How long does it really take to write a novel?

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”- Mark Twain



How long does it actually take to write a novel? I'm not just talking about the time to sit down and write a first draft from beginning to end. I'm talking about the time spent writing an outline or jotting down notes and the time spent editing and revising and editing and revising again. I wonder how long it really takes.

I've been trying to figure this out for my own writing. And it's kind of hard to do. My first book took a year to write, but I was learning a lot during that year and probably wrote twice as many words as actually ended up in the book. My second book will probably take about five months to draft, but then I imagine I will spend another month or two editing. And I'm sure I'll probably edit a few more times in the future. I'm not a super speedy writer like many of you are, but I'm also not the type to spend my entire life on a single masterpiece. I think my average will end up being about nine months for one completed,edited novel, with some overlap between novels.

What kind of writer are you? I've noticed many of you write books in a matter of a few weeks. I'm curious, do you spend a lot of time editing them after? Are they pretty well developed at that point? Do you set them aside and come back to them? Do you find that you have to cut a lot, or do you add to them? What's your personal writing strategy and timeline?

21 comments:

  1. I varies for me. Each novel is a different beast. I've written one in 15 days, yes, and I've written one in a year and a half. My current WIP is taking me sooo long in comparison to my past novels. I'm about 2 months into that one and still have at least 30k to go...and it's not just coming to me like some of my other books.

    As for editing, yes, all my work needs intensive editing, and that may be because I write fast. It may also be because I'm not a great writer to begin with. I'm okay with editing a lot. I like editing. Many of my projects are still first and second drafts waiting to be edited. And as the time to write varies for me, so does the amount of editing. One project I had to fill in the story a lot. Another I had to cut a lot. I'm just all over the place!

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  2. I am a Doc and play in a bluegrass band on the weekends. I worked on my first one, 'The Mandolin Case,' on and off for four years in my spare time.

    I still tweak it some, but it is now at a level where my agent has started to pitch it to publishers. Will see where it goes.

    drtombibey.wordpress.com

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  3. My wip started out as a short story, that grew into two stories, but then I decided to morph it into a novel. At that point, I wrote detailed character studies and scene lists. I don't write first drafts like most people. I usually write the dialogue for a scene, and it rarely changes after that, then I flesh out the scene. I edit the chapter right away, then put it up for critique. After the edits resulting from those comments, I'm pretty much done with that chapter. Unless we're talking about my opening paragraph, which will probably drive me insane.

    Anyway, my "all wrong" method should result in my novel being written, revised, edited to the best of my ability in about nine months. It will be my new kind of baby! :-)

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  4. Natalie- I can't imagine writing a book in any form in 15 days! What I'm always impressed with is your ability to generate unique ideas. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you have an incredible imagination!

    Dr. Tom- I love the title. With all those time constraints, I'm impressed that you wrote a novel at all. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    Linda- Ha! A new kind of baby! I'm going to have to steal that from you because I'm a nine-monther too. Your work is always so polished. You make writing look easy, but I know its because you work hard at it.

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  5. I am a slooooowwww writer. I can whip out a novel in a few months, but the editing (where I feel the actual writing takes place) can take me years. I'm in that mode right now. Probably won't query for a long time. :)

    Great post! I just don't understand how someone can write an entire novel in a few weeks. They must not have kids. ;)

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  6. I guess I would be considered a fast writer. I have written a book in less than two weeks, but typically it takes longer than that. The longest part for me is the outline/pondering-what-will-happen stage. I don't do a long outline, but I write down big events that will happen. And as I type out the story, I make notes at the bottom of the page about things I want to happen later so I don't feel like I'm stuck when I get to a certain point (I hate that). It's a process that works for me because the editing stage doesn't really involve much reworking of the story. It's just technical issues and then often adding more description to a scene or characteristics to make the reader feel closer to my characters.

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  7. Michelle- The editing on my first book has been incredibly laborious, but my second book has been a breeze so far. It's weird. I'm with you; I don't understand how that can be done either. I'm in awe of some of these speedy writers.

    Cindy- I just started outlining with my current WIP and it has made a big difference. I didn't think I needed an outline before, but not I don't think I'll ever write without one.

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  8. For me, it really depends on the type of novel and what is going on in my life (i.e. have my two teenagers hijacked it AGAIN) and how much time I can devote to it. My last book was 22 days. This one I started plotting Feb. 1st and I've still got a third of the manuscript to finish. Of course this one has been easier because this is the first one I've done with the Snowflake method. And as far as editing, the very first editing draft I go through, I highlight prepositional phrases and cut as many as possible. You wouldn't believe how much that cleans up the rest of the problems in the manuscript.

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  9. I have often wondered the same thing. Especially since I haven't written a whole book yet. So really I have nothing to add except that I hope I can return to this post in the Fall and let you know the answer to that question - because I'm aiming to have my manuscript done and edited (and edited and edited) by then.

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  10. You know, I think until my novels are set in ink (published) they will never be fully written. It seems like no matter how many times I edit or how many times I think I'm done, I just keep going back. I can always find a better word or interesting phrase. Make it stop. LOL

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  11. As you know I'm STILL editing Pride & Popularity... I find a lot of the time in between edits I have to blame on my agent or editors...! LOL! It's been a year now with P&P and I can'[t wait to tackle it again. i'll let you know once I completely finish that one! LOL! And for the other 5. Yeah, all of my books were written in one year, but I've noticed the more I write the less I have to edit once it's done. Jenni

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  12. Maria- What's the Snowflake method? You've peaked my curiosity. :)

    Jessie- Maybe I'll have done my final edits by the fall too. My first book still isn't fully edited.

    Kasie- STOP! LOL! I don't think I can make it stop. You're probably going to be calling the publisher the day before your novel goes to print, asking for changes. ;)

    Jenni- I guess when you included agents and editors in the process a book isn't ever really done until it hits the shelves!

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  13. Come April 1st will be my TWO YEAR anniversery of writing the SAME book. This isn't in my spare time either, nor is there research I can blame it on. The rough first draft was finished on my 1st anniversery. The re-write will be labeled done on my 2nd. (that doesn't mean it will be. It just sounds good). I've also been involved in 3 1/2 critique groups. The 1/2 was the couple of groups I'd visited, but felt weren't right for me after one time.

    Other than a couple of short stories (products from my book) my focus has been only on that. I wish there were a "Writers Intervention" group that would save people like myself from the Neverending Story Disorder.

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  14. Tricia- I think a memoir is a bit different. And you are getting a short story published! So that counts for something finished! Lots of people spend years writing their memoirs. I think you're probably ahead of the game. All I really know though, is your stories crack me up, and they must be available for mass consumption. The "British Invasion" alone would make the world a happier place.

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  15. Thank you for your kind words. I suppose I'd better add back The British Invasion. This is what I mean by intervention--I need it.

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  16. It's interesting, that you included thinking about and plotting ones book in the official count of time. I may not be able to spend hours and hours writing every day, but I spend hours and hours and hours and hours working on my book in my mind.

    Overall, I am a slow mover (as you know :) ) but how slow really depends on the type of story. Anything with world building takes forever.

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  17. The Snowflake method is a very detailed way of plotting the novel. To me one of the most useful and unique aspects is that you tell the story in a very short form from each pivotal character's point of view. What that does is creates conflict in each relationship. The link is http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php
    I can tell you that it made a huge difference in my writing.

    Good luck!
    Maria

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  18. Tricia- You took it out?! I loved it!!

    Renee- I'm the same. If I'm doing dishes, driving in the car, folding laundry, cooking, talking to family (just kidding, sort of) I'm thinking about my plot.

    Maria- Thanks! I'm going to check that out!

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  19. Lol I was on the Fablehaven site yesterday because the newest book came out and Brandon Mull has a blog, so I decided to visit it... well, let me just say you have more comments then he does and he never responds to them. What I'm trying to get at is he may have thoughsands of fans but your fans are obviously more commited.

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  20. wow I can't believe i just spelled thousands wrong I'm ashamed :(

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  21. Matt, Hooray, the new Fablehaven is out!

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