It took me "five months and 15 years" to write my 2010 book about Bible translation: five months of actual writing, and 15 years of research.
How long, then, did it take me to write the roughly 10,000 words that comprise "Checkpoint," the inaugural tale in The Warwick Files?
I touch-type about 75 words a minute, because even though I ignored most of middle-school, I did pay attention in typing class, where a strict but effective teacher trained me to type 10,000 words in two hours, 15 minutes.
Now, I'm a notorious procrastinator, so we have to pad that considerably with time for things like grabbing a snack, checking my e-mail, and checking the postal mail, even at 9:30 a.m., just in case the post office suddenly revamped my delivery schedule and didn't tell me. So call it a long morning to type 10,000 words.
But of course that's the easy part.
It takes much longer to decide what to write, something I usually do while driving or bicycling. I came up with the premise for "Checkpoint" on the way home in late summer. Then I filled in details on subsequent drives and rides. So that's a couple of weeks.
But even that isn't the hardest part.
I wanted to create a brand new world to form the backdrop of The Warwick Files, with nuanced details of a rural town and individual people's speaking styles. These little things all work in concert to enhance the readers' satisfaction while they read the story. (Though they might prefer I not explain it in pentameter.)*
While "Checkpoint," like every episode in the series, is a complete story, it's also part of a larger picture that readers discover bit by bit, so my early decisions would have long-lasting consequences.
I needed the main characters, starting with the hero, Coyote "Kai" Goodman. The reader meets him when he's in his 30s, but I had to create the life experience that formed him: his childhood, teen years, first love, first job (which is classified, so please don't ask me), and so on, as well as his general temperament and personality.
I had to do the same for the important auxiliary characters, some of whom don't even appear in the first few stories, and even for the minor roles, because this kind of detail keeps things interesting.
And I needed somewhere to put everyone. The thoroughly charming village of Warwick, NY provided an excellent start. All I had to do was modify the real town slightly, and invent some places that are vital to my storylines but which were inconveniently overlooked by the village planners and so don't exist.
I'd put the total time -- again, mostly in the car and on my bicycle -- at somewhere around two months, on and off, bit by bit.
But the real investment in time isn't writing at all. It's reading. While I've been doing that since preschool, it wasn't until I was in my late teens that I started making mental notes as I read: Why does what I'm reading work so well? How did the author pull it off? What would I do differently? And so on.
In this regard, I'm grateful to my favorite authors: John Grisham and Tom Clancy, who introduced me to fun-filled fiction; the incomparable Uri Adelman, who died much too young; Lee Child, whose books are still my personal favorites (even though, obviously, I love all my indirect mentors equally); and more.
So it took me a morning, two months, and more than 20 years to write "Checkpoint."
And yet you can read it in about an hour.
J.M. Hoffman authored two non-fiction books and contributed to over a dozen others before writing The Warwick Files, a short-story series featuring a police chief with a secretive past who lives in a quiet New York City suburb where, according to the official count, there are no spies.
He signs his non-fiction work with his full name and title, and his fiction with the shorter "J.M. Hoffman."
Find him on Facebook or at www.JM-Hoffman.com.
(*)I wanted to create a brand new world
to form the backdrop ofThe Warwick Files,
with nuanced details of a rural town
and individual people's speaking styles.
These little things all work in concert to
enhance the readers' satisfaction while
they read the story. (Though they might prefer
I not explain it in pentameter.)
Follow Dr. Joel Hoffman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JoelMHoffman
How long does it take you.
reply to threadview threads
edited about 12 seconds later
posted about 8 years ago======= Date Modified 14 05 2010 22:05:11 =======
I'm freaking out again, but I promise I won't keep you very long on this one, so...
How long does it take you to write approx. 10,000 words? (research and write)
It would really, really help me if people could be kind enough to share this with me coz I am really starting to lose confidence now. I'm not totally behind or anything like that (not yet anyway!), but I'm a bit worried that I'm not working fast enough.
There's a star in it for everyone... ;-)
posted about 8 years agoI just realised that the title sounds so dodgy: 'How long does it take you' :-) Tee Hee!
posted about 8 years agoHello Cobweb, I think it depends on many factors. How well do you know about what you are writing about? Exactly what is it you're writing about? Is it a lit review (in which case it will take ages)? Is it the methodology - which should be somewhat easier and not take as long? Presuming it's a lit review, that you don't know anything about it and thus that you need to learn about it from scratch, synthesise all the information, plan and then structure a piece of writing, it would take me about 2 to 3 months. I like to think I'm a fast worker too. Hope this helps in it's own little way.
edited about 19 seconds later
posted about 8 years agoWell, basically I'm doing a research masters in a humanities subject with the hope of upgrading to a phd at the end. I've been advised not to bother with doing a whole chapter just on a lit. review, but rather to bring in secondary literature as and when it is needed throughout my chapters (not sure if this is the norm, but it is what I've been told to do).
The fear was put into me a bit though when my sup said that if I want to progress onto a phd then I HAVE to get a distinction.
posted about 8 years agoI'm surprised you need a distinction. I always thought that you're okay with a Merit to do a PhD. Anyway, I'm sure you'll be okay because you won't need to be as in-depth with your writing as with a PhD I would think.
posted about 8 years agoThere hasn't really been any mention of how the phd will be funded yet, or about when and how I will go about applying, so... I'm (perhaps stupidly) assuming that there may be some funding there for me if I get that distinction, if so, I want to do the best that I can possibly do so that I don't lose out on it. The sup has mentioned to me that when I upgrade to a phd I will be sent abroad to do some research. If he wasn't intending to fund it then how else would I be making that trip?
Am I barking up the wrong tree here do you think?
posted about 8 years ago======= Date Modified 14 Jan 2010 22:54:57 =======
Yeah, it depends on what you're writing really. I wrote up my final MSc dissertation (10,000 words) in about a month- but that was after I'd done the research, already drafted the lit review/introduction and method, done the stats on the results, and decided what I needed to write in my discussion! For my PhD I got a 10,000 word systematic review published and from start to finish that took about 6 months to write, including all of the searching and reading etc. I usually over-estimate the time it will take me to write something. Once I know what I need to say I usually write very quickly- it's the working out what you need to write that takes the time. I think it's really important to have a good plan and know roughly what yoiu want to say before you start writing. Obviously you will think of new things to say along the way, but it's always reassuring to have a nice detailed plan in front of you to work from! How long have you got until the deadline? I would have thought you would be okay with a merit too with most funding sources...but no harm in aiming high. Having said that, I wouldn't have got my scholarship with less than a distinction but that was a strange one-off thing that went purely on academic achievement and had nothing to do with the proposal and supervisors etc. I don't think many research councils actually insist on a distinction. Good luck! KB
posted about 8 years agoI've got until the end of the month to get it all done, but I've only done about 50% of the research and haven't really got down to the nitty gritty of what I'm going to put in the essay yet. I'm pretty sure that more ideas will evolve over the next few days though, but I so wish that I was there with all the ideas now as I just want to get writing now.
When I was an undergraduate, I used to be able to get pretty good essays out in a day or two (from beginning to end), and they were 2,500 words, so I'm really hoping that these last two weeks will be enough.
If it didn't turn out as good as I wanted it, would the sup give me time to improve, or is it generally expected that I hand in a near perfect chapter? (Bearing in mind that this is the very first chapter)
edited about 29 seconds later
posted about 8 years agoI did the actual writing up (ie. I'd researched and had a plan but the ideas were still mainly in my head) at the rate of 1000 words minimum a day for my MA dissertation, then a few more days for redrafting. That was 20,000 words so you could probably do more per day in a short intensive burst to get 10,000 written. I still have this approach now but it would take me longer as the PhD is much more in depth and there are more new ideas. However, I tend to find that the writing is pretty quick once it's all up in my head so I would get yourself to that stage and then have an intensive writing period followed by a few days to rewrite and touch up. Definitely do-able I reckon!
posted about 8 years agoI would say about 7 days of complete writing. I would read a meta-analysis or overview paper first to get the structure and then add as I read to different sections. By the third day it will be starting to take shape and then you will be arond 10,000 by the sixth I would say. But then if I did that I would then take about 3 weeks off to recover!
edited about 22 seconds later
posted about 8 years agoTry the sofa method -
I have found that a good way of getting a large chunk of writing done is to get a few pages of key notes together (quotes from papers or whatever) and print these off. Then I get a pad of A4 paper, a pencil and a clipboard to rest the paper on. Then I lie down on the sofa with all of this stuff on top of me and just write in longhand - write anything that comes to mind, now and again referring to the notes. I find this method helps with flow, helps me to stay and to keep going.
Sometimes it's useful to have low-level ambient music playing on repeat. The pencil means you can write upside down, the stuff on top of you means it's an effort to get up and the sofa is comfy. There are no distractions - no internet, no reading of long papers and you can focus. Once I have done a few hours of that, a large proportion has been written.
The next stage is to get on the computer and type it up, put proper references in and accurate quotations etc - I find that the pages of prose, ideas etc work out to be a lot more than I thought.
This works for me! It could be possible for you to do 10k words in about 10 days with this method!
Click here to post a reply