They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

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Writing and Numbers

I was poking around some writing blogs and, as with most good things, stumbled onto jaylake's account of Lessons learned doing my six story challenge. Most of the SF writers I know at some point start obsessing about numbers -- certainly we engendered a lot of that during six weeks of the 2004 Clarion workshop. Numbers aren't such a bad thing, but the good (and sometimes the bad) thing about numbers is that there are more interesting ways of slicing and dicing the numbers and statistics than you may be thinking about.

jaylake has certainly thought about this and has come up with some interesting analyses of his own writing speed, for both long and short fiction, and came up with the startling conclusion that, to a first approximation, his rate of pay for writing short stories and novels was about the same per hour. True, this comparison falls apart a bit when you consider that (a) novels may pay past the advance, though I suppose you can sell reprint rights to short stories or better yet have some Hollywood "producer" dump free money in your lap for an option on your story and (b) you might not be able to get either the long or short fiction markets to accept as much product as he speculates on at some point. This is especially true for those of us who are laboring to learn the craft and establish some real sales.

However, though I know that one doesn't make a lot of money selling short fiction, it's a nice analysis which suggests that in addition to the learning value of writing short stories, I'm not "wasting" my time in the process. He starts off his analysis, however, by talking about writing and editing speeds and throughput speeds. When I first started to get serious about writing Christmas 1997, I worked on a handful of epic novels and establishing a well-grounded universe. In the course of just a few months I wrote hundreds of thousands of words. This is a lot more output than I've achieved in the last four years, after I decided to concentrate of short fiction in June 2002. That even includes the intense six weeks of Clarion, where I turned out seven stories, and left at least as many stories started and unfinished.

But it makes more sense now. Jay uses the analogy of an airplane flight, where the plane cannot average its 600 mph cruising speed. Oh, average speed -- now we're talking my language. This is the stuff I teach in my Physics classes. Short trips cannot have a high average speed, because the basic overhead of starting and stopping dominates the total time too much. That same overhead is minimized on long distance trips.

I feel much better of the "million and a half words" I wrote 1998-2001, versus the forty to fifty short stories I've completed in a similar three-year period of 2002-2005.

Handy Reference Table

The boundaries vary somewhat between sources -- I tend to put novelettes at 10,000 to 20,000 words, for example -- but it is often useful to be reminded of the various lengths for SF stories and that each category follows somewhat different conventions. So here's Jay Lake's version:

Category         Word Count

Flash            1,000 words or less
Short            1,000 - 7,500 words
Novelette        7,500 - 17,500 words
Novella          17,500 - 40,000 words
Short Novel      40,000 - 75,000 words
Mid-Sized Novel  75,000 - 150,000 words
Long Novel       Greater than 150,000 words

Back to work...

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