my first writing job. A corporate job in a sales and marketing department in a new industry, writing tender responses and sales proposals for corporate clients as well as a variety of other types of content aimed at convincing people to hand over fistfuls of money. And I stopped writing in my spare time. Continue reading

Is there value in keeping a writing journal?

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I don’t keep a writing journal. It feels like a waste of words. But back in 2007, a writing journal was the required major assessment piece for the final subject in my master’s degree. And not just any writing journal. A writing journal consisting of “a record in about 3,000 to 5,000 words of your development as a writer with particular emphasis on the period of this unit”. (If you’re a regular follower of my blog, you would have spent the July just gone reading it.)

I really didn’t want to write a writing journal. Why use up the time and effort when I could be writing my novel? That’s certainly what I thought at the time. I wrote:

“Writing journals are a waste of time. Five thousand words spent on something I’d rather not be writing. Five thousand words that could comprise 25% of the last 20,000 words I need to write to finish my novel.” Continue reading

Project December style guide

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In my book Project December, I recommended using a style guide or style sheet to note formatting, spelling, capitalisation and stylistic choices for easy reference instead of having to leaf or scroll through the manuscript to constantly remind yourself. This is the style guide I put together for Project December itself and I thought I’d share it so you know exactly what I was talking about. Continue reading