Sunday, November 16, 2008

Confessions of a long-distance novelist.

Every one of us eventually gets bored with even the most amazing subject. The longer the novel, the more likely we are to get bored, and the more bored we're likely to get. When we're deadly bored, the work might not exactly bubble and effervesce ... this is what rewriting and editing are for -- putting the polish and sparkle on the drivel which was hammered out to get the plot moving and keep it moving.

Characters in loooong novels tend to be more likable than the "edgy," angsty bozos and SOBs you find in short(er) fiction, because we have to live with these unpleasant bloody morons for months, not days or weeks. Even the villains in long novels have likable qualities, because you have you live with them for so long. (Gary Oldman is fantastic in these parts.)

Long-distance novelists tend to write between 2,000 and 4,000 words a day. Not nearly as much as pulp fiction hacks ... because loooooong novels have to be WELL WRITTEN, since they're categorized as "literature." The author won't be forgiven for rubbish material, shoddy research and thin writing. And to write at a very high level of professionalism takes longer. You don't just put your hands on the keyboard and let them write what they like. If you do, you'll only end up working harder at the editing and rewriting phase.

The longer the novels, the fewer of them we tend to write. Some fictionists will proudly (or smugly) quote you 50+ titles which they've cranked out over the last decade. However, if you take a close look at them, you'll discover works between 25,000 and 60,000 words. It would take six or eight of these little buggers to make ONE long novel!

Writer's Block assaults the long-distance novelist (or LDN for short) just as surely as it attacks the author of shorter pieces, and the newbie, who hasn't written enough, yet, to know where s/he properly belongs. The difference is, the LDN has the stamina of an endurance athlete. We're not sprinters. We're absolutely harmless over short distances. We're used to thrashing out 5 - 10 pages per day, no matter what; the hands often seem to do it by themselves.

It can take two hours to six hours to write one's quota for the day ... depends if the inspirational juices are flowing, or if the work is being hammered out the hard way. One hopes to write faster for a shorter time ... because the rest of the clan is going to dinner tonight, or there's a good movie, or a rugby game, or the necessity to get some sleep before an early start tomorrow.

When you're an LDN, writing looooong novels, editing yourself is an essential part of the process. It might take two or three months to write the novel ... and another two to edit the thing. And all of us run out of time and work under the gun, against the clock, to get finished. The writer who says s/he doesn't is telling another kind of fiction. We have a technical term for it: the "fib."

An LDN will make the work of writing look easy. This should be known as the "Paganini Effect." It's the same as watching someone like Itzhak Perlman playing Paganini's 24 Caprices, and thinking, "That looks easy; I reckon I'll have a go myself." Then you discover the truth ... the work isn't easy, and it never was! Practise makes is look easy. (Someone once said, you'll have to write at least a million words before your writing is fully professional. That might not be completely accurate as per the number, but it's very safe to say, you have to write a hell of a lot to get to the point where you can sit down, write, and have GOOD STUFF appear via the keyboard ... and do it on demand. And this is where the endurance athlete, the LDN and the concert musician find their common ground. We're all "gluttons for punishment," because we enjoy what we do.

And this is the most pivotal confession an LDN can make ... we do it because we enjoy it. Other people bash their heads against walls; some folks work as child minders (shiver), some operate jackhammers because they love ripping up asphalt. Whatever floats your boat.


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