Thursday, June 2, 2011

There is a mars mission profile out there called “Mars to Stay”, which involves sending a group of people to Mars and then not bringing them back. It makes fiscal sense as apparently you can send 20 people there for the price of bringing one back, or land an entire well-equipped lab on the surface for less than the cost of bringing back 50-60 kilograms of rock(about 100lb, for those of you who’d don’t speak metric). The curious part is, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have any trouble finding volunteers.

Now it’s important to understand: this is not a suicide mission. The idea would be to send a fully-livable habitat with the ability to grow food, as well as periodic re-supply missions. The people would stay on mars, possibly indefinitely. And like I said, they wouldn’t have any trouble finding volunteers. I’d go, but I’m pretty sure they have no use for novelists on Mars.

That was actually a completely unrelated aside, of course. I have no idea why I felt the need to share, other than that its interesting and since no one reads this anyway I can pretty much say whatever I want.

Today I actually meant to talk about novel length. I’ve gone over this before, but I’d like to spend a little bit more time on the subject, mostly breaking preconceptions about how long they are or hard it is to write one.

I have often mentioned how it took me 5 years to write Author of the Gust. It occurs to me that telling people that might be a bit scary. So I’m going to make it less scary, with math.

As established, there is no actual hard, fast rule on what constitutes a “novel”, or how long it has to be. The generally agreed-upon criteria is about 40,000 words. That’s the minimum bar you have to cross before your work hits the commonly accepted length requirements for a novel. The National Write Month challenge uses 50,000 as the target. The actual requirement will very heavily by publisher, with some requiring only around 50k, others 80k and up. I have seen publishers who won’t even look at a novel if its under 170k, and so on. It varies that much.

But, as my target demographic is probably not already writing completed 170k novels, we’re going to use the lower bar here of just 40,000, because it’s a nice, round number that divides easily.

As I have mentioned, its word count, not page count that matters. I sometimes use page count because the numbers are smaller and it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling, but for an actual metric, we need word-count.

Now, the average adult typing speed is roughly 30 words per minute. I type a little faster, around 45 and up to 60 depending on how fast my brain is working on a given day(lately, not fast). But 30 is the average, and we’ll use that for our starting point.

30wpm is 1800wph. 1800wph translates into about 23 hours to hit 40,000. That’s less than a full day. Not much less, but that should be encouraging.

Of course, I envy the person that can sit down, and, 23 hours later, stand up leaving behind a complete novel. Both their drive and the sheer fortitude of their bladder. Obviously your ideas are not going to form that quickly, you will need time to think, time to outline, and time to eat and rest.

Life is also a factor. Work, school, what have you, odds are even if you have a free day you aren’t going to be able to devote all of it to writing. I’ve done 16-hour stretches from time to time, but even that takes a lot of fortitude.

So lets say you spread that 23 hours out, lets say you do 1 hour a day. In a little over a fortnight and a half, you can complete a novel. That’s easy! Granted, you are not likely to spend that entire hour typing at your maximum speed. Just writing this entry, I find myself pausing to choose my words about every other sentence or so. I CAN type 60wpm, I am probably averaging around 15 right now.

Double the 23 hours, make it 46. A month and a half, or back to 23 if you can find two hours to write each day. Doesn’t seem sp difficult now, does it?

Now, lets go ahead and put Author of the Gust into that perspective. Its 90,000 words long, and I said I spent 5 years writing it. Now, I know I wasn’t working on it the entire time, I abandoned it for over a year at one point. But, we’re just going to break out the math for you.

And the math says 49 words per DAY.

Yes, I basically worked at the pace of 49 words a day for 1825 days. I can type more than 49 words A MINUTE, so obviously I could have completed the project a little faster.

Now lets run some handy math for those of you who are not adults. Average typing speed for a fifth grader is about 10wpm. Typing at that speed, you could probably keep up with me if you can think while you type. At some point I should try and time my writing speed. 10wpm for a 5th grader. If you’re in middle school, you should be double that, at 20wpm. High school? Better be pulling 25 if you’re a freshmen or sophomore, and by the time you hit 11nth grade, you should be typing at an adult speed. Or 29wpm by age 17, then you magical get upgraded to 30 on midnight the day you turn 18. It’s sort of a Cinderella deal, don’t ask too many questions.

If you’re already faster than that, good for you. Fast typing will be a valuable skill, especially if you want to write.

For your edification and enlightenment, I will not include a handy chart. Its broken down into average WPMs by age, then how long that means you would have to type to write 40, 50, and 90,000-word novels. Or minimum, nation write month, and Author of the Gust:

Typing Speed
5th Grade
67 hours
83 hours
150 hours
8th Grade
34 hours
41 hours
75 hours
10th Grade
Average Adult

As you can see, it only gets easier as your typing speed goes up. Best of luck to you!

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