So, the other day I had occasion to count on behalf of a Sekrit Project. And my counting revealed to me — and I revealed to Steve — that we have thus far in our careers committed (rounding only slightly up) 323,000 words of Liaden Universe® short stories. (This number includes the not-quite-yet-published “Skyblaze” and the author-written fanfic “King of the Cats,” but does not include “Intelligent Design,” which is still in process.)
We’ve also written almost a million and a half words of Liaden Universe® novels. Add in the rest and we’re at a cool 2mil.
All of which sounds, yanno, like A Lot, until you start putting perspective into the picture. That’s only 34 stories, and 14-or-21 novels. Which suddenly doesn’t sound so impressive, after all, but does bring me to my point.
Why yes, there was a point to this, besides the public display of an unhealthy fascination with numbers.
I was once stopped, nicely, correctly* by a young writer at a convention. They were working on their first novel and had a couple of specific questions. Clearly, they had put some thought into what they were doing and were not just haring off in all directions at once (which I admire; being a hare of long standing), and we had a very pleasant talk. They spoke of their hopes for their story and the characters living inside it, but, suddenly confessed, with a sort of half-glance under the lashes, that they were afraid that the manuscript was getting a bit. . .long, and there was still a lot of story left.
How long was it? I asked. Words, not pages.
Gratifyingly, they knew this (really, this was a very serious and thoughtful writer; I want to read them somebody, and I think I will). “Thirty-five thousand words.”
“Oh,” I said, “you’ve got plenty of room!”
“Sure — at least seventy thousand more words. Try not to go more than one hundred fifty thousand, total, though.”
“I had no idea novels were so. . .long,” they said, which seems funny from someone who (as this writer was) had read reasonably widely in the field, but which also seems true of nearly everyone. No one has any idea how long novels are, except novelists. And editors, of course.
So, that’s the point — novels are long. Not only that, but it takes a significant chunk of time to write a 100,000 words, not to mention revising, polishing, so forth &c.
Because novels are long and take so much time and effort to produce, it’s important to chose a project that you’re excited about; that you can live with, day in, day out, morning-noon-night, for four months to a year. It’s important that your characters are interesting to you, and are people with whom you have empathy. I can’t imagine anything much worse than having someone I loathe living in my head for a year.
If you want to write a book, try to have fun. I know, I know; it’s Serious and Important Work, and we’re taught that Serious and Important Work ought to be dealt with, well. . .seriously. Soberly. It’s this mindset that for many years contributed to my referring to my writing as play, as in: “I’m going to go play now.”
. . .and so I shall.
*They came up to me as I was leaning against the wall — waiting for Steve, as it happened — introduced themselves, explained that they were writing a novel, realized that, as Guest of Honor I was of course very busy, but wondered if I would have perhaps ten minutes over the weekend to talk to them; they were writing a novel and had some questions. Polite and respectful. Well done.