Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How Long Does It Take?

I am currently revising the first draft of my novel Cocke & Bull. I finished writing this first draft about ten months ago and until mid-December 2010 I ignored it to work on other projects. I would like to get through revisions pretty quickly so that I can turn to yet another project, because I dream of a future in which I produce a publication-ready novel about once a year.

That might be impossible, though. I've been trying to figure out how long I'll need to write a book, and of course the answer is going to be that "it depends on the book."

My first novel, which we'll call The Unpublishable Mess, took about five years to write. That was just a first draft. My next novel, Killing Hamlet, took about three years to get from "raw idea" to "on submission." I wrote the first draft of Cocke & Bull in about five months and I'd like to think that I can get it properly rewritten and ready for submission in fewer than seven months, which means that--were I not interrupted by other projects--it is theoretically possible for me to write and revise a novel in a year.

Which idea pleases the organized Virgo part of my mind, because the timeline is neat and tidy and possibly could lead to a dependable income stream at some future point in time. But the idea troubles the disorganized Artist part of my mind, especially when I consider that many of my favorite authors take years to write a book, and that many of my favorite books took forever to write. I wonder, you know, if I'm not being careful enough with my stories, if I'm not considering them long enough, not putting enough work into them, not bringing the goods, as it were.

The thing is, I write pretty quickly. Either I have an idea for a novel that I can write or I don't; if I do, I write it down and if I don't, I go watch BTVS on DVD or whatever until I think up a different book to write. While I am certainly in a white-hot fever during the actual writing, I don't feel like I'm rushing the work. It takes as long as it takes, but no longer. I have friends who have labored for years over novels, while over lunch today I wrote a new scene to insert into my WIP, spending no more than 15 minutes on it. Maybe I'll rewrite the scene, and maybe I won't; it feels pretty solid to me.

So where I'm going with all of this is to ask you, Mighty Writers, how long you spend on your novels. I'm looking to see what sort of data point spread there is so I can plot my own progress versus the statistical mean. Or something. Anyway, how long does it take you to write/revise a book? If you've been published (Alex), that's an additional helpful bit of info.


  1. Since you asked....in my experience, it takes a lot longer to edit than to write the first draft. I wrote the first draft of my first novel in six months-145,000 words. Yeah. But I was laid off and spent every waking minute writing and researching. I've since edited and revised and trimmed this manuscript, off and on for six years. I wrote my second novel (110,000 words) in four months. I've just completed the first revision which took me another four months. I think if I was writing full time with no distractions, I could easily produce a publishable manuscript every one to two years. But how many have the luxury of doing that?

  2. At my current pathetic experience level of two books, 1-3 months to write the first draft and till the end of time to revise it.

  3. It takes me 4 to 6 months to write a draft and an eternity to edit and revise. My latest WIP took 4months to write and one year later and after ignoring it for several weeks at a time I am still at it... Writing by far is the easy part, the real work comes later. I do move on to other projects while I am ignoring thought.

  4. My first book, Alien Thoughts, took a year to write the 200,000 word first draft and a year on and off to edit down to the 120,000 word second draft and 6 weeks to get the 140,000 word final draft. The longest I've spent on a book.
    My second, Project Unpublishable Mess, took 6 weeks for the first draft, 65,000 words, and 6 weeks for the second 80,000. Then I put it aside.
    My third, The Setting Earth, took me 6 weeks to have the fantastic 65,000 word first draft that was so perfect I couldn't find a word that I could change. After it was rejected by everyone I sent to a couple of beta readers who laughed at it. I've spent 6 months and counting revising it.
    My Fourth, An Extra Topping of Horror, 6 months for the 65,000 word first draft and 4 weeks for the 90,000 word second.
    My Fifth was started in June and is still not finished.
    My Sixth was started beginning of Nov and it took a month to write the 30,000 word 1st act. I haven't started on the 2nd act.

  5. My first Unpublishable Mess took about four months to write, and I'm preparing for rewrite number three. It was just an idea in 2007. I'm hoping to get it ready for being on submission by summer.

    I know if I stuck to writing, editing, and revising, that I could put out a quality product every sixth months. I am, however, the worst procrastinator this world has ever seen.

  6. Sublimation will probably come in at about 18 months from first draft to query, though it feels much longer.

    Ennui and Malaise is currently at about 30% written and pretty polished, and that was three weeks of work, both writing and revising. Excluding the break to focus on Sublimation, it should take a year or less of total investment from draft to query.

    Looking at completed works from my past, it took me about two years to complete my epic fantasy novel and about six months to complete my western novella.

  7. Scott, this is interesting, and something I've thought a lot about. I've also come to the conclusion that it freaking doesn't matter how long a story took to write. Meaning it doesn't have to take 10 years to be a masterpiece. You can write a masterpiece in 1 year or 5 months or whatever works for you. I think the more we write the faster we get (keeping the same quality, or even increasing it) - for the most part. That seems to have been the case for me, anyway.

    Then again, I haven't written a proper novel-length work forever.

    MONARCH has taken me just over 2 years to get to a publishable spot. This includes edits with my editor from Rhemalda.

    I've been working on THE BREAKAWAY for 15 years.

    CINDERS was conceived on November 28th, 2009 and I self-published it on July 28th, 2010.

    I'm in my 5th month for THIRDS.

    SCALES I only have until September to finish. Yikeso.

    These are novellas, of course. They seem to go faster.

    I don't currently have any ideas for a next novel besides revisions for THE BREAKAWAY yet again. I think I'm still figuring this whole time-line thing out, and you're right. It depends on the book.

  8. Of course, I do want to say that it does matter how long it takes to write a book once you start publishing. That has to be taken into consideration, of course, which is what you're doing. I mostly meant that it doesn't matter, in general, how good a book is compared to how long it took to write. Everyone is different.

  9. Since 1994 I have written five novels. So about three years each. They have all been very different to write. The first two I wrote simultaneously. The first drafts of both books probably never took me more than a couple of months to get down but I spent five years polishing them. The third one stalled in the middle and I ended up putting it to the side for two years before I could think of how to finish it. The fourth went smoothly. I basically just sat down and wrote it from start to finish over a couple of years. This last one has taken about five years because I fell ill and hardly did any work on it for three years. It’s also the only one which has needed to be completely rewritten (and more than once) as opposed to simply edited.

  10. I have novel releases tentatively scheduled every six months from here on out, plus short stories every few months. But writing/revising/editing speed is subjective. I really believe we each have to find our own comfortable production speed, and it will be different for everyone. I comfortably write 500-800 words per day on average, but I work on several projects at once which skews the time line. If I were to work on just one project, I could draft/revise/edit a 50k novel in about 6 months. But I never do that. ;-)

    I agree with Michelle - quality doesn't depend on how fast or slow a work was created. Some people just work faster than others, and speed comes with both practice and confidence, I think. Once you've completed a novel all the way through, the second time is easier, drafts get better, less revision needed, etc. Or that's been my experience so far.

    Zoe was just talking about this same basic thing yesterday, for anyone interested...

  11. I average about a year for a first draft, I think. Although I'll have to get rid of the outlier of my second novel (which should have been my first) that took 8 years. If I do that, I think I'm about 4 months per book for first draft.

  12. You must have read my mind Mr. Bailey, I was going to ask the same question on my blog.

    The first Mess took about about a year and 3 months from conception to query. Which also included a lot of research.

    The second Mess, 9 months from conception to query. This book required no research (except for the Italian curse words) so it went a lot faster.

    I'm hoping the third Mess, restarted in Nov 09, will be done by my birthday -- April.

  13. Rooster took me (or has taken me) about 8 years, but during those 8 years I published at least a dozen short stories. Bread probably took three years with a two year break thrown in there. I guess I don't work on projects continuously, so it's hard to say how long they actually take. I tend to get several projects worked up to a certain point, but I don't finish them. Then, I get into a phase where I'll finish everything all at once.

    Plot that, Bailey!

  14. It's also true that I do a lot of "pre-production" work on novels these days. Last night over dinner, I bored poor Mighty Reader with descriptions of my next several planned books (Nowhere But North, The Builder's Wife, and Mona in the Desert, in case you're wondering), each of which I've been thinking about a lot over the last six months or years. There is also a book that I wrote a detailed outline for (The Baltmore Book, for want of a better working title), and I may return to it some day and actually write it.

    I've also found that in my experience, revisions now take me less time than they used to, because the quality of my drafts has gone up.

  15. "Which idea pleases the organized Virgo part of my mind, because the timeline is neat and tidy and possibly could lead to a dependable income stream at some future point in time. But the idea troubles the disorganized Artist part of my mind"
    AAAW, Scott, that's me! I also wrote a scene for the revision of my WIP in 15 minutes... I'm a fast writer, the first draft comes out pretty quickly. It's just that I wasted years waiting for feedback, revising, etc. So this year I'm doing one draft, send it out to the fastest beta-readers I can find, reviser, then send it to a copy-editor for grammar and typos. Then I'm putting it out there. Wish me luck! But I'm so sick of waiting for other people to "allow" me to put my stories out there... ;-)
    Happy writing

  16. Some writers just have it in them to be prolific. Look at Isaac Asimov. The man wrote more than 100 published books. When someone asked what he would do if he only had a few months to live, he said he would type faster.

    Speed in writing really is a personal deal. I think if you write daily, you will pick up steam and your work will be of a higher quality, so long as you let yourself learn from it.

    From the sounds of it, the speed issue isn't a problem with first drafts, it is in the revising. If we could focus, it would probably take less than one year per finished (query worthy) book.

  17. Forever and ever. If that changes, I'll let you know via a free copy.

  18. Since you specifically asked (thank you), it took about six months to write the first draft of "Immortal Quest", and I'm pretty sure that's my average for a first draft. Rewriting time is maybe 3 months or so.

    The fastest I ever wrote a first draft was three weeks. That novel still sits in the closet.

    Of course, after I wrote "Immortal Quest", it only took about ten years to sell it. Part of that wait was my fault. Not all of it, though.

    Alex (Alexandra MacKenzie)

  19. The book I am working on now took me five years to get from beginning to end. I don't know how long it will take me to get it publishable. The one before that took me about six months but I haven't really edited it much since then. The two before that aren't really salvagabel and took me somewhere around two years each. I edit as I draft though and work on several projects at once so I really don't know how long it would take for each stage individually. Or which length really works the best for me.

  20. I'm a slow writer to begin with. It's not at all uncommon for me to spend the ENTIRE day writing and only churn out about 500-1,000 words. I self edit while I write, because I'm afraid of having to rewrite it later...and rewriting is something I've had to do several times.

    I say I've been working on my book for 3 years now, but the truth is I had to chunk the 118K original draft and go through several drafts to land on the one I'm working on today. My hubby likes to complain about how long it's taken me, but I'm actually glad it's taken me this long. I'm a much better writer than I was 3 years ago and the story I'm writing has developed far beyond what it was 3 years ago as well. As with anything else, I believe writing a good book to the best of your ability takes time.

  21. I am a perfectionist. (This is a huge problem for me.) with that said, I am currently still working on a short story that has been in progress since October. I have written three "drafts" but still have yet to write a fully completed beginning to end draft. It's probably going to top out at 5,000 words.

    Don't beat yourself up.

    Lisa. :)

  22. My short answer is -- writing a novel takes however long you let it.

    I think most of us are capable of writing/revising much quicker than our perfectionism or other "fatal flaws" allow us.

    Having said that -- I'm about ready to submit my first novel, which if I only count the months I actually worked on it (instead of the months where I merely thought/talked about it...these were MANY) it probably took about 8 months including edits. I wrote the second one in about 2 months, but now need to do heavy revisions.

    We'll see how it goes. I've published short stories, poems, articles...all which don't take a lot of time for me to write. This is new territory...and it's scary!


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