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Thread: How Long Should It Take?

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    How Long Should It Take?

    At a secretly-recorded dinner party on January 5, 1960, three days before he would declare his candidacy for U.S. President, the then-Senator John F. Kennedy said this:

    "I'm sure it takes twenty years to be a decent writer. You have to do it every day."
    Discuss.

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    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    This is interesting but hard to agree with.

    It does take time and I'm pretty sure there are no 'natural' writers. Language itself can be 'acquired' according to Chomsky. Writing, since it uses language is related but isn't acquired naturally, it's learned. How long it takes to learn its techniques is dependent on the individual's capacity and industry. That varies.
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 01-27-2014 at 12:04 AM.

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    Cat Person DickZ's Avatar
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    You not only have to write for many years, you also have to read so you can see what techniques used by other writers are most effective. I doubt that either writing or reading, by itself, would be enough.

    I agree with Steven that the number of years would vary with the person. But I doubt that even the great writers, none of whom participate in this forum, could hit the ground running at full speed when they first started. Even they would have to get in some practice.
    Currently reading Lust for Life by Irving Stone. Recently completed The Origin by Irving Stone, Moguls and Iron Men by James McCague, The Great Bridge by David McCullough, All the Great Prizes by John Taliaferro, Empire by Gore Vidal, Middlemarch by George Eliot, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

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    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Dick has a point there too. Many good authors are well read. That reading component is important.

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    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Trollope began writing “Barchester Towers” in 1855. He wrote constantly, and made himself a writing-desk so he could continue writing while travelling by train.

    "Pray know that when a man begins writing a book he never gives over," he wrote in a letter during this period. "The evil with which he is beset is as inveterate as drinking – as exciting as gambling."

    The point that I’m trying to make in a rather roundabout way is that;

    • I agree with this. There are times when you struggle with writing, but oh the thrill when you are on a roll and cannot stop.
    • Yes you need to have read widely to acquire words and technique; but if you are one of the lucky ones, you will also have inherited somewhere in your genes, “imagination” (humour as well if you are twice blessed.)
    • Grahame Greene wrote something along the lines “Take upon thyself the mystery of the world, as if you were God’s spy.” Always be watching, remember your emotions, then tuck it away until the pen retrieves them.

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    Kinglsey Amis said; "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one's trousers to the seat of one's chair."

    Many of the "how to write books" suggest at least a year to make a decent stab at writing a novel - it's taken friends about eighteen months to put together a slim volume of poetry. Of course, the amount of time it takes after that to become a decent writer is anyone's guess, but the initial investment seems to be at least a year on one project fitting a full time job and paying the rent around it.

    Colin Dexter (creator of Inspector Morse series) said he wrote a page a day which meant it took him a year to finish a book.

    Finding a publisher that will pay you is another hurdle you will face. It took Kerouac years, and a number of redrafts, to get On the Road published. Perhaps online publishing has removed that barrier a bit, but you will still have to put some time into selling it.

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    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    There are many factors to consider here. The time taken in writing a novel depends, among other things, on what the author is trying to say and the importance he/she attaches to it. It's possible to carry a story around for years before one feels ready to begin writing it. Then there is the redrafting and correcting to consider as well as the inbuilt resistance of agents and publishers.
    If, however, the writer is engaged in popular fiction, it may take a relatively short time to complete a book depending on the author's dedication.
    The length of a novel doesn't necessarily mean that it takes longer where the content is largely padding and unoriginal. I don't know how long it took Scott Fitzgerald to write the very short Gatsby, but the book says much more than the somewhat overblown novels that followed and which may or may not have taken longer to write.
    "L'art de la statistique est de tirer des conclusions erronèes a partir de chiffres exacts." Napoléon Bonaparte.

    "Je crois que beaucoup de gens sont dans cet état d’esprit: au fond, ils ne sentent pas concernés par l’Histoire. Mais pourtant, de temps à autre, l’Histoire pose sa main sur eux." Michel Houellebecq.

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    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    interesting.
    two points however:
    why 20 years and not 21 or 19
    and
    for someone like the president who never write/write to decide that was the length it takes a write takes to become fully fledged is rather intriguing.
    it like a builder/ bricklayer at a barbeque saying:
    it am sure it takes 15 years to become a teacher.
    I am not sure how and why that was said and more importantly in which context was it said?
    unless on is suggesting the president himself was a secret writer.
    who knows *shrug shoulder*
    it may never try
    but when it does it sigh
    it is just that
    good
    it fly

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by cacian View Post
    interesting.
    two points however:
    why 20 years and not 21 or 19
    and
    for someone like the president who never write/write to decide that was the length it takes a write takes to become fully fledged is rather intriguing.
    it like a builder/ bricklayer at a barbeque saying:
    it am sure it takes 15 years to become a teacher.
    I am not sure how and why that was said and more importantly in which context was it said?
    unless on is suggesting the president himself was a secret writer.
    who knows *shrug shoulder*
    JFK won a Pulitzer for Profiles in Courage http://www.amazon.com/Profiles-Coura.../dp/0060854936
    I won't put JFK down, but others may.

    I believe that he said twenty as a round number, rather than thinking that it would be exactly twenty years.

    But you are a good writer, regardless of how long you have been trying.

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    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PeterL View Post
    JFK won a Pulitzer for Profiles in Courage http://www.amazon.com/Profiles-Coura.../dp/0060854936
    I won't put JFK down, but others may.

    I believe that he said twenty as a round number, rather than thinking that it would be exactly twenty years.

    But you are a good writer, regardless of how long you have been trying.
    I never knew the president wrote books so there you I learn something everyday.
    if that is what he thought then so be it.
    I am not sure one can say that takes amounts of time to write it is more amount will and drive to want to write.
    time is irrelevant it is reversible.
    I write because I want to and that is the point. whether I want achieve stardom over it is neither here or there.
    I write for a purpose and that is to amuse me and my ideas
    thank you for praise Peter you are good yourself.
    it may never try
    but when it does it sigh
    it is just that
    good
    it fly

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    Quote Originally Posted by cacian View Post
    I never knew the president wrote books so there you I learn something everyday.
    if that is what he thought then so be it.
    Actually, there are many people who think that JFK hired a ghost-writer, but the book is so simple, that he may have written it.

    I am not sure one can say that takes amounts of time to write it is more amount will and drive to want to write.
    time is irrelevant it is reversible.
    I write because I want to and that is the point. whether I want achieve stardom over it is neither here or there.
    I write for a purpose and that is to amuse me and my ideas
    thank you for praise Peter you are good yourself.

    Anyone can say anything, but whether it has much validity is questionable. There are some people who just started writing and they were successful, while others worked at it with will and drive for many years but did not have any success. I think it's partly a matter of luck.

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    Registered User 108 fountains's Avatar
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    I think some people have a natural gift or "a way with words," and some people can develop writing skills more quickly than others, but I think "being" a writer is a lifelong process. I think most, if not all, writers develop and improve with age.
    A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it.
    Thomas Hardy

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    The President's remark arose when Ben Bradlee asked him if he would have considered a writing career rather than the path of politics. I think JFK's point was not so much about the time it takes to complete a particular project, such as a novel, but rather how long it would take a person to be good at it.

    I believe JFK was correct that it takes at least 20 years, but for every example of a "late bloomer," there is a young counterpart who achieved instant success with his or her first appearance in print. In general, though, the writing profession requires an extraordinary amount of preparation, which translates into good old fashioned self-discipline and hard work.

    In addition to the time devoted into learning and honing one's craft-- Malcolm "Outliers" Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours minimum-- there is something to be said for personal life experience as well. By that I don't necessarily mean a Hemingway-style plunge into macho adventures but rather the time spent acquiring the life experiences which enrich a writer with self-knowledge, empathy, and emotional depth. There's something to be said for "suffering for one's art" aside from being a poseur about it. "Maturity" -- few of us are born with that.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 01-28-2014 at 05:09 PM.

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