Taking issue (respectfully) with Stephen King Rule #10

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Writer’s Digest’s Chuck Sambuchino (follow him on Twitter if you aren’t—go now!) tweeted an Open Culture piece chronicling Stephen King’s 20 rules for writers.

(Oh, follow Stephen, too!)

Many of you have seen them. Some (like me) might be seeing them for the first time. And while I agree with most of them, one rule stands out as a tad unrealistic for the Joe Lunchbox writer:

10. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

(Insert sound of record player needle abruptly scratching black plastic.)

Three months?

(I can think of one author who’s able to write one in even less time: James Patterson’s Rule #1 for Writing: The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three seconds, the length of time since the debut of the latest Alex Cross novel. Hah!)

Here’s where Stephen King and I part ways. Do you think it took Stephen three months to write the first draft of The Stand? Maybe it did. I’m assuming Stephen, at that point in his career, had nice advances and steady royalties and could devote himself to full-time writing.

And good for him! Most of us strive for that. I know I do.

But a sizeable chunk of us have full-time jobs and we write before work. Then we pick up our toddler from day care after work, make his dinner while he insists on watching Frozen for the 187th time (sorry, that’s my wife watching Frozen; my boy likes Monsters University), entertain him for three or four hours (which seem like 10 hours some nights) until his bedtime. We try to adhere to Rule #7 and read. And then we squeeze in more writing. And we’re tired at that point but we write anyway, not because we have to, but because we enjoy it.

Let’s look at it mathematically: Writer X types 2,000 words a day. Let’s multiply 2,000 by 30 (days in a month). That’s 60,000 words for an entire month of nonstop writing. Multiply that by three months (I’m actually using a calculator even though I really should be able to do this in my head; I am not kidding) and you get 180,000 words.

Do you know how many pages that is?

Neither do I. Give me a second to figure it out. (Let’s assume that 90,000 words is 300 pages. Now, 90,000 multiplied by 2 equals 180,000 words, or 600 pages.)

Hang on! Famed physicist Stephen Hawking just emailed me this equation to get a better idea!

GIVEN: X = 2,000 words, Y = 30 days, Z = 3 months, C ≠ 90ª

SOLVE: X² • Y(30+π) ³ ÷ Z¾ • (c‰ + ♣) = Pages

What the hell is this?!

Let’s go with 600 pages for the sake of simplicity. We all have days when we exceed our word count, and days when we don’t. But even so, according to the never-wrong Wikipedia, the orignal printing of The Stand was 823 pages. I doubt Stephen wrote every single day over a three-month span to reach that page count. If he did, great! In no way am I trying to besmirch a writer who we all admire and hope to meet one day without the police being called to escort us off his property.

Three months isn’t enough time for some of us. I find it takes around five months for that first draft of a 300-page book. It might take you a few months longer. And if it takes you three months? Awesome!

Certainly if you’re committed to a project it will get done in a reasonable amount of time. But that time will vary depending on life’s circumstances.

So, am I off base? Or is three months realistic turnaround time for a writer with a fulltime job and typical adult responsibilities? How long does it take you?

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