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On polishing stones and cutting novels.

For those of you out there who write for a hobby, or on the slim chance you are reading this, and you are someone who writes for a living, the title of this essay may be obvious. But for the followers of this blog that are unfamiliar with writing fiction, I hope the following comparison between jewellery and writing will illustrate what comes out when crafting a story.

It’s widely known that a large amount of a raw gemstone is lost in order to turn it into a piece of jewellery. For a moment, cast out of your mind pearls or opals, any stones that aren’t cut before setting. Let’s think about diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies, and their semi-precious cousins. The objects we usually think of when we say—jewellery. With gemstones, the amount of stone lost during the cutting and polishing will depend on the original piece and what they can make from that shape. As well as the jeweller’s preference and skill, or occasionally what the client has requested. This loss may range from a quarter (which is rare) through to two-thirds (a normal amount when making a pronounced pavilion). In case you’re wondering, the pavilion is the pointy bit at the bottom, the part usually closest to your skin. For now, let’s run with half the original stone being reduced to dust in order to make a finished gemstone that sparkles in the light and changes character depending on the angle it’s viewed.

If you want to buy a wholesale cut diamond via the Australian Diamond Brokers, a two-carat diamond (let’s go big) in an emerald cut (that’s the rectangle one) will set you back over $32k. Why so much? Because the original stone had to be about four carats. If you prefer squares (Asscher or Princess cut) you can say goodbye to upwards of $40k. If you have a thing for ovals, then run with the Marquise cut and get ready to shell out an eye-watering $50k+. But for those cheap like me, then the good old round cut is the go, coming in at a very reasonable $20k. Ya hoy!

If you run through the shapes and costs I just listed, you may ask why the round shape isn’t much cheaper. Wouldn’t that shape lose the least amount and therefore the raw stone be smaller to achieve the final two carats? You’re right, of course. But there are other factors at play, and in this case it’s demand. Round is by far the most popular, so the price can be higher. Jewellers are a canny lot.

Now that you’ve been distracted by things expensive and pretty, let’s talk about writing.

Estimates range from 3hrs to 8hrs to turn a blank piece of paper into a page in a published novel. The number most bandied about is 7hrs. Which for a public servant is a day’s work (I’m teasing), or for a farmer half a day’s work (I’m exaggerating for effect, but you get the idea). In order to imagine, draft, rewrite, edit (sometimes up to four times), proofread, beta read, finalise and then publish, it takes on average an entire day per page. In Australia there are 260 working days in a year, once you drop off weekends and public holidays, and novels range typically between 250 and 350 pages. A full-time writer may get a book out every year or a year and a half. While a part-time writer (which is the overwhelming majority of writers) may get a book out once every three or four years. Naturally there’s plenty of wriggle room. Some skilled writers bang out over one a year and beginners like me can take nearly a decade for their first novel!

Which leads us to the point I’m trying to make. To share with you the amount of writing that an author does that never sees the light of day. The gemstone dust that gets cut or ground away from early drafts. Those scenes and dialogue that won’t make it to print. I imagine the ratio is similar to the perfecting of a gemstone. The novels on your bookshelf or in your Kindle could very well be only half what the author wrote. Yet it’s cutting and polishing that is vital to getting the story right. If writers gave their readers uncut gems, you’d quickly lose interest. A native diamond looks like a grain of sand. Dull and uninspiring, you can’t see what’s beneath. Likewise, a story of fiction needs facets and angles, it needs depth and character. We get to that point by cutting away until the story can’t be any sharper. The point where the characters and places shine in your mind.

So, when you hesitate about the price of a book, remember it took the author a long time to polish that kernel of a story into the best-looking novel they could. A great deal more was written than you will ever see. What you hold in your hand is a long process of refinement until we leave you with the core of the diamond.

P.S. This took you four minutes to read, yet it took me two hours to write.

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