Musings · Writing

How long does it take to write a novel?

How long does it take to write a novel?

I’m coming up on the finish line for the first draft of my new work, and, given that it’s National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been thinking a lot about time and writing. How much time is enough? Too much? Does a good novel take more time than a subpar one? Is ten years better than ten months–or even–ten days?

THE AFTER GIRLS took me, all in all, probably three years. I’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s quote-unquote good or not. How much was on a first draft or a second or a third or revisions, I cannot tell you. That novel was such a discovery all the way through, that I doubt I could pin down any real start or finish. But I’d ballpark three years.

My first manuscript, which was fairly autobiographical and is better suited to my eyes than the general public’s, took me four months for a first draft. Let’s just say I was a rather prolific twenty-three year old. But that novel wasn’t near as ambitious as THE AFTER GIRLS, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it went so fast.

Now, my current project looks to be finished (first draft-wise) soon, which would put the total first draft time at around ten months. I chalk up the speed to an extremely detailed outline, a fully formed idea (the whole plot came to me around Christmas last year, in a 2 a.m. burst of inspiration), and the joys of Scrivener. That said, it is in need of a deep revision, and I’m not sure how long that will take.

So the answer, for me at least, is twelve months, if I average four months, ten months and twenty-four months (I’m guessing two years for the first draft of THE AFTER GIRLS). But what about others?

The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway wrote a draft of THE SUN ALSO RISES in just two months, while Donna Tartt took about ten years for THE SECRET HISTORY (I once read an interview where she said she enjoyed every moment of those ten years, and didn’t want it to go any faster, and I have a hard time believing that).

On the Road Jack Kerouac

ON THE ROAD apparently took Jack Kerouac less than a month (and one taped-together strip of 120 sheets of paper), while NO GREAT MISCHIEF, by Alistair MacLeod, took thirteen years to write. That’s a middle school child.

So the answer, I guess, is … however long it takes you … and for many of us, it will take longer than a month. Though I admire NaNoWriMo for giving many writers a much-needed jolt, and perhaps some people do find success through it, I’ve never been able to make it work for me. The daily word counts were simply too stressful. There are many days when I exceed the suggested NaNoWriMo count on my own, but there are days that I don’t. I average about 1,000 words a day, but I don’t necessarily write every day (yeah yeah, I know EVERY piece of writing advice says that you should).

Furthermore, I think it would be great if we all could let go of the speed goal and just focus on the writing, itself. There are countless Google searches for “how to write a novel in a month” and “how to write a novel in 30 days,” but, I gotta ask, what’s the rush. If it’s really the story you’re meant to tell, why the need to pack all the fun into just 30 short days?

Fellow writers, how long does it take you to complete a draft? Have you ever had any luck with NaNoWriMo?

8 thoughts on “How long does it take to write a novel?

  1. Thank you thank you for this post. I have been obsessed with my personal NaNoWriFAIL and every day in November is making me feel awful. Funny thing – I have participated in the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest and managed about 20K words for two of them. I thought this would be a cinch! Need to work on my strategy.

    But THANK YOU. This helped me 🙂

  2. This is why I’ve always shied away from NaNoWriMo. I love to write, but at a pace that feels natural, not harried. And, though it’s different for everyone, my natural pace is slooow.

  3. My last first draft took me three months, but keep in mind I have been thinking about that book for years and years. My current book, I think I am on month two and I will definitely not finish in three months. I did sign up for NaNo this year, but mainly in hopes of kicking my word count up a notch. It’s kind of working.

    1. Amy, thanks for sharing your speed. It’s interesting to hear how your pace has changed for different novels. Glad to hear NaNo is working for you this year!

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