Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Around the World in Eight Years

Nine-and-a half years ago I started cycling to work. It began as a fitness thing but soon became a habit. After a while it was a matter of principle. More recently, I started to suspect that it had edged into the realm of obsession. I now refuse to take the car. After nine-and-a half years of cycling to work every single day, I cannot bring myself to interrupt what has become a very long unbroken run of obstinate determination.

The distance from door to door is 7.5 miles, which isn't huge. It usually takes me thirty five minutes traveling at a comfortable speed. I don't get too sweaty and I can listen to my audio books comfortably. Taking the car would cut the time to a theoretical twenty minutes, but there are usually delays and the stress levels are always much higher, so the pros and cons even out.

Some time ago I was talking to a colleague and he asked if I was still cycling. We got onto the topic of distance and I realized that I had probably covered quite a few miles. I entered the data in a spreadsheet and found that I was on target to circumnavigating the globe. At 7.5 miles per trip, I cover 15 miles a day and 75 miles a week. In an average year I cycle a total of 3300 miles.

The circumference of the earth is 25,000 miles. Yesterday I checked my spreadsheet and saw that I traveled far enough to go all the way around the globe at its widest point sometime during my eighth year. I am now almost a quarter of the way around the world for the second time. Had I kept going in a straight line, I would have completed a fairly epic journey by now.

Sadly, there are no medals for this sort of thing, but it has taught me a thing or two about writing. let's face it: writing is a slow business. Even if you devote all your energy to it, a novel is not something that happens overnight. An average novel is 70,000 words, which is about 375,000 key presses. If you were to sit at your keyboard and hit a key every second, it would take about three-and-a-half twenty-four hour days to write a novel. If you were to pace yourself and only work eight-hour days, you could get it done in thirteen days. That's with no breaks and no deletes or backspaces.

Of course, being able to type more quickly would change that. Typing at 60 words-a-minute would allow you to finish a novel in nineteen hours, but how many people can type at that speed for that long?

And this does not include the plotting and planning you have to do. There are characters to flesh out, plot points to identify, motivations and twists to incorporate. There are mistakes to rectify and all that navel-gazing to be done. All of this is just to get a first draft. After that there are countless reads and revisions to complete.

At my quickest, I can get a first draft finished in three months. It then takes me about as long again to get it polished. So, even on my best day, it takes me six months to get a novel ready for submission to a publisher. Then there are the days spent preparing letters, sending them out, reading the stock replies, and fighting depression. Add to that the time spent making revisions your editor wants once you eventually do manage to find a buyer.

Sometimes it can all seem like too much. Sitting at your keyboard, staring at the blank screen, it can be tempting to quit. After all, there is no guarantee that the work will ever see the light of day. Chances are it will end up on a slush pile or, even worse, generate a small mountain of stock rejection letters. Looking at that spreadsheet was quite motivating for me because it showed me what can be achieved if you do a little bit on a regular basis and apply some obstinate determination.

Given enough time you can even go around the world.


  1. Hmm, interesting post. Yes, perseverance eventually pays!

  2. Like your analogy with bike riding and writing.

  3. Paul, fascinating connection & congratulations on your persistence with cycling. Best wishes for your writing.

  4. Great article - thanks! I admire your determination!

  5. Paul, great analogy! I don't ride to work but I do spend time thinking about my characters and current wip when I'm cycling in a spin class. All those little bits of time and effort can add up to great things :)

  6. Congrats on all that cycling! You are awesome.

    You said, "Typing at 60 words-a-minute would allow you to finish a novel in nineteen hours, but how many people can type at that speed for that long?"

    And I reply. Who can think that fast for that long? Not I!