How Long Does it Take to Write a Book? It’s Complicated.

20 May

So a bunch of my coworkers know I write and some times you chat with people who want to write, or who have been writing something for a while, and they’re not sure what to do with it as it’s always sort of a work in progress. An occurring question I get is, “How long does it take to write a book?”

The reason I say “it’s complicated” isn’t that I’m doing experimental work and having to relearn every time. Even if you have bad days, if you’re consistent, generally speaking you’ll eventually get something resembling what you want to make. It may be a really rough version, but it starts to resemble what you want. I’d say I get faster every time, but it also sort of depends. I could argue it took me writing several failed novels before I wrote Tower of Obsidian, but now with Witchslayer’s Scion being contracted (I wrote it prior to ToO) it’s not even that straight forward to say that my first novel took more than a decade of writing . The publishing industry is its own little thing, but the actual writing of a book I consider readable?

My general rule is it probably takes about a year from concept to finished product, but let’s be honest: it still needs an editor. But here’s the factors that go into how ‘long’ a project will take:

What is the length? Typically, shorter books are a faster write than longer ones – this isn’t always the case. With Dreams of Mariposa, Marie’s narration was hard to write. It’s not that she’s overly complicated, it’s more that I didn’t like being in her head for very long. She’s grating, and that’s the reason why it’s a relatively short novel. And, this is assuming that you’re not writing what you assume is a standalone and are told later that you need to break your book into parts.

What is the subgenre? How much research do I have to to? The usual thought is if I’m writing fantasy I get to just make stuff up, whereas science fiction is hard core research. Yeah; Tower of Obsidian was historical fantasy. First draft to Ron, he pointed out there were no Irish Knights during the Viking age.  I researched how far Vikings likely travelled, falconry, Norse Mythology – it was not a novel done without research.

What’s the style? I find that when I do a less dense prose, it’s typically a faster write. But, it needs more subsequent editing, versus a denser style is slower to make a first draft, but it tends to be more consistent.

This is to say nothing of what’s going on with my personal life. Until I was in paramedicine, in addition to jobs I was usually in school, at least part time. I wrote the rough draft of Tower of Obsidian while I was doing my paramedic school and edited during my practicum (long empty transfers as a third = me working on a hard copy) Witchslayer’s Scion was penned over the course of two years, but I didn’t beta it until I was fairly far along, and I’ll be honest: When I beta a project with R.J. Hore I tend to try to keep him with one consistent project, but if there’s an anthology or a contest, a novel can wait. I finished it after I got back from fire bootcamp, and wrote the first part after I wrote the rest of the novel. I had an idea for a sequel, but didn’t get to more than me working on it for more than a page here or there for over eight years. Why? If I can’t sell book 1, how am I supposed to legitimize writing book 2? I have lots of ideas; the hard part is getting your foot through the door.

So the short answer is basically, “I don’t have a proper answer as to how long it takes” but I do have a general purpose strategy. I started making habits before I knew it: I had to be home for my sisters and have supper made for my family after school in junior high. My routine was to go home, work out for 45 minutes, and then I would write for 45 minutes. Then I’d go upstairs, start supper, clean the kitchen, and if I had any homework I’d probably do it while I was watching the stove. My sisters did whatever they wanted, I just needed to be there, they typically watched Oprah or Dr. Phil.

By the time I was in High School, I’d formed a habit. Did I do it every day? Absolutely not – some days we needed to be at the dentist or I had my friends come on over for a project, but it got me into a habit. For me it wasn’t word count, it was time. I had 45-60 minutes in which to make with the prose, and it was up to me to do that as opposed to goof off.

Now, fast forward and I can’t tell you how many hours a week I work (because if the pager goes off ten minutes before shift change, we don’t wait). There’s down time, there’s times where we don’t see the station. I’ve written 50k in a month. I’ve written 50k in a week. I’ve abandoned a project because life happens, and then, because it’s on a word processor, it doesn’t matter that it’s not linear or that I haven’t looked at it in a few weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, setting goals and guidelines helps. My goal, for instance, is to be at 110k by month’s end. I have about 11 days left of the month and I’m at 95k. I know there’s no way I can commit to every day, so let’s say I have 5 days to work. That’s about 3k a day. 3k in a row? Sure, if the prose is flowing – but I’m not going to kill myself if it isn’t. The goal then is to finish around the same length as the rest of the novels at about 135k for July – so another 20k in June, but it’s the home stretch, piecing scenes together can be hard. I did officially start this before NANO and I think I only did about 30k in November, so in about 8 months, let Ron look it over, let it breathe… yeah, Novemberish, assuming it’s safe for me to give Ron a hard copy and he looks it over during the summer. Edit edit edit, but in the mean time, another idea will percolate and, I still have Chimera to finish. The shorter, ‘easier’ project that’ll be closer to two years to inception if I spend the summer coming up with an ending. Or rather, how we get to the ending.

My argument is stay consistent, and just write. The magic happens during the editing, anyway.

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