For the past few weeks now readers have frequently observed that I’m not putting out very many words these days. Stolen Pixels is still on hiatus. Shamus Plays is ended. My weekly column is almost bi-weekly. I’m reviewing less games and in general saying less stuff here on the blog. A few people are under the impression that my reduced output is due to Josh and Mumbles writing stuff here. The thinking goes, if they were writing less, I’d be writing more. The same goes for video content – if there were less YouTubes, there’d be more words, right?
I wasn’t going to say anything about this yet, but I can’t have them taking the blame for my reduced output. The truth is, Spoiler Warning is what is keeping the blog from turning into one of those once-a-week kind of deals. The frustrating thing is that I’m doing a great deal of writing. You’re just not seeing it.
The world is full of people who are writing books, or who imagine they are writing books, or who hope to write a book. There is nothing more sad and worthy of pity than a man in the process of writing a book. He will tell you, if you sit still for it, how exciting and new and delightful the work will be… someday. But no matter how tantalizing the idea or how great the enthusiasm, the unfinished manuscript of an unpublished author is worse than worthless. It has negative value, and people must be bribed to read it. There is no end to the number of perfectly good books in the world, and so nobody is interested in a story that dead-ends after a hundred pages of typos, spelling errors, plot holes, and misplaced punctuation. The author’s labor disappears into a hole, a promise unfulfilled. Adding more labor only makes the promise bigger without making the book any more valuable as a work of fiction, until he finally types the words, “The End”. (At which point the book is finally worth nothing, and will begin to gain value based on his skill, luck, and appetite for self-promotion.) His self-worth is generally determined by his own opinion of the last three paragraphs he wrote, which creates an experience not unlike riding a roller coaster: Terrifying and nauseating.
But maybe that’s just me.
A book of young adult fiction – the first Harry Potter book, for example – generally weighs in at around 50k words. More typical books come in at around 80k to 150k. Above 200k and you’re venturing into Stephen King territory. My fanfiction novel was about 140k.
My book is currently about 60k words. I thought I would be nearing the finish line by now, but I’m really not even into the third act. The tale is growing in the telling. If writing a book is a gamble – and it is – then I’ve been playing this hand for a long time. I’ve been upping my bet a little bit each day, every time I’ve worked on the book instead of doing something else that might make us some immediate money and fend off our encroaching debts. I’ve put too much in to be able to fold, but I’m too terrified to put anything more in.
I hate to talk about the book. Once I reveal the work, there will be Public Expectations of its eventual release. If I fail, then my shame will be public as well. I’m fearful of trying to write with guilt and obligation sitting on my shoulders. My chair is uncomfortable enough as it is. But I don’t wish to torment you with mystery, either. So I will say a few small things about it, in hopes that your curiosity will be satisfied and you won’t form an unruly mob of internet people.
This book is intended for publication, for sale, for money. Beyond that, no details have been worked out. The book is set in and around quasi-historical London in 1885. A little bit of magic. A little bit of steamworks. I’d originally set out to make a work of comedy, but I lost control almost from the first paragraph and wound up with lighthearted adventure, with occasionally non-lighthearted parts. This is actually extremely fortunate.
One of my two main characters is undead, and I discovered recently that Yahtzee’s book Mogworld is about an undead character. I was terrified when I learned this. I’m already accused of “ripping off” Yahtzee more than I like, mostly because we have many similar opinions, produce content for the same magazine, and he’s way more famous than I am. I spend a great deal of time in his shadow, and two months into writing my book I discovered that I’m using what sounds like a highly derivative premise. I almost abandoned the work outright when I learned this.
I’ve read a synopsis of his book, and I’m reasonably confident they have nothing else in common. In terms of tone, setting, outlook, plot, and cast, the books have about as much in common as Star Wars and Mario. Okay, both deal with princess-rescuing, but I think there’s room for more than one author around this particular narrative watering hole. Still, I know this will be a subject of contention when it comes out. I dread the inevitable response from Yahtzee fans who will dismiss the thing as a “ripoff”.
I have no idea when it will be done, if ever. I cranked out 15k words on my first week on the project. Two weeks ago I managed just a few hundred words. Last week I managed 5k. Progress slows as the plot becomes increasingly complex, and as I need to stop and do research. She took aim and shot at the… wait a second. What kind of pistol would she have? Did they have rifling at that point, or were firearms still smooth-bore? And where would she have been keeping the pistol? How would an Englishwoman have carried a pistol in those days if societal norms did not discourage it? What would the pistol look like and how many shots would it have? Would this gunshot cause the horses to bolt? Arg! I’m supposed to be writing and I just blew four hours on Wikipedia!
I’m weeks away from finishing the story, even under optimal conditions. And after that comes proofing, publishing, and promoting, which is where the REAL work begins.
This is truly a terrifying experience. A mad scheme, doomed to failure and public humiliation, then followed swiftly by financial ruin.
But the hours are great. Wish me luck.
The true story of three strange days in 1989, when the last months of my adolescence ran out and the first few sparks of adulthood appeared.
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