Half a great story

It’s been forever since I last used this blog of mine – it’s no wonder, since I meant it as a writer’s blog and I haven’t been writing much lately. I don’t feel much like writing today, either. I love being a freelance translator, but my schedule tends to be hectic and that’s not very helpful when you want to do something that takes time.

Writing takes time.

When I was a kid, I always dreamed about writing huge, sprawling epics. Later on, I discovered the fun of writing short stories and I started throwing them out there quickly and enthusiastically – they were generally naive and not too good, but I loved it. And I always kept  starting that new novel, putting the old one aside, to be done whenever.

Two years of freelancing changed that. You see, freelancing is all about time. In theory, I can have a hundred clients and earn a bajillion tons of euros, dollars or whatever suited my fancy – except I wouldn’t have the necessary time to translate for all of them. Now, I guess employees are aware of time constraints, too, because if you have a full-time job, you’re not likely to fit in another full-time job (although I have a friend who did just that). If somebody works 9 to 5, add two hours in traffic – they only have their weekdays and weekends off.

However, freelancers have an even more intimate relationship with time. We’re not constrained either by work hours, nor do we get a fixed amount of money every week/month/year. In short, the more we work, the more we get. Of course, we have rates which determine the exact relationship between time and money, but the general math of it stands: more work, more money.

As a beginner, that’s likely to make you really optimistic.

Let’s say that one translated page would bring me $10. This isn’t the actual rate I charge, by the way, but I’m choosing it because multiplying by 10 is really easy – I initially said “10 units”, but earning 5000 units just doesn’t have the same ring to it as earning 5000 dollars. I can type at 50-60 words per minute and I know English and Romanian as if I were bilingual – this doesn’t make me perfect, however, nor does it mean I can always think of the right word at the exact instant I need it, so I still need to check my dictionaries and figure out what the hell the right phrase is and how it’s supposed to be used.

If I test myself, it turns out that I can translate 3 pages in an hour. Now, as a beginner, you do that bit of math and you whoop with joy – it’s $30 per hour! Awesome! If I work 8 hours in a day, the way normal people do, I can translate 24 pages! That’s $240! If I work 20 days a month, that’s $4800! That’s $57,600 per year – not so bad, eh? (It’s up to you if you want to subtract the taxes from that, or consider that they’re already subtracted. Also, by the way, you don’t get paid vacation, or paid anything, or benefits, or whatever – but I won’t go deep into freelancing issues here.)

Except I can’t keep it up. I need breaks, I need to eat, I need to use the toilet, I need to get up and walk. My fingers start hurting, I get dizzy from focusing so hard, my nerves get frayed. I can work 8 full hours in a day every now and again. Hell, I’ve put in even more from time to time, but it’s the sort of decision that comes at a price. Humans aren’t machines, you can’t keep pushing yourself forever or bad stuff starts happening. I usually tell people that 10 pages per day is a pretty decent chunk of work – especially since the initial math is for the first draft of the translation, which means there’s editing still to do, which is more work. That reduces the actual productivity from $240/day to $100/day.

But what does it all have to do with writing?!

Circling back to what I was saying before the rant on freelancing: writing takes time. Planning the story takes time. Actually typing it takes time. Editing takes… wait for it… even more time. And here I am, estimating times, the way I do for work.

I can type 4-5 pages in a 2-4 hour session. Editing can take much longer than that, depending on circumstances – although there are, indeed, some short stories which I just type up and leave mostly as they are, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

2016 has been my worst writing year ever. I’ve managed to invest about 20 hours into actual writing. I’ve been overworked because of circumstances which were partly my fault and partly not, so I’ve preferred to spend time resting. I’ve walked a bit, read a lot, played some games. I didn’t have enough energy to create writing periods during which to work on my stories.

Novels take time. If I switch from one to another because I think the idea is so much cooler, I will probably not finish anything any time soon. Hell, at this rate, even if I stick to a single novel, I won’t be able to get it finished for years. (I plan on translating less and writing more in 2017, though)

So here’s what: I’m prioritizing shorter texts. Until I can finish two short(ish) stories which are quite dear to me, I won’t work on anything longer. It’s about commitment, and about being aware of how much time I’m (not) putting into this.

Currently, I’m still working on the first not-so-short story, which is about 10,000 words long. I love it, I hate it, I have no idea whom I’ll try to send it to, but the first hurdle is this: the first half is great, as far as I’m concerned. It’s everything I want it to be and any modifications still needed are tiny. I am so proud of it.

The second half is… errr… well. Hmm. Ah. I think I was more tired or distracted as I wrote it. It’s bad. The style doesn’t work too well, the solutions are naive every other page (what was I thinking?) and it is, generally speaking, a mess. It needs a good 10 hours or so put into it, by my estimation. Maybe more, since it’s been a while since I last wrote and I’m out of practice. I don’t think it needs to be thrown out and rewritten from scratch, but it doesn’t look good at all.

I’m not sure when I’ll be fresh and focused enough for it. I’ll have to be, because I forbade myself from moving on to the next project before I finish this one (since I care about it, okay?).

But do you know what? I’m really happy I have half a great story that I need to fix and not half a great novel, because editing God knows how many pages of plot gone wrong and style failure would be truly daunting. It would take a lot of time, it would require me to throw out a lot of work and do some rewriting and drastic changes. I’d much rather have failed with half a short story.

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