I spent years researching the creative process of writers and I wrote a book about it, called Born for stories. I said to myself that one day I’ll keep an inventory of time spend for writing one of my novels.
The first germ of idea came to me when I was following the news about airplane shot down over Ukraine (17 July 2014). The relatives were talking about phones of the victims ringing and voices in foreign language answering. I remembered few years ago a taxi driver in Croatia telling me about being a solder in Skopje, when big earthquake destroyed the town (1963). He told me that while some people were running away the others were flocking in to plunder.
For month, the germ of idea about a man buying stolen phone was floating around somewhere deep in my mind.
“I perceive incubation as an unconscious thought process and sensation – 95 percent of our existence does not of course come to a halt and freeze when the light of consciousness moves away but continues to exist.
Incubation is a permanent process that happens continuously, it is parallel to consciousness and is not under the control of the Self. We notice it in problem solving situations where we seek what might be a very specific solution that we have possibly even given up on already – at least we have moved on to occupy our minds with something entirely different – and then, all of a sudden, the solution appears to us.” (Born for stories)
Suddenly, during an airplane flight (!) I got a vivid image of man, ending his holidays in some hot, southern country, on a petrol station buying an ipad stolen from the crash site. The protective cover is broken in the corner and there is a splash of blood underneath – the man will see it much later.
I started expanding the initial scene. It went slowly at first, adding piece by piece, I got into some blind alleys, returned to the beginning, etc.
“Frequently all we have is just a sentence we noted down; all that we have salvaged from the world that momentarily appeared to us. Writers can be split into:
1. Those who begin to construct the world in their head and only take basic notes;
2. Those who start writing instantly and deal with construction along the way, sentence by sentence.” (Born for stories)
I belong to the first group. I don’t dare to write without knowing the story and the persons inhabiting it.
After a month I had only this:
Man stops at the last petrol station before airport. He has to fill his rented car before returning it and flying home.
A person approaches him and he buys an ipad very cheaply. He flies home and the airplane crash is all over the news. He realizes the ipad he has bought was stolen.
After few days he guesses the code and enters the ipad. There are photos of boy and girl goofing around with gun and knives, suspiciously dressed. The poster on the wall tells him that the pictures were taken not far away from where he is living. He goes there and yes, the boy and the girl are from this village. But they both went missing two month ago, few days apart, and they were not on the doomed flight.
And I had the title: They fell like angels (I changed it afterwards to Map of Other Lives).
Another period of incubation followed.
In October 2014 the story started coming together quickly: I started making or dictating notes most of the nights, while running, walking, and even while talking with somebody.
I started writing on November 3rd, 2014.
According to the actual method of writing we can divide writers into:
1. Those who write very slowly and only move on once they are satisfied with the segment they are writing
2. those who write eagerly and fast in order to get to the end as quickly as possible and only then turn to amendments and corrections (Born for stories)
I belong to the second group and I try to write the first draft as fast as possible. After it’s done, I immediately start editing it, without showing it to anybody. Afterwards I ask few test readers for their opinion and then I edit again. In the end, that’s what I call finished first version.
I wrote a simple script and when I sat down to write, I clocked in myself with it, and when I stopped, I clocked out. The program wrote down number of characters written and the minutes between two clicks.
I tend to go for a long walk and construct the writing session in my head. When I return, I sit down and write this on the computer. When my “buffer” is empty, I go for another walk. I don’t sleep well while writing, trying to fill my head with content I’ll write next day. I’m not very useful in conversations, either.
Often the switch back is not complete and our writing accompanies us into our everyday lives where we then appear to be day dreaming. James Thurber: “I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’ She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, ‘Is he sick?’ ‘No,’ my wife says, ‘he’s writing'”(Born for stories)
While Thurber’s wife tried to explain what was happening, I prefer much nastier solution: I sing:
It’s writing time again
I’m gonna leave you
You can see that faraway look in my eyes
(based on this melody)
Please note: I clocked in just the time spending sitting at the keyboard, and that’s really a minority of the time spend working on the novel.
All in all, here are the results of writing sessions:
|Minutes||Hours||Sessions||Minutes per session||Minutes without min/max||Median||Longest session||Shortest session|
I have a day job, so I was writing mostly in the evenings. I took two weeks off during Christmas holidays and dedicated them to writing – and being with loved ones (with faraway look in my eyes).
It took me 78 days to finish first version of the novel, six months after initial idea. That’s a quick one. I spent more than ten years on Paloma Negra.
The end result is 390,668 characters (with spaces) long or 68,592 words. Here is the characters / sessions graph:
I have to let the novel lie for some time, gather some feedback from new test readers, sit down for more editing sessions and sooner or later it will be ready for publication. That’s the plan, at least.