Can I Write a Book?

I’ve had many people suggest over the years that I write a book. It’s always been a goal of mine. I even recently had a published author suggest it, which although very complimentary, made me just more depressed.

Here’s why. I don’t have the time. I certainly have the ideas to communicate. I write well. I edit even better. But as life goes on, you get depressed when you don’t finish the things in life you hope to do. Especially the things that you know you can do. I might not be cycling across America anytime soon, but I can write. Now. Today. In fact, I’m doing it right this second.

Last night I couldn’t sleep and it gnawed at me. At four in the morning, I turned the light back on and picked up a book I’ve been reading and counted all the words on a particularly full page of text: 430. I rounded down to 400 for an “average page” since many pages have less words due to headings, bulleted lists, half-page chapter openings, and the occasional illustration. Then I looked at how many pages were in the book: 267. Then, I rounded that down to 250, eliminating the index and a few appendices. 400 x 250 = 100,000 words.

I was surprised. 100,000 words would be a lot for a well-documented, heavily-researched and footnoted dissertation. For a creative novel, it could be a lot. I’ve since read on the internet that the average novel is 60,000 to 90,000 words. But for a motivational book, a cultural commentary, or a subject that an author knew well, it wouldn’t be much. At least not as much as I thought.

And I thought… 100,000 words? That’s it? I can do this.

I type pretty fast. About 80 words per minute. So, I calculated a slower speed of 60 wpm. I figured that if, for every hour I spent working on it, half was spent typing, then I’d be able to output roughly 1800 words per hour. If I spent four hours per day, I’d be able to output 7200 words per day. If I did this five days per week, I’d be able to output 36,000 words per week.

In less than 3 weeks, I’d have my 100,000 words, my manuscript, so to speak. I could have a fully-written book in less than 3 weeks? It hardly seems possible. I was very excited for a few minutes and then reality set in.

I can’t spend four hours a day writing a book. Maybe two, but not four. I still have clients to keep happy, new projects to bid on, family things to do, and many more things on my plate. The garage is a mess, if you must know.

Although I’ve written a lot in my life, I imagine that a book is somehow different. Everything has to fit together. It’s easy to keep track of things in a short essay or even a long blog post. But a book could become confusing. It has to be clear.

Plus, I still wasn’t sure. I rechecked my calculations. They were all correct (and well they should be - my dad used to teach Calculus).

But even counting for typical delays and interruptions, and allowing some time for research and documentation, I started to see the potential to finish one of my book ideas in less than three months.

So, I decided to start getting ready today.

But just to be sure I wasn’t fooling myself, I downloaded an excellent plugin for WordPress (which powers my blog here) that shows a running statistical word count of my blog posts in my Admin interface. I wanted to see what I normally output when I’m not really trying. I’ve written before about why I blog and more recently the traits that I think make me a good blogger.

If you know me, I don’t write attempting to create some winning, highly-sought after blog. If you don’t like what I write about, don’t read it. Or comment on the post and call me a name. Any name at all. Just don’t call me late for dinner. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Unlike some bloggers who are trying to create some search engine mecca, I’ve never thought like that in regards to my little corner here on the internet. I wanted to see what I had already typed in the past years on my blog. The results were revealing.

As of the previous post, I had typed 191,110 words, in 210 posts, averaging 913 words per post. In other words, I’ve already written two books worth of material. My longest singular post was 5,575 words. If you like trivia, you might be interested to know that my shortest post (4 words) is also one of the most-commented posts to date. Those four words, apparently, are very controversial.

Although my post archives date back to December 2002, I originally backdated a few of those posts to be “historically accurate”. I didn’t really start blogging actively at Salberg.Org until February 2006. Subtracting the 12,925 words of the older scattered posts, that leaves 178,185 words in the 28 months of writing starting February 2006. That’s an average of 6,363 words per month.

I feel pretty good that with some effort and a plan that I could boost that to about 25,000 per month. I spend a fair amount of most posts checking references, linking to them, and editing and proof-reading each post. At least about 30% of my time for each post. The above numbers also don’t include emails, blog comments, and forum posts elsewhere on the internet. Although they do include the occasional blockquote cut and pasted from someone else. But not too many. I imagine they balance out with the off-blog writing.

I’m hardly alone in this thinking. Despite my “discovery” last night, I found plenty of references to similar ideas on the net - like this one.

Of course, you might see shorter and less frequent posts here in the meantime. I can’t do both. I’m also not oblivious to the later needs of editing, typesetting, and trying to find a publisher, although I’ll likely self-publish it initially unless some nice publisher wants to come give me a hand (ahem… and a check). But those walls will fall pretty quickly once the manuscript is in hand. Cart before the horse and that sort of thing.

I’ve had many books in mind for a while, but two in particular. One is a historically accurate account of a particular event, but written as a screenplay. I can’t say more than that, because if I ever get around to it, it will be a movie on par with BraveHeart. But better. But I don’t think that is the one to get started on. First, I’d have to write a screenplay which, by all account, is a skill unto itself. Second, it’s going to require an enormous amount of research.

The second book is the one I’m going to do. It has to do with cultural battles America has already lost - and how we can recognize them - along with a strategy to neutralize and nullify those battles. It isn’t going to be a rehash of so many other cultural battle books. It is largely unique in some of its assumptions and understanding of today’s cultural mores. I hope it will be a fresh perspective on how we, as a nation and particularly as Christians and/or conservatives, have conceded so much already.

Despite common assumptions, I personally believe we don’t have to keep those battles in the past as lost ground in the cultural war. Many on the right are constantly accused of trying to drag America back into the past - to the 1950’s, or to the Crusades, depending on whose doing the accusing. It’s no surprise that many “heroes” on the right dodge the accusation choosing to confront those on the left with their own idea of “progress”. While that may be an appropriate tactic at times, I think we’ve conceded too much and we need to attack on battlefields where we have had some shameful losses. We have abandoned those fields, leaving our dead scattered on hills of the ancient past.

That’s all I’m going to say about the book’s content at this point. Although I haven’t totally decided on the title officially, I’ve registered the domain name today. Sad, but you have to do this early on, else some profit-mongering clown will read this and eat up all the domains that I might otherwise use. Read into that what you might.

To help me, I’ll be using yWriter which is freeware marketed toward novelists, I’ve seen a number of reports that says it is great for organizing non-fiction works as well. You would think that a web guy like me might use Google Docs, but I hate to say that so far Google Docs (and gMail) can’t keep up with my typing speed. It’s autosave feature kicks in every ten seconds or so and I lose a word. In other words, I have to pay attention and type slow so I don’t have to type a word or two over again.

I could also use Microsoft Word but that seems so… 90’s. Word will also be a nightmare to manage 250 pages while I’m creating it. Yes, I know about sections and auto TOC creation (I did this for many years), but I’d rather not fool with all that while I’m doing the actual writing. I may do the final project assembly in Word, then pull it all into Acrobat Pro and typeset and paginate it there. I’ll cross that bridge later.

So, what do you think? Can I write a book?

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Of course you can write a book. It’s never about typing speed or average word count — it’s about keeping pace and actually seeing the project through to the end. Of course, having a publisher drive a red-hot puker up your arse everytime you drop a deadline helps.

Poker. Red hot poker. Proof read your work, Kevin, sheesh.

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