How Long Should It Take To Write A Novel?

How long should it take to write a novel?

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Dear Jenna: After another listen to “The Author at Work“, I have a question for you. You said you spent three years on Those Who Save Us. Could you break that down for me (i.e. how much time on 1st draft, revision, pollinating, etc)? I have been worrying that I am taking forever w/ my novel (15 mos in so far), but perhaps I am not doing so badly after all. ~ Mr. M

Dear Mr. M: Indeed, you’re not doing “badly” at all. There is no correct amount of time it takes to write a book; some writers finish a book in a year (or two or three books–ahem, Jane Green, Stephen King, Elin Hilderbrand), and some take three years or ten! I tend to write a book once every five years or so, and that doesn’t count research, which is often going on behind the scenes, on and off, for many additional years.

When I was writing Those Who Save Us, I wrote all of Anna’s story first, then Trudy’s story second. Anna’s story took me 6 months, and it’s pretty much unedited from its first draft. Trudy’s story took me 2.5 years! I found her to be both necessary to the theme of the book and the less likable character, so it took me all that time to write and rewrite and rewrite her storyline and get her into a place where I could feel empathy for her. It’s true what they say: much of writing is rewriting.

I also began with outlines for both characters, revising those outlines as I went along; outlines, including the revised ones, tended to take me a day each. The beginning outlines had a lot of ??????, indicating placeholders in the plot: scenes I hadn’t come up with yet. Later outlines included a brief–as in one sentence or less–descriptions of those scenes.

I hope this is helpful! Remember: there’s no “right” amount of time it takes! A book takes as long as it takes; as my friend A the agent says: “You can have it fast, or you can have it good.”

Writers, how long does it typically take you to write a book?

3 Responses to How Long Should It Take To Write A Novel?

  1. It took four years to write my first novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, which includes research, thinking, and writing itself. My second novel was supposed to be one huge epic book, but things took a turn. FIVE YEARS into the project, I realized a subplot in the story wanted to be its own novel—-and the rest of the material was meant to be a sequel. Long story short, I ended up with a trilogy. The last book of the three will be finished this year. It’s impossible to break out how much time each novel took because so much of my work was intertwined. By the time I’m done, though, I’ll have spent nine years on the Keeper of Tales Trilogy.

    My process involves a long “research and incubation” period. The research informs the world/story I’m working on, and the incubation allows the characters and story to take shape. I start writing when I have enough pieces to map out the main arc of the plot—-beginning, middle, and end. I don’t write every day (never have, never will), but when I am writing, it comes in waves, taking up several hours a day for weeks, sometimes months, at a time.

    Writing a novel takes a lot of dedication and perseverance. How fast one works doesn’t matter as much as actually reaching THE END and having a book one can be proud of. Good luck, Mr. M!

    • This is such a wonderfully inspiring post, Ronlyn. And I love the use of the term “incubation period.” I think our creative processes are much alike–not, Mr. M, that this makes us “right”; it’s just always good to know we are not alone in our journeys, which are sometimes long. But ultimately so rewarding! Happy writing, Ronlyn. And congratulations on your trilogy! XO!

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