How Long Does It Take?

Many, many decades – The esteemed Elizabeth Bishop, on one line of poetry, the comma moved back and forth.

25 years – Steven Spielberg, on his latest film “Red Tails.”

30 years – Frank McCourt on Angela’s Ashes.

2 months – Richard Paul Evans, author of eleven New York Times best-sellers, including Finding Noel and The Christmas Box.  Average number of revisions once the first draft was done: 800 per book.

6 weeks, or 4 years, depending upon the source – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.

10 days – George Simenon, lunch delivered on a tray to his closed office door, no interruptions tolerated. Creator of Inspector Maigret. Author of 200 novels, 210 novellas, several autobiographical works, dozens of articles, and scores of pulp fiction written under twelve pseudonyms.

5 days – Dame Barbara Cartland, resulting in some 623 best-sellers in her lifetime.

4 days – Samuel Johnson, Rasselas: Prince of Abyssinia

A single 12-hour transatlantic flight – Dr. Richard Carlson’s wildly popular Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

Are you glacial? Or do you like your latté hot, so make it quick!

Make peace with yourself. That’s how the best work happens.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo by K’vitsh.

The Good, the Bad, and the Unclear

What went well these past twelve months, and what could have gone better? I’m supposed to ask myself this every quarter—it’s in the plan!—but that part of the plan, two years running now, has fizzled. Still, it’s not too late:

1.  TIME

On a good day, I can look up and be amazed that five hours have slipped by. But  I may not have produced much, as it can take me multiple iterations to figure something out. I hate this about my writing. And yes, I do know people who get it right the very first time. (Okay, only two people. And yes, they are MacArthur prize winners.)


But hey, not for nothing, all those hours this work-a-day writer has put in, for at least I have established a voice for this blog. That’s one part of the plan that went well. If you say soulofaword, you mean me.


Every post, including this one, comes with photographs (part of the plan). And, as was true from the very beginning, trawling the photo sites and picking the pictures continues to be a pleasure.  It’s like accessorizing. The hard part—the writing—is done, and now we get to pick the shoes.


My sense is that these posts are growing in complexity, both in content and in language. This was not in the plan. Is this a good thing? A bad thing?  I’m not sure yet, but I will say that complexity doesn’t add to the ease or speed of the undertaking. And it takes up time that should be spent on other things, like the business of blogging.


The stories are one thing, and people have their favorites, but many of the most popular posts here deliver information in neat, tidy lists and/or have titles that begin “How to . . . ” What to make of this?  Are my readers pressed for time? Are they looking for instruction? Do they prefer to graze, not read?  And from a writer’s point of view, is it easier or more difficult to use this form?

These are some of the questions I’ll be answering as I make my year-end plan. For now, though, I’m off to gather the hard data, another something I’ve left for the very last moment, but oh well, it’s not too late.

Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo credit – Giacomo Lorenzo.

The Element of Time (and God)

Recently, I bumped into author Jon Winokur—online, that is, where everyone meets. I recognized his name from the first communication, as I have one of his earliest books, The Portable Curmudgeon.

The email said that he gave this site a thumbs-up mention on his blog, and so I sent a thank you. Using Twitter, I spotted this on his bio line: Jon Winokur is the author of numerous compendiums and online adventures, and “has been in a bad mood since 1971.”

Geez, is that all?

ME: Thanks for the mention. But just to tell you, I’ve been in a bad mood since about six months of age.

WINOKUR: Trying to top me, eh? Well I’VE been in a bad mood since I was an embryo!

And off it went at a stiff clip, a dozen exchanges, straight back through time.

Next, it was the Garden of Good and Evil, then string theory, and after that the Big Bang. When I pressed for details, he claimed to have been at the conference table where such things were decided. In fact, his bad mood even preceded this, he insisted, as it was he who had called the meeting.

Selah, take that.

Heck, he even went to high school with God. Heck, I AM GOD, he claimed, the capital letters a nice touch.

It was a 140-character game of one-upmanship—but it got me to thinking about how a writer uses time.

Time is an element, as much as tone, or voice, and all the rest. Whether 300 or 30,000 words, where does the writer start, and in which direction will he head?

Winokur began with today and unwound things to the beginning—to God, the ultimate purported cause of everything.

Now, Winokur isn’t God, of course, but he is a writer, and that means he gets to decide. It’s up to him to determine when he will reach into his toolbox, pull out his mighty clock, and put it work.

Check out: Jon Winokur on Twitter@AdviceToWriters and

Photo credits: blue clock, Ivan Prole, sxc; clock lineup, Miguel Saavedra,