How long does it take you?


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Thread: How long does it take you?

  1. #1
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    How long does it take you?

    I'm new to all this writing goodness, and at my current pace, the novel I want to produce will take years. I know I've got to step it up, but that's not the reason for this post.

    How long does it take you to complete a novel, from idea in your head to final draft? I'm sure the answers will vary. It would be helpful to tell whether you're writing professionally or for your personal enjoyment. If you could break the time down into the various phases of writing, that would be even more helpful.

    While you're plugging away at a novel, do you do any writing besides? Short stories, other novels, etc.?

    I want to get an idea of how others write, and what to expect out of myself. Thanks for your answers!

  2. #2
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    There's a few members here who have published several novels, and can probably give you good ideas on setting a timeline for novel writing. Myself, a years-long project doesn't scare me, but I write a lot of short stories along the way to keep my stamina up and to refresh the feeling that I'm accomplishing something. It can be a daunting thing to work for so long and still not have something completed in your hands. When I write short fiction, I typically work on it for about a week to produce about 3-6000 words. I'll also work on a poem for about a week usually.

    If you look at successful and prolific writers like Stephen King, that machine pumps out like 2 or 3 novels a year. Of course, most of us also have to have jobs at the same time

  3. #3
    My first took me about 14 months, mainly because it began as a series of short stories that I was entertaining a few people on a forum and not seriously writing. The second took about 6 months because I stayed on it. I find that it helps if people are waiting to read the next chapter. Through forums, I found people that enjoyed my writing. I made a private forum, then got about 6 chapters ahead of them, then let them read a chapter each morning.

    My last book I used a friend as a main character a well as his wife. They live deep in Mexico and books a few, she is also a voracious reader. Knowing that they were waiting each morning for the new chapter so this motivated me to stay on it.

  4. #4
    The novel I'm working on at the moment -- my first serious attempt, discounting three and a half years of NaNoWriMo efforts -- has been germinating for, I kid you not, seven years or more. Long enough that I know those characters better than I know most of my friends. Long enough that I know that even if I never finish the book, or if I finish it but don't publish it, it will always be a part of me, no matter what. Long enough that I have character art stretching back long enough to track my artistic progress since I was about fifteen, before they even deigned to coalesce into the cast of a novel! And long enough that I was stupid enough to get the protagonist's name tattooed on my upper left arm... in his own language... according to a (slightly adapted) custom in his culture. Both of which I invented. Along with an alphabet for the language. Even worse, despite my previous phrasing, I don't actually consider that 'stupid' at all! ;P

    Actually writing the thing, though... we're on draft five or six now, and I've been working on this one since about October last year, plus another two weeks or so before that to crack out a really solid, detailed summary -- almost an over-long synopsis, if you like -- so I had a plan to work to. At that pace, I reckon I should be done by the end of 2011... it's a long story, one which will probably require one heck of a lot of editing before it's anywhere near a decent length for pitching to agents and publishers.

    I think I'm an extreme example, though, and also perhaps a touch too involved in this particular fantasy world I created way back when. I should also add, since you ask, that at the moment I'm very much a hobby writer (though looking for publication one day, as I mentioned), and a lot of my time gets eaten up by university lectures and assignments, so that probably contributes to my slowness.

    Short stories, now, those I can knock off in a day or two (3,000-5,000 words). That doesn't include editing (I've got one I'm hoping to submit to a magazine competition for publication in the mag which has been awaiting editing for two weeks now; I'm sick of the sight of it and can't find an RL friend who's willing to give me any decent crit, so I suppose I'm going to have to just knuckle down and red-pen it myself some more), but getting the actual thing down, from idea to finished first draft, takes anything from an afternoon to three days or so. I can knock out short stories, character-study pieces and goodness knows what else all over the place while I'm working on the novel-that-isn't-yet, but I couldn't bear to work on another novel alongside. Just one has taken up more than enough brainspace!

    Funny thing, looking at that, apparently I'm a case of extremes either way -- quick on the short stories and faaar too long on novels. Maybe I should try to average it out...!

  5. #5
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    Next November you could try NaNoWriMo. That's National Novel Writing Month which is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I did it this year and completed the word count in the required time. Unfortunately the manuscript is not only unfinished, it is more of a complicated outline considering how much I want to go back and cut out of it and re-do. Still, it was a good experience and taught me that I actually can write faster and more than I thought I could.
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  6. #6
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    I think it's a matter of practice. My first novel took 5 years, the second one took 2, the third one took about 7 months, the fourth was spread out over so long I can't even say, but the last novel I wrote took about 3 months to write and another to polish. I'm currently sending that one to agents and publishers.

    It just takes practice, you have to develop a process.

    Personally, I'm always juggling 6 or 7 writing projects in various stages of completion, and seldom work on any one thing to the exclusion of all others. I could probably write a novel in a month(most people could), but since I am primarily writing for my own edification I'd rather spread my focus.
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  7. #7
    It really depends on the size. The above poster mentioned writing a novel in a month. Yes, it's possible to write a 90K novel in a month if one really sets their mind to it. Most of my work, however, ends up in the echelons of 150 - 250K, so they usually take longer. When you add in real-life matters and other things which get in the way, it ends up taking anything between six months to a year to write and finalise a novel for sale.

    Some people are slower than others, though. I mentioned in another thread that Thomas Harris has only written five novels in the last thirty years. That amounts to one novel every six years. Personally, I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I produced that kind of output, but he is one of the most successful psychological thriller writers out there. Everyone has their own pace, however. I once wrote a 250K novel in four months. That's around 60,000 words a month, which is 10,000 above what NaNo asks you to do. It works out at 2,000 words a day. If you make 1,000 (and that's a very achievable goal) you will have a novel-sized work within three months.

    I concentrate on one piece at a time. You can get bogged down with switching from one novel to another, and it often instils a habit of never finishing anything. If you concentrate on one thing at a time and endeavour to finish it, you'll be okay. If it takes two years for the first one, okay. That's normal. You're cutting your teeth right now. It took me twenty months to write my first novel. Now I can hash one out in twenty weeks. It takes practice and self-discipline. Every day you spend writing is a day you get closer to the finish line. Paradoxically, every day you don't is a day you move farther away.
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  8. #8
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    Sam W definitely has some good points, there. The hardest thing about the first novel is having the patience to get it done, and get it done well. If you write a novel in a month, you're probably going to need several just to polish it. I know I write slower and revise as I go so there's fewer massive re-reads to get it from first draft to "finished".
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  9. #9
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    Thanks for the replies. It is motivating to hear about practice. Sometimes when I can't get it right I think, "maybe I'm not cut out to be a writer", but I just have to get into the habit and get better. I'd like for writing to be a significant part of my income some day. Six months to a year for a novel sounds good, I can do that.

    I don't know about NaNoWriMo; the idea of people reading something I've written without much chance to edit and refine bothers me a little. Maybe in the future.

    One more question: when you are writing each day, do you know what you are going to write? Do you have an outline first, and details in your head? Right now, I have a general theme, and bits of plot material, but I'm pretty much making it up as I write. That causes me to stop often to think of what to do next.

  10. #10
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    I say avoid things like NaNoWriMo, it's mostly about building confidence but most of the work it produces is rushed and sloppy. Just my opinion, though, feel free to disagree.

    My own process basically involves working on whatever part happens to be formost in my mind. I write out-of-order most times and have to arrange things. When making a novel, I typically create a very rough, informal outline that is usually no more sophisticated then "This happens, then this happens, then something, then cake, then this happens" just to help me arrange the order of events.

    You should probably have the entire story-arc for the novel thought-out ahead of time(and idealy written down), otherwise its easy to get lost or write yourself into a corner. Also keep in mind that just because you decide on it now, doesn't mean you have to stick with it. The entire plot for my first novel changed two or three times from concept to completion.

    Story arcs, notes, and outlines are extremly helpful if you aren't writing full-time, because we all know real life tends to get in the way. Part of the reason my first novel took 5 years to write was because i kept shelving the project either to work on other things or to cry in a corner(figuratively speaking). Because I had everything I needed written down, I was able to keep coming back to the project. I actually started the second one while working on the first, and shelved it for a while as well. Even now, I have a few half-finished novels shelved but easy to pick up again at any time.

    You are usually going to be making stuff up as you write. I can type at about 50 words per minute, but I definitely do not average that while writing. The biggest rookie mistake I caution you to avoid is the belief that you must write in order. I have seen this happen dozens of times to aspiring new writers: they assume they must begin on page one and end on the last page, when the story is not neccessarilly coming to them in that order. I myself made exactly this mistake plenty of times.

    So unless the story specifically comes to you in the perfect order, just write whatever part you feel like writing today.
    I am no one.

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