One a year, every year…

Dragon ORchid, Singapore

…is the standard expected of every new author .ie. you deliver a new manuscript every year for publication without fail.  The penalties for failing to deliver a new novel will vary from a deduction from the (now usually pitiful) advance on which the publisher signed you to a loss of contract.  Typing – as some ‘authors’ demonstrate – is easy.  As some readers quickly discover, there is a world of difference between Transition and Excession.  However, delivering one good book that demonstrates in a sure-footed narrative, a reader’s love of a good plot, attention to detail, passion and not a little imagination is difficult – as difficult and as exhausting say as running a marathon is in comparison to walking to the shops for some milk and biscuits.  To run for milk and biscuits every day is not so difficult as millions of bloggers demonstrate every hour but having stepped back into the habit of writing, that is, attempting to craft a novel-length story over a period of weeks, has proven to be an extraordinarily challenging experience.

Leaving aside those recent personal circumstances which have so caustically affected my concentration and creative yearning, I’ve done this before, several times in fact.  I knew what I was trying to get myself back into.  Endless hours of work that may result in no more than a narrative dead-end or a gang of characters that simply don’t work.  Delete.  Throw away.  Start again.

I’m close to finishing a first draft outline for a novel.  Unlike everything else I’ve written, this is a pure science-fiction novel that I’m attempting and whatever your assumptions to the contrary, if you haven’t tried writing one of these, don’t knock it.  Remember that analogy in the first paragraph that contrasted the experience of running the marathon to nipping out for milk and biscuits?  That’s writing sci-fi compared to running off a ‘contemporary non-genre’ novel.

It’s been difficult.  Trying to find two hours – at least – every day to craft something original, dramatic, captivating and on occasion, witty, is harder work than you’d think, especially when you’re working normal hours.  Trying to raise your game and put together something that is head-and-shoulders above what you’ve attempted before, while giving your best to your day job… that’s tough in the way that hauling a recently-felled tree through a wood would be tough.  You wouldn’t.  You’d build a road to the edge of the woods and start there, usually with a team of experienced dudes.   The thought that I’ve only been working on the outline and not the main text itself is sobering.

So here’s a thought: why do mainstream publishers, who commit a significant amount of investment when they sign-up a new writer, insist on a book a year?  Surely, the real return on their investment will come from giving the writer all the encouragement to write to the peak of their game each and every time they produce a manuscript (and not just banging them out with so little care for what readers will actually think?).

[That flower in the image above is a Dragon Orchid – so I’m told – and not a triffid.  It was growing in Singapore.]