The Percentages


Paula’s Post #34 — Yeah, you read that right! Paula’s post #34.

As of today, I’ve now chugged out thirty-four straight posts for all the world to see.  34 weeks spent searching for a topic to write about.  34 straight weeks of crafting a blog post.

But today I’m at a loss. Today, I don’t know what to write about today.

Don’t worry, that’s never stopped me before.

Back in law school, during exam week, I vividly recall staring at the blank pages of my examination booklet, at an utter loss to know where to begin. But I learned that when in doubt, start with what you know. Hopefully you’ll get some credit for that, and with luck, remember the rest along the way.

So, since I still don’t know what to write about, how about a little history lesson, during which I’ll that hope inspiration strikes me along the way.

On September 5th, 2012, the day the gauntlet was thrown, we 5writers each pledged to try to write a complete novel in a mere 5 months (September 5, 2012 to February 5, 2013).

If that wasn’t crazy enough, one of the 5 also came up with the clever idea of blogging about our challenge along the way:

5 writers x  5 days of the week x 5 months =

And thus this blog was born.

Predictably, most of our posts have been about writing. But we’ve also provided our followers with a little behind the scenes look at how we 5writers were doing with our novels and how we were coping with the pressure of looming deadlines.

If you’ve been following us for a while, you may have discerned that a significant proportion of our posts have been about, well, not writing. More specifically, about the real life obstacles and challenges that get in the way of writing a novel. The real life obstacles and challenges that get in the way of being a writer.

Now, I admit that I may have had some misgivings about the whole blogging thing at the outset, but a funny thing happened on the way to our February 5th deadline.

I started to enjoy writing about writing.

Paradoxically, it soon seemed that more than a few of the 5writers were actually enjoying blogging about writing our novels more than actually writing the damn things.

February 5th came and passed and, still enthralled with the novelty of blogging, we enthusiastically embraced the ‘writing about writing life,’ and voted to continue with our weekly blog posts.

In the weeks that followed, we slogged into phase two of our challenge, a phase the can perhaps best be described as the ‘polishing’ phase.

But now phase two of our challenge is nearly at an end and we are close to the start of phase three, a phase I’ve begun to refer to as ‘The Critique Retreat’, but if you’re a fan of reality TV shows, you may prefer to think of it as ‘The Big Reveal’.

In just over a week, we are really, really, really going to push send and deliver our ‘polished’ manuscripts to the rest of the group. After we receive manuscripts from the other 5writers, we will then have about four more weeks to read four complete noels and prepare written critiques, all  in time for our June 15th ‘Critique Retreat’ up in Whistler, British Columbia. In other words, once I receive the polished manuscripts of my 5writer colleagues, and they receive mine, the real fun begins. Each of us will read the novels of the other members of our group (between May 15th and June 15th) and each of us will prepare a concise and principled critique of our fellow 5writers manuscripts.

Or at least that’s the idea.

Why am I going over all this again?

Well, you may recall that when I started this post, I didn’t know what I was going to write about. I settled on a little history lesson. But, as hoped,

Da, Da, Da, Da!

I’ve now sort of stumbled upon what I’d really like to say.

Today, I want to talk about ‘the percentages’ because the odds are now looking pretty good that every one of the 5writers is going to have a completed novel by the time the “Critique Retreat” rolls around on June 15th, 2013

Five complete novels.

Why is that such a big deal you ask?

Astoundingly, an incredible 81 per cent of Americans confess to wanting to write a book in their lifetime.

81 friggin’ percent!!!

(My apologies Silk. Just had to use an exclamation point or two to emphasize that one).

Perhaps less astoundingly, a mere 5 to 10 percent of those who start writing a novel, actually finish a first draft.

But soon, we will have earned the privilege of being in that illustrious group.

All five of us.

To my mind, a truly astounding accomplishment.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that writing a novel isn’t hard work. It is. Frankly, the fact that so many people try to do it at all is just plain bizarre. 

But there are reasons for our collective success, and this blog is one of them. In a very public way, for better or worse, we put ourselves out there. In true, hands-off-the-handlebars style, we shouted to the world:

“Whee! Look at me!”

So, I’m not sure about the others, but some of the factors that motivated me to finish my 5writers manuscript include:

1) I knew I was being ‘watched’. That was a huge motivator for me.

2) The 5writers challenge created an artificial (but to me) very real deadline. I need deadlines. Once I knew what I had to do, and when I had to do it by, I did it.

3) Misery loves company. Somehow, knowing my 5writer colleagues and I were all in this together was, well, comforting, in an all-for-one, one-for-all kind of way.

4) The novelty of writing a complete novel in just 5 months appealed to my A.D.D. mind. A new and fresh challenge replete with a nice little adrenalin rush.

5) It was fun.(You just knew I had to come up with 5 reasons, didn’t you? And being a Tigger, of course, one of them had to be about ‘fun’).

For me, the jury is still out on whether I’m really suited for the writing life, but today I received a facebook update from our founding critique group member, Sean, who had just learned his latest novel was being released in Turkey.

In Turkish.

But not just in Turkey … in Turkey, too.

In 2008, Sean contacted the Darley, Anderson Agency in London and cold queried, Blood Angel, the novel he had worked on with us, his fellow critique group members, during the first year our group came together.

Eventually, Sean and his agent decided to focus on another manuscript that he had in progress and ultimately sold that book to Simon & Schuster, UK in a fabulous multi-book deal.

Sean’s debut novel The Survivor went on to be nominated for Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. His third novel is due to be released later this spring.

So, what’s Sean got to do with the title of my post: The Percentages?

81% of people say they want to write a book … but only 5% of those people actually finish the first draft. And as we all know, only an infinitesimal fraction of those who finish the first draft end up getting published.

Sean, talent, hard work and dedication, broke into that elusive 5%. He completed a first draft of a novel.

But Sean didn’t stop there. With feedback from our group, he polished his manuscript to the point he caught the attention of a prestigious London literary agency. Not bad for a kid from Canada. (Oh come on Sean, I can say kid, I’m almost – not quite, but almost – old enough to be your mother).

But Sean didn’t stop there. With feedback from his London agent, he polished that other manuscript The Survivor through a year long revision process that ultimately resulted in his fabulous book deal with Simon & Schuster.

But Sean didn’t stop there. Despite a gruelling ‘double life’ as author and police detective, Sean managed to pen two more novels for Simon & Schuster.

Sean narrowed ‘The Percentages’ and beat the odds..

Like Sean before us, we, too, have narrowed the odds. Through our hard work and perseverance, every single one of the 5writers is poised to enter the 5% club.

But we’re not going to stop there.

With our Critique Retreat just a little more than a month away, we’re planning to whittle the odds still further.

From 81% to 5% to … well, who knows how low we can go?

5 thoughts on “The Percentages

  1. I hope it’s okay with you—and your fellow four writers—that I refer my blog’s writing buddies to your blog in my Saturday post. You show such a great sense of teamwork and fun with writing—as well as insightful and helpful posts—that I feel guilty for not sharing you yet.

  2. You almost turned me off completely by reminding me of law school and exams, but I’m glad I pushed through. This blog, writers writing about writing, has helped me an awful lot, just as it seems to have helped you. Many thinks to all of you.

    • And you have so helped and encouraged us, buy being such a loyal follower. Writing is lonely, and having people ‘out there’ that care what you are doing and cheer you on is just terrific. Now… you haven’t told us how your writing is going…?

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