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Thread: How long did it take you to write your novel?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW
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    How long did it take you to write your novel?

    I am wondering if it takes longer to write historical fiction. How long did it take you or how long do you think it will take if your work is still in progress? For Nano, I decided to try and write a historical fiction. I am really worried about finishing in a month. My story is very serious and I usually go for funny literary works. It is a big change.

    Does anyone have tips for writing historical fiction on a deadline? I think my biggest problem is this is not fun to write. It is not fun because of the subject matter I chose. No one would have fun writing this story.

  2. #2
    Twirling in a glass of champagne Evangeline's Avatar
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    My recently completed MS--9 months, though four of those months were spent trying to find the right voice and cramming research into my head. But I'm a little confused about your NaNo book...if it's not fun to write, it won't be fun for others to read, especially if you're laboring over the book because you're going against your natural writing Voice. Unhappy or difficult subject matters make little difference in how you might feel during your writing process. I've written about spousal abuse, human trafficking (or "white slavery" in the vernacular of the day), and other not-so-nice topics, but I felt strongly, almost passionately, about the topics, so it was ~fun~ to write.

    Perhaps you should think about why you are intrigued by this subject, what drew you to it, and what/how/why it sparked an idea to write a novel about it. Otherwise, you're going to expend a lot of negative energy and emotion whilst writing, and others will pick up on it when or if they get to read the book.
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  3. #3
    Swan in Process Siri Kirpal's Avatar
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    Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

    Haven't written a historical novel yet.

    But I second Evangeline's concern about your project. And if you're passionate about the topic, but feel it will take longer to do justice to, then take the time and do it right.

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  4. #4
    practical experience, FTW DianeL's Avatar
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    With revisions on an MSS I thought was finished but wasn't, it took me a total of seven years to complete my novel. The last agent I pitched in person said he doesn't believe really good histfic can be done in under five. Follett takes ten for works like "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End." My advice is that you write to the story, not to the deadline. And, if it's not fun - is it compelling? That's the key.
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  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeL View Post
    With revisions on an MSS I thought was finished but wasn't, it took me a total of seven years to complete my novel. The last agent I pitched in person said he doesn't believe really good histfic can be done in under five. Follett takes ten for works like "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End." My advice is that you write to the story, not to the deadline. And, if it's not fun - is it compelling? That's the key.
    Thanks for the post. Now that I am trying to do this I see how it could take along time. I believe what I am writing is compelling.

  6. #6
    never mind the shorty angeliz2k's Avatar
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    I've been working on my current WIP for about two and a half years running, and expect it to take another few months to finish the first draft. My previous WIP took about the same amount of time.

    The writing of historical novels doesn't necessarily take longer. The research might suck up a lot of your time, though, and keep you from any actual writing. In my case, it took me so long to complete my WIP's because I have trouble constructing a plot with enough conflict/tension. I have to really beat my head against the wall until the story comes out the way I want it to. On the upside, I can beat my head against the wall and research at the same time! Concussions do not, incidentally, inhibit my ability to soak in knowledge. Strange but true. You should try it.

    No, I have not suffered story-induced brain damage. I'm just tired.

    ETA: So, yes, historical novels do take longer. To write them well requires a lot of research which requires time, of course. If you take out the research part, then the time it takes to produce a complete draft is probably comparable to any other genre.
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  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW DianeL's Avatar
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    For me, writing and research are not separate enterprises.

    I'm well aware how out of vogue it is to take as long as I have on my novel, and hope the next two won't be as prolonged, but I also long ago gave up apologizing for being old and old fashioned and not feeling the requirement to produce a finished novel in a month. NaNo impresses me, but also frankly bewilders me too!
    "To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

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  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW mayqueen's Avatar
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    I agree that research takes a long time, but the writing not longer than other genres. But I only have written historical novels, so I have no idea there.

    I'm probably not a very good judge of how long it takes because my writing speed depends on how much else I have going on in my primary job. I'm getting a PhD right now, so I have to balance my real workload with writing. I also find that I can't intensely focus on more than two things mentally for a sustained period. So if I'm doing a major project on top of my dissertation, I don't have the mental space to do all the thinking, plotting, daydreaming, etc, that goes into writing.

    The novel I'm querying took about seven months of planning and writing time for the first draft. Editing took another four months. I've been querying for another eight months, which has involved two major revisions. I had already been writing something loosely the same time and place, so that basic research was done already. (Those are solid chunks of time, with shorter gaps in between when I was busily doing my academic stuff.)

    (There were other novels before that, which spanned years and years, and that aren't nearly good enough to even mention!)
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW Sunflowerrei's Avatar
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    I've done NaNo twice (I'm sitting out this year) and I've won twice--that is, I wrote over 50,000 in a month--but the two books weren't finished by the end of the month. I trashed one because I just couldn't find a way to wrangle it and last year's (which I kind of cheated on, since I already had 20,000 words down before NaNo-ing through the bulk of the middle) didn't get finished until February or March this year and I finished the 2nd draft in September. So that's already at least two years and I have another, though not as extensive draft, coming up.

    What's your subject matter? My WIP involves late 18th/ early 19th century West Indian slavery.
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  10. #10
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Historical Fiction

    My advice for writing historical fiction is to find a topic that interests you. To create historical fiction that is true to history (increasing believably and maintaining interest) involves extensive research.

    My WIP technically has been going on for the last six years. However only the last two years have been devoted to writing. The first four years, before I ever typed a page of prose, were dedicated to research. The research doesn't seem like work if it is a topic you are interested in (and it should be if you plan to write about it). The amount of research varies depending on the topic.

    For instance, my WIP takes place during WWII, primarily the Holocaust, which carries enormous historical significance and an unprecedented experience for the people who survived. Historical events like the Holocaust carry the weight of the people who lived through it. Therefore, the extent of the research you do prior to writing historical fiction is an unset quantity directly related to the material you wish to cover. Not all historical fiction requires the amount of research as the Holocaust. Be cautious, aware that even though your story is fiction, the events are real and so are the people.

  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Everyone writes at different paces. Stephen King says if it takes longer than 3 months, you should probably stop and move on to something else (but he doesn't have a day job that isnt being a writer!)
    It took Charles Fraszer 10 years to write Cold Mountain and Juniot Diaz says he's a 1 book every 10 years kind of writer.
    For me, who has a day job, it took me 3 years to write a historical fiction novel on a post civil war theme. I did a lot of research and went through many many revisions of my novel before I felt it was completed enough to being to submit to agents and publishers. I will still be open to changes and addtions if others have suggestions but it was a three year process from the conception of the idea to felling like "i finished a novel".
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  12. #12
    Super Procrastinator Kallithrix's Avatar
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    How long does it take to write an historical novel? Depends on the novel. Depends on the writer. A friend of mine is a prolific HF author, and he releases 2 or 3 novels a year. And they're not short, fluff pieces either. And his research is meticulous.

    For me, writing my novel has taken years and years. It started off as one scene, a recurring daydream i wrote down. Over the next 4 years it became 300k+ words in 3 volumes. Then people told me I should try to get it published, but I knew it wouldn't sell in that format. So I pulled together volume 1 into more of a standalone, which took about a year, and queried agents. I got some really useful feedback, and revised my entire story concept, deciding to embark on a massive rewrite that turned my main plot into a subplot of a much bigger story. I wrote a prologue and stalled for about 6 months. I didn't know how to save the good bits of what I had and make up a brand new main plot to slip them into.

    Then last September I just knuckled down and made myself write a synopsis. I sent it to an agent and she asked for the first 3 chapters - which weren't written. So I spent 3 months writing them, and sent them off. She offered representation the next day. So, now it's another 10 months down the line and I've only just sent her the next 8 chapters! I really hope she doesn't come back and suggest another rewrite, or this book is gonna take another 7 years...
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  13. #13
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Took me about two years, with some interruptions. The research is what kills you--cramming all those facts into your head, then trying to forget them all when you write, or at least push them back a bit.

  14. #14
    Let Them Eat Crow
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    How long

    The research probably took five years, but was not done on a daily basis. I researched when I could, perhaps once a month. It also involved hours of travel. Writing my novel took 3 years 2 weeks and 3 days, but I only worked on weekends because I have a day job.

  15. #15
    Who wants a cup of tea? HFgal's Avatar
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    Three years to write 130K words, including research. And including have a 20 hour a week job (unrelated to writing) and having two kids in elementary/middle school.

    I went to bed tired many nights.

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW TroyJackson's Avatar
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    With researching, plotting, writing, re-writing, and editing, I'd say roughly 2-2 years for my first novel. Hopefully now that the researching and plotting is done, book two and book three will not take as long.
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  17. #17
    figuring it all out RationalIdealist's Avatar
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    Well, my first novel was 150,000 words and was written in three and a half years while I was going to school full-time. However, it's a mix of contemporary and historical fiction, and is probably actually considered literary fiction.
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  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW kelliewallace's Avatar
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    My first HF took about 2 years and that's included extensive rewrites. I started it in June 2011 and I finished it in (final edits) in December 2012. I don't think i had ever done more editing and revising than this book

  19. #19
    never mind the shorty angeliz2k's Avatar
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    My most recent WIP, which is nearly done, took about, oh, four months? Six?

    HOWEVER, there is a major caveat: this is a prequel. So not only did I basically have all the research in the bag (aside from a few additional and incidental details), I already knew the basic outline of the story. It made it pretty easy to crap out about 90k words. Not the norm, I assure you.
    "Cotton. Cotton until Kingdom Come."

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    WIP 2: Paris, 1780s.
    WIP 3: Channing. Antebellum South, 1854 Now Being Repped by an agent!
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    WIP 5: The Cotton Wars [prequel].
    WIP 6: Sci-fi-ish. In progress.

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  20. #20
    Power to the pen! Taylor Harbin's Avatar
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    James A. Michener said in an interview that he would dedicate at least three years to a given project. Some of his best works, Centennial, The Covenant, and Chesapeake are at least 1,000 pages long and each one covers hundreds of years of history.

    After doing research, developing characters, familiarizing yourself with the setting, any language barriers that have to be overcome, etc., writing the prose itself might take the least amount of time in the whole process.

    Nano is probably a bad idea. A novel, no matter what genre, is like the Marathon, not a 100-yard dash. Go for distance, not time.
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  21. #21
    Pilot,Writer,Renaissance Man,Idiot Flounder32's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor Harbin View Post
    James A. Michener said in an interview that he would dedicate at least three years to a given project. Some of his best works, Centennial, The Covenant, and Chesapeake are at least 1,000 pages long and each one covers hundreds of years of history.

    After doing research, developing characters, familiarizing yourself with the setting, any language barriers that have to be overcome, etc., writing the prose itself might take the least amount of time in the whole process.

    Nano is probably a bad idea. A novel, no matter what genre, is like the Marathon, not a 100-yard dash. Go for distance, not time.
    For me Nano was good in that it got me off my butt and forced me to sit down and write. It was all first draft writing (and mostly crap) but I'm thankful for the month of giving myself an imagined deadline and forcing me to move my manuscript along. Of course there isn't a lot time for research during Nano so you have to go back and do a lot of that later.

  22. #22
    Toughen up. gothicangel's Avatar
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    My first draft takes about six months, and a book ready for submission about 18 months.
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  23. #23
    resident curmudgeon
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    I've written only two historical novels, but, yes, they do take me longer than any other kind I write. Not a heck of a lot longer, but longer. One took just about four and a half months, and the other took exactly five months to the day. This doesn't include reading from two to five books on the time period, and reading a few dozen articles on the same. I do this while I'm working on a different novel, so it eats no writing time.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Evangeline View Post
    My recently completed MS--9 months, though four of those months were spent trying to find the right voice and cramming research into my head. But I'm a little confused about your NaNo book...if it's not fun to write, it won't be fun for others to read, especially if you're laboring over the book because you're going against your natural writing Voice.

    .
    If this were true, ghosts like me couldn't write anything readers liked. Readers don't know or care how the writer feels while writing. There are excellent wirters who never have fun at while writing anything.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeL View Post
    With revisions on an MSS I thought was finished but wasn't, it took me a total of seven years to complete my novel. The last agent I pitched in person said he doesn't believe really good histfic can be done in under five. Follett takes ten for works like "Pillars of the Earth" and "World Without End." My advice is that you write to the story, not to the deadline. And, if it's not fun - is it compelling? That's the key.
    That agent must never have read a historical on the bestseller list, or done any research at all on writers. It took Ken Follett three years and three months to write Pillars of the Earth, not ten years.

    And few of us are going to write 900 page historicals like Pillars until we make a name for ourselves, and probably not even then.

    I know a couple of historical novelists who are extremely good, and both come out with a novel per year.

    There's nothing special about an historical novel, and while they can be longer than most other novels, they're no longer than fantasy, and writing is writing. Many historical novels fall in the 80,000 to 120,000 word range. Few go over abut 160,000.

    But it should take no longer to write a thousand words of historical fiction than a thousand words of any other kind of fiction. If you plant your butt and write, even a very long historical novel can be written in a year.

    Ken Follett wrote the roughly 402,000 words of Pillars in three years and three months. This means he was writing well over 100,000 words per year. That's about average.

    It sure as heck doesn't take five years to write a good historical novel, or even a great one.

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