Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How long does it take to write a novel?

One of the most frequently asked questions authors receive is how long does it take to write a novel. The answer isn't so cut and dried.

Some of my favorite authors can put out as many as four books a year. That's one every three months. Can it be done? Absolutely. But that also requires dedication and no outside interference. I asked one of those authors what her process was and she said she writes from an outline. She's a plotter. That doesn't mean there isn't pantsing involved (writing by the seat of one's pants), but she has a roadmap that starts at the beginning and takes her to her destination. That's good business sense, and it helps her meet publisher-imposed deadlines.

For me, my best showing was three books in one year. That's one every four months, and I should point out I can write them faster, but making them readable is a whole other process. I'm also more of a pantser, so derailing can cause unnecessary detours that extend the process, but I like the scenic route. Following the outline superhighway takes away some of the fun of discovery, uncovering hidden gems you didn't know were waiting for you. That doesn't mean I don't work with an outline at all. Like taking a road trip, I have a general idea of what direction I'm going. I just don't always take the straightest route.

Then there are authors who only put out one new book each year. But you know what? That's usually one really good book. One author I've read takes more than a year to write a book - in fact, as long as two years. I wouldn't recommend that process. For starters, you risk losing your audience, and in my humble opinion, that particular author lost interest in her characters in the continuing series and it reflected in the subsequent books. Granted, her books were VERY long, so she needed the extra time, but the stories begin to feel like guests who have overstayed their welcome.

Everybody's process is different, and another thing to consider is word count. How long is your book going to be? And then there's the muse. Sometimes my muse is sitting on my shoulder through the entire process, and sometimes I get stuck in the muddle in the middle and struggle to push forward. Let's not forget outside distractions. Like a day job. Or family responsibilities.  All of these factor in.

The most important factor, in my mind, is being passionate about what you write. You should love every story you tell. In all honesty, I have a couple of books sitting on the shelf that, after re-reading them, didn't pass muster. If I lost interest in them, certainly my readers would, too. So how long does it take to write a novel? As long as it takes to make them "good."


  1. "I can write them faster, but making them readable is a whole other process."

    I wrote 3 novels in a year, too. It required a LOT of "can't do anything but write" time, and at this point in my life, that's a sacrifice I'm not willing to make again. I have confidence that there's quality in the books; I have critique partners and an excellent editor to ensure I'm writing a story, not words.

    A recent blog had a writer giving her marketing process (which is a whole 'nother ball game), but she said she released a FULL LENGTH novel every SEVEN WEEKS. Thoughts that ran through my head started with "how long are they" and then, "do you have a life away from the keyboard?"

    One sad thing for authors is with subscription services that pay by pages read, readers can glom on to a LOT of books for a low price, and they want more, forcing authors to (often) sacrifice quality for getting more pages out there.

    My first book took me 9 months to draft. I'm at the point where 3-4 months is reasonable, but although writing is my job, I still want a life.

    1. My first book took 4 years to make it to market, and even then, I wouldn't brag about it. I re-released it later, and as a "first book" it shows my lack of seasoning. It's better than it was, and although I still love the story, I shudder when people read it because I've grown so much since then! (moral of the story: don't judge an author by their first book)