Thursday, October 8, 2009

How Long Does Writing a Book Take?

How long does it take you to write a book?

During book signings and workshops, readers and beginning writers often ask this question. Usually I have to answer, "I don't know," with an explanation.

For those of us who are full-time or contracted writers, I suspect the answer comes easier. You may be able to pinpoint when you wrote the first word of the first draft and count until you get to your editor's deadline. Contracted writers know they can produce one book a year, or one every other year or three a year. If they don't know at first, continuing projects will teach them.

For me, a published, but currently uncontracted writer whose fiction career is sandwiched in between other things in life, "how long" is hard to define. I tend to measure the process in pieces: background creation, first draft, research, rewrite chapter-by-chapter, rewrite again. For most of my projects, the whole process may span a couple of years, but I suspect the actual writing time may be closer to 6 months.

If I'm working on a project every day, I know that it takes several weeks for background creation--character sketches, basic plot and theme, crafting a few key scenes. I can produce a 150-page first draft in a long weekend. Some writers like to have their research completed before they write; I tend to build a beginning base and research the rest along the way. So, perhaps count a few weeks there. I need a few days per chapter rewrite, and the final rewrite takes a few more weeks.

But I do know that when "A Private Proposal" was rejected by one publisher as being too "soft" for their line, I looked for publishers who would accept "softer" romance, found Avalon Books and revised the manuscript in one week. When I'm motivated, I can produce.

And of course, I've not counted the time we take to savor an idea, chew on it, play with it in our heads and make little notes. The time we take to listen to a conversation or watch an interaction or observe people and tuck those impressions away for use later. That's all "writing time", too.

So, how long does it take you to write a novel?


Beate Boeker said...

. . . I take about 9 months for a book, juggling it next to my full time job and family. It's funny, even if I don't plan on 9 months, somehow, that's what it add ups to. Of course this is only the actual writing - not the vague ideas or anecdotes I collect - this is an on-going process and takes years!

Elisabeth Rose said...

Of course it takes nine months Beate--it's another baby! LOL

I.J. Parnham said...

I remember reading a long time ago that the average for a full-time writer was a thousand words a day. That works out at about 100-150 words an hour of completed text, edited, proof-read ready to send somewhere.

A few times I've kept logs and monitored progress and, yeah, on the whole that average seems about right for me. 10,000 words takes about 80 hours, 40,000 words takes about 320 hours etc etc.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

For me, it depends on WHY I'm finishing it. If I'm on deadline, I finish a book in 3 months. If I'm not on cotract, it can take FOREVER!

Carol Hutchens said...

I love the intensity of participating...and winning...NANO.
But after that month, there's lots of editing and polishing...and like others mentioned, some ideas simmer for YEARS...

Fun topic, LaVerne. Thanks.

mulligangirl said...

Good post. It generally takes me from 4-8 months to get the first draft down on paper, but then I let it ‘bake’ in a drawer for several months before I start round 1 of revisions. I usually have at least 4-5 rounds of intense revisions before I consider it ready to send out to agents or editors – and of course at that point I’m usually open to their suggestions for revisions too. So the whole process can be quite lengthy. I typically have several projects in different stages at the same time to keep things rolling. I know a lot of writers who do that too.

LaVerne St. George said...

I hear you, Jane. I definitely need that outside motivation of a deadline to get me crackin'. I'm also so relieved not to hear about "6-week-wonders". We all seem to take several months, give or take our mulling-it-over time. I have never heard the average 1,000 words a day, Ian. That's good to know as a benchmark when I gear up into full-time writing. Too funny about the 9-months. Since I don't have children, can I count birthing a novel?