How Long Does It Really Take To Write a Novel?

This content has been archived. It may no longer be accurate or relevant.

From Writer Unboxed:

If you Google “How long does it take to write a novel?” you get more than 700,000 results, with answers ranging from three months to a vague “years.” I can tell you it took me four years to write my first novel, while also raising two young kids and working part-time. My second novel took another four years. I wrote shitty draft after shitty draft while my agent told me that every author has at least one novel that ends up in a drawer. Three years in, I rewrote it yet again and my agent said, “I thought I was going to tell you it’s time to let this one go, but I think we can sell it.” We did, to an editor who said, “I think the book needs a second point of view.” She was right, but it meant writing another entire story. That took another year. After all that, I wrote my third novel in eighteen months.

Based on all this experience, what do I know now about how long it takes to write a novel? Honestly, almost nothing. It’s like having kids: You have one child and think you have parenting figured out and you have another child and realize you know nothing about parenting. I’m working on a new novel after a six-plus year hiatus from fiction, and while I’m 20,000 solid words in to it, every day I think, How long is this going to take?

According to this nifty infographic from Writer’s Digest, it took Charles Dickens six weeks to write A Christmas Carol, while Stephanie Meyer spent three months penning Twilight and Emily Bronte took nine months to produce Wuthering Heights. Audrey Niffenegger wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife in four years (a length of time close to my heart), and the 18 months I took to write my third novel matches the amount of time it took Rudyard Kipling to write The Jungle Book. All of which tells us pretty much nothing about how long it will take you or me to write our own novels.

Here’s what I do know about how long it takes to write a novel:

Writing every day does make a difference. As my mother always said, Clichés are clichés because they’re true. While writing my third novel, I participated in NaNoWriMo—not because I expected to finish my novel in a month, but because I wanted the structure and accountability and challenge. Writing 1,000-1,5000 words a day for one month seemed like a doable thing to me, and it was. I wrote 30,000 words in 30 days, and much of it was good. Every time I commit to a daily word count or number of writing hours it helps.

You can’t build a house without a foundation. I am a pantser and not a plotter. With all of my novels I knew the climactic scene, I just wasn’t sure how to get there. But with each book I have spent more time thinking through the steps along the way, and it helps. Right now I’m working with Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheet, and knowing the “beats” of my story has made the writing process go much more quickly.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed