Writer’s thingummy

I have not, as some of my more observant readers may have noticed, been writing quite so much lately. Actually not so. And certainly not at this moment. Er, apart from just then: when i paused momwentarily after the last full stop. And that one. (this could go on all night).

But no: for those thinking of cancelling their subscriptions and demanding their money back, the list of topics to write up at some time grows apace. It is just that i am mid-project. One of those work things that are occasionally sent to try me as three, four, sometimes five times a year i get commissioned to write long, worthy and…in the composition thereof…seriously tedious reports on subjects vaguely related to energy, renewables and climate change.

Yes. We’re talking carbon trading, intelligent grid and cap-and-trade…all of which is probably gobbledegook for the average blog reader…and a far cry from short sharp pieces for the Grauniad on the sexualisation of youth.

And they are time-consuming: i usually turn in somewhere between 35 and 45,000 words on the finished item evoking a satisfying intake of breath from my audience. But the writing is not too difficult: a period of intense research, which, by virtue of familiarity, gets steadily easier.

Yep. I now know the difference between the EIA (Energy Information Administration) and the IEA (International Energy Agency): both useful sources of information and figures; but only the first make information freely available, much to my frustration.

And then its down to writing: 3,000 to 4,000 words a day on average, which is good for another intake of breath, though nothing that feels remotely unusual to me. But then, you always discount the things that come easy. I cook – a little – but would wilt before the challenge of catering for a restaurant crowd: yet there are people out there who regularly prepare meals for 100-plus individuals on an evening and think nothing of it.

Besides, on the wordcount willy-waggling that some authors indulge in, i come a long way down the field. I was always impressed by the reputation that Georges Simenon had for producing a book in a fortnight (the Maigret series): and while i’ll happily do 5,000 words a day when writing fiction, that is a mere bagatelle, as Michael Jecks, author of medieval whodunnit’s made clear: when he’s working a novel (and he’s now on his 25th or thereabouts) he tends to put in around 7-8,000 words a day. eeek!

Perhaps i should go for the literary sprint instead: on deadline stories i have been known to file 600 words – from story break to editorial desk – in around 20 minutes!

Yay! This particular phase should be done sometime next week, at which point i will start to prune. That is painful. Reviewing where i have got to so far, i can see a whole chapter (3,500 words plus assorted diagrams) that feels surplus to requirements. That’s harsh. It means, when push comes to shove, just taking a day’s work and burning it. Ugh!

Still, i won’t miss the neck ache. It takes a degree of physical fitness to write zt this pace – and by the end of one of these projects i usually know i have to stop: cricked neck, burning muscles…yeah, yeah: i know it is probably to do with bad posture of one form or another.

I should do something about it!

And after that, its back to service sort of as usual.



3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Shirley Anne said,

    Gosh Jane and I thought your posts here were quite long! It is fine to be able to write in quantity and the 7-8000 words that Michael produces everyday is an enormous amount for anyone to spill out onto real or virtual paper but they have to make sense too! Experience counts in anything we undertake though. Even the amount that you have to write on occasion would be far too much for me but then that isn’t my field of expertise as it must be yours. For the occasional writer such as myself the greatest problem is subject matter, what to write about. At first I struggled with this but I am finding that it gets easier with time. Your projects must take an age especially as you have to research, write, proof-read and make adjustments too which is probably more difficult than the actual writing methinks.

    Shirley Anne xxx

    • 2

      janefae said,

      thanks for the vote of confidence, although, as i try to emphasise, if you do something as habit or as job, what seems hard to others becomes very easy to you.

      I know that some people find writing at length difficult: but then, they have skills that i don’t have. Think computer programming: i used to be quite overwhelmed by the speed with which one friend used to sit to his desk and simply generate code: almost as though he was talking directly to the computer. I could never ever imagine doing something like that.

      I am very lucky, in that i have that relationship with words. And yes: you are right…the bit i hate is the nit-picking revisions that come after. When they build and improve on what i’ve done – and i am first to admit i am not perfect forst time and there are editors i feel i really benefit from – i love it. However, there are some editors for whom editing seems to be more about stamping their presence on a piece.

      Words get changed simply because they can be: carefully constructed sentences and structure are ripped up (often, i suspect, without the editor noticing what they’ve done) and that is just irritating.

      all the best,


  2. 3

    Hi, Jane – and thanks for the comments about my output! I’m lucky, though. My books tend to be fixed in a specific series of events that I already know about. They’re in a period I’ve been studying for twenty years, and are all based on historical fact, and linked to a set of characters I know really well. The other thing is, I have to work fast. I have a dreadful memory, so it’s essential for me to write really quickly to get all the points down, and then revise at leisure! I don’t envy you, though. I can write a 1,500 blog piece without problems, but to construct a carefully analyzed piece for a paper in 4,000 words takes more skill than I have. Apart from anything else, I’d never be able to hold so much detail in my mind for that long. A few red herrings about a man with a dagger, that’s fine – details of the AEA or some similar mind-bendingly small quango, that’s something totally different!

    And it’s 32 novels now . . . with a modern thriller waiting in the wings!

    Good luck!


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