On the subject of Home Economics, everybody has strong opinions. And those who are interested in such things, are obsessive about it, they focus in on it with laser vision to the exclusion of all else, sometimes.
So when I mentioned that I calculated the time (including planning, shopping, washing up, etc) it would take me to pack a sandwich for lunch, and that came out to about $40 in value in writing time -- people objected. My point was about value of the writing time, but they focused in on the sandwich. It couldn't possibly really cost $40. No, never, no way, no how. I must have done the math wrong. I must have ignored some other cost or something.
I did not tell you how I calculated it because that wasn't the point. It didn't have to be a sandwich. It could be a blog post. A game of checkers. The point was valuing your work. To whit:
1.) If you set your success bar at $150 per year average per 60-65k novel as a baseline. That's a very low bar. Depending on your price, that's 4-6 sales a month. You may not make that much (especially not at first) but it's a fair gauge.
2.) If you see your book as investment capital, rather than the source of a quick buck, then, using the figures above, that novel is worth the equivalent of $5000 in conservative investment properties.
And that means 500 finished words is worth $40.
Your mileage may vary. Strike that: your mileage WILL vary. Duh. That's the nature of the game. However, it's not like we're talking major variables here. The length of your own average book, the price you charge for it. But the value numbers there are the key ones. For an indie published book to make $150 a year really is a nice low goal -- and that's really what all the math depends on.
So... if 500 finished words is worth $40, then anything you do in place of writing and editing those 500 finished words is taking at least $40 (or whatever number you came up with) of your time. It doesn't matter if you are a slow writer or a fast writer -- you have to do your math from this point. It might take you five hours to produce 500 finished words, or it might take you a half hour.
It also doesn't matter what that other thing you choose to do with that time: You might be making a sandwich, you might be playing Angry Birds. You might be writing a blog post, like this one.
Whatever you do instead of writing 500 words of polished prose, whatever it is, is worth $40 of writing time.
This is just a measure of how much it costs you, that's all. It's not a value judgment on your lifestyle. We took a day trip to Zingerman's today and had what could be considered (by this math) a $171 sandwich. And it all only matters if you want to make a living at writing. If you don't want to make a living at writing, then nothing about any of this applies to you. Don't worry about it.
There are other ways of looking at the value of your time, and of your writing. I'm just trying to give you one more tool to help you figure it out. But you have to do your own math.
In the meantime.....
There are some of you still itching about the sandwich -- so the rest of this post isn't about relative value of business or anything. It's just about lunch, culture and time, and time. I'm hoping to answer the question:
How Can It Take An Hour To Make a Freaking Sandwich?
Sandwiches have contexts. Every person has different needs and resources. I told you that packing a lunch costs me an hour or so of my time, and it's much more cost effective to buy a lunch most of the time.
What I didn't say is that this is true regardless of whether I bother with the writing time thing. Honestly, I wasn't lying, exaggerating or overlooking things. I was just giving you the reality of my life.
Look, if you have to make lunch for four kids and a husband every morning, then, sure, economy of scale will make one more packed lunch virtually free. It simply would not take enough more time to worry about. And I'm sure it's such an ingrained part of your life, that you really honestly can't understand how it could possibly be any trouble at all for anybody. You just throw some fillings between two slices of bread and toss it in a baggie. How hard is that?
But if you don't have the filling, the bread or the baggie on hand, it's a whole different ball game. It's like Japanese housewife telling it's really quick and easy -- "Not trouble at all!" -- to make a fancy "charaben" bento box lunch for your kids every day.
Just look how quick and easy it is! Here listen to Francis, the Talking Japanese Poodle, narrate how to do it, in a 6 minute segment from his wonderful YouTube cooking show "Cooking With Dog."
Okay, big irony/confession time: the lunch made here would actually be EASIER for me to make than your average American sandwich lunch. I have the ingredients, skills, tools and experience to throw together something like this pretty fast.
Listen, I'm single. I don't eat catfood, so shopping for my "kids" doesn't give me any economy of scale with shopping for myself. The household humans each take care of their own food issues.
And I'm not a sandwich person.
(Which may sound funny coming from a person who once tried to arrange for a helicopter to fly down to Zingerman's to pick up a pastrami on rye once. But that's a Zingerman's sandwich.)
And I don't eat sandwiches at home. I don't particularly like them, and I don't have those ingredients in my pantry. When I do eat sandwiches, I like really good bread (which I seldom eat, so I don't have it in the house -- I have to buy it specially for that meal.) I don't keep chips or deli pickles around.
So I might make a bento box or Chinese bao or something -- but that's going to take a long time too, and I'd rather do it for dinner.
I live in a depressed, working class city with a diverse ethnic population. Why should I make something at an inconvenient time, when it may even cost me less to get somebody else to do it for me? Seriously. Bao at the Chinese grocery? Two bucks. Three if I call ahead to the dim sum place and get a whole order of them. And I don't have to plan ahead, or worry about whether I'll feel like a stale refrigerated one the next day. I can say, "hey, I think I feel like bao today."
Falafel sandwich for two bucks. A burrito for one. A dog and chips from the vendor. Arby's. MacDonalds. A $5 gyro meal. Heck, if I really don't want to think about it when I'm too brain-dead in the morning, I can splurge by calling Jimmy Johns. They'll deliver lunch right to the office for the whole crew in freakishly fast time, for only $7 each or so.
I may not want to do that every day, but if it allows me the mindspace to write even 50 more finished words, it's definitely worth it financially.
Now, not everybody has the options I do.
I'm not telling YOU to drive out of your way to find some falafel house which may or may not be overpriced or any good ( and may not even be open during your morning commute). I'm saying that I've got a falafel house that isn't out of my way, and it's super good, super cheap and really filling. And yes, because I work afternoons and evenings, they're open.
I didn't overlook anything, I didn't calculate wrong. I've been doing this for half a century. Trust me, I've tried all the options, and my stunningly wonderful day job income is blow 20k, and for most of my life much lower, so I have had to manage. It's not that I'm rich, or careless.
It's just that I'm not you.
And you're not me. You've got to find your own falafel sandwich equivalents in life.
The whole point was not to tell you whether a balogna sandwich (or a bunny-shaped apple slice) is worth it or not. The point is to give you one more tool with which you can measure the relative value of your writing time.
This may come off a little annoyed and snarky -- so I want to add: please, feel free to discuss the relative merits of all of this in the comments. Just keep in mind that we're all different. Nobody's wrong about their own life.
See you in the funny papers.