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Thread: How long does it take to write a book?

  1. #1
    Aerospace engineer turned writer Laer Carroll's Avatar
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    How long does it take to write a book?

    I'm a fan of Eric Flint and his alternate history books. Every few weeks I check his web site to find out about his latest work. This time I landed on the FAQ page. There he answers several questions about how he writes. One in particular is as the very top of the page. I found it very interesting.

    QUESTION: How long does it take to write a book?

    http://www.ericflint.net/index.php/faqs/

    How does your way of working match his, or not? I'd like to know.

  2. #2
    lethargically ardent, fervidly agog JCornelius's Avatar
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    Also a fan of the author's books, but never read this Q&A thing, so thanx!
    Very much agree with this bit:
    Before I leave this one, however, let me add the following. The most important thing for a writer is not really speed so much as stamina. Whether you average 500 words a day or 5,000 — and I know successful authors at both ends of that range — the key thing is to write every day, day in and day out. At least while you’re working on a book. (Most writers do take breaks between books, although some don’t.)

    500 words a day is only two pages of manuscript, approximately. That doesn’t seem like much, but… if you actually do it, day in and day out, you can finish a novel in six to eight months. If you can write 1,000 words a day, you’ll finish in three or four months. The big problem that most would-be writers run into when they try to write a novel-length manuscript is simply that they “run out of gas.” There’s really no way around it. Writing a coherent story that long simply takes a lot of emotional and intellectual energy and stamina.
    My physical ability to type always outpaces my writerly stamina. I can write 5 000 words of coherent prose a day easily enough, but if I really do that the rest of the week I'm a vegetable, so that's a lose-lose situation.
    Lately I've been trying to discipline myself into transitioning from a "throw everything you have into sprawling mess that tries to encompass the world" writing approach, to a more laid-back and optimized attitude, the way for example Eric Flint and his peeps do it.
    A list of the *Real Fitzgeralds*
    Sometimes I take a topic and instead of debating it, I simply use it as an excuse for a slapdash essay on the subject. Because writer.
    Yet everything I say on this forum is with a fat "IMHO" implied.

  3. #3
    Such a nasty woman SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    I agree that it's wise to pace yourself. Twice I've written 60k in a week (both non-fiction books) but I can't guarantee the quality of the prose, and it took me a few weeks to get over that level of production; and I've also taken five years or more to write novels, but that was working on them between other things, so perhaps that's not a fair guideline. I find it easier to take longer over a book. If I'm writing something I love I'll be more productive; if I'm going through a hate-it stage, I have to squeeze those words out.

  4. #4
    Looking for thylacines on CYP Helix's Avatar
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    Cripes! 60k in a week. And then you did it again. I'm exhausted just thinking about that, Old Hack.

    In the Deep North of the Great South Land

  5. #5
    Falling in the milk megan_d's Avatar
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    I think he's exactly spot on; it's the habit of writing that's important, not the number of words you churn out each day. And I find the more days I manage to write something in a row, the easier and easier it gets. Inversely the longer I go without writing the harder it is to get back into the habit...

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  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW MaeZe's Avatar
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    New writer here, not one that has been writing for a lifetime, but one who knows how to learn and has a lifetime of material that needs to be told.

    I wrote 134,000 words in about 6 weeks. After that, I spent six years finishing the first of two books that 134K words were the very rough draft of. It wasn't close to an actual novel, more like half outline, half rough chapters, some I kept, some I put back on the shelf. At the same time, I had to learn how to write. That did delay things a bit. But I found a critique group with an excellent writing teacher and along with a lot of homework and the critique group, I learned to write.

    Right now I'm struggling with the final edits. I need to pace myself. I've gone over the first 1/3 of the book until it's close to perfection for what I want. I love it.

    Now I'm in the middle 1/3 and I just don't feel like I'm doing this in an organized fashion. If I didn't have important political issue to address, if I didn't have to to work, if I didn't have to take care of my house, my dogs, laundry, dishes I could tackle it. If I didn't spend so much time on forums and current events, on reading books, sigh....

    When I get book one of the duology finished, I'm going to retire and write book two without so many distractions. I already know the story, that's the hard part and the story is there in the rough draft.

    The second hardest part is discipline. I'm getting there.
    Last edited by MaeZe; 05-27-2017 at 10:39 AM.

  7. #7
    ... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Yes, editing takes the time. It should only take 3-4 months at most for a first draft. And the rest of a year, at least, to edit.
    "Where shall the word be found, where will the word
    Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence."

    ('ash wednesday' - t.s. eliot)

  8. #8
    figuring it all out
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    My first novel was historical fiction (80k), and the research took a year and a half and then the writing/editing took a year and a half. My second one went much faster because I wrote fantasy rather than historical fiction, so I could cut out the research part, and I guess I was much more invested in the story because my first draft took only about 5 months (60k). After edits, which were another 4 months, it was 85k. But I'm not always a very good writer, and sometimes I just don't write for days and then sit down and write 4k. I suspect people who can stick with a routine get things done much faster!
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  9. #9
    odd-toed ungulate be frank's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    It should only take 3-4 months at most for a first draft.


    Good lord do definitive statements like that annoy me. Not everyone writes the same way. While your first draft might not take more than 3-4 months to write, it doesn't make it universally true.
    The early bird may catch the worm, but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese.

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  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW neandermagnon's Avatar
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    By the time my first draft is finished, I've already nearly finished the editing because I edit as a go along. So my first drafts take ages. Whatever editing's left after that won't take long.

    How long it takes to write a novel depends on how much time each week you spend writing it. Seeing as I have a full time job and a household to run (lone parent), I don't get that much time to spend writing novels so it's going to take me longer than average.
    my blog - cave people and stuff - an imaginative look at palaeolithic life: http://cavepeopleandstuff.wordpress.com/

  11. #11
    ... Harlequin's Avatar
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    It is a generalisation, yes, but I think it's achievable for most. Depending on length and genre and all that.
    "Where shall the word be found, where will the word
    Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence."

    ('ash wednesday' - t.s. eliot)

  12. #12
    Falling in the milk megan_d's Avatar
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    I don't think I could ever write a first draft in three to four months! Maybe if I was a full time writer... but even then I doubt it. Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong when others say it like it should be easy.

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  13. #13
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by be frank View Post


    Good lord do definitive statements like that annoy me. Not everyone writes the same way. While your first draft might not take more than 3-4 months to write, it doesn't make it universally true.
    This.

    I've never written a first draft the same way twice. It generally takes me 12-18 months to produce something submission-quality, but that's an average over 4 books now (and I'm not even really sure it's 4, because the first one turned into the second one when it got combined with the first draft of one that never got finished and now my brain hurts. ) I think I'm getting faster, but every one has been so different I really can't say.
    June goals:

    - WIP #1: Get the draft to 80K - 75,120/80,000
    - WIP #2: Get the draft to 15K - 13,896/15,000
    Stretch Goal: Notes on the short



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  14. #14
    odd-toed ungulate be frank's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by megan_d View Post
    Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong when others say it like it should be easy.
    Yep, and that's one of my issues with those kinds of blanket statements.
    The early bird may catch the worm, but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese.

    here be all the query exercises

  15. #15
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by megan_d View Post
    I don't think I could ever write a first draft in three to four months! Maybe if I was a full time writer... but even then I doubt it. Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong when others say it like it should be easy.
    Every individual is different. I can sometimes do spurts of a week or two where I'm hitting about 4K a day, but that's not long-term sustainable for me. I shoot for about 2500, but depending on where I am with a MS, even that can be high. For me, there's a lot of work to storytelling that happens before the words come out, and it's often time-consuming. And weekends are almost always much less productive (I do make a point of abandoning my family during NaNoWriMo. )

    There are indeed writers who can write multiple books in a year (I think of Nora Roberts), but if you look at the publishing schedules of folks who have been in the business for a while, that pace is unusual. I had two come out in 2016, but they were my first two, and I had a backlog.
    June goals:

    - WIP #1: Get the draft to 80K - 75,120/80,000
    - WIP #2: Get the draft to 15K - 13,896/15,000
    Stretch Goal: Notes on the short



    THE COLD BETWEEN - Out now

    REMNANTS OF TRUST - Out now
    BREACH OF CONTAINMENT - Preorderable

    author page | sporadically-updated blog | twitter | facebook

  16. #16
    lethargically ardent, fervidly agog JCornelius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lizmonster View Post
    /.../

    There are indeed writers who can write multiple books in a year (I think of Nora Roberts), but if you look at the publishing schedules of folks who have been in the business for a while, that pace is unusual. /.../
    Sherrilyn Kenyon wrote two paranormal highlander romances while you wrote this post

    Certain genres and subgenres have a business structure that encourages writers to turn in half a dozen or more books a year, and what with self-publishing today, there are writers who add a new book-sized space opera adventure every fortnight(!) and their market bears it well.

    I think the more one scrutinizes certain niche subgenres, the more it will turn out there is a huge amount of people making a successful name through a relentless stream of turbo-fastly written books.

    I, however (and even "sadly"), do not belong to them. I've even more or less given up becoming a fast writer. Slightly less glacial would suit me just fine.
    Last edited by JCornelius; 05-27-2017 at 05:34 PM.
    A list of the *Real Fitzgeralds*
    Sometimes I take a topic and instead of debating it, I simply use it as an excuse for a slapdash essay on the subject. Because writer.
    Yet everything I say on this forum is with a fat "IMHO" implied.

  17. #17
    permanently suctioned to Buz's leg Putputt's Avatar
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    I aim for 2 first drafts a year. They generally take me anywhere from 2 to 3 months to write, and then about another 3 months to edit (the bulk of editing time is spent on snaring unlucky beta readers). Buuut I don't have a 9 to 5 job. If I did, I'd probably take a heck of a lot longer to write.

    I'm always in awe of writers who churn out a publishable book every 2 months. That is some talent.
    Kallithrix: "you're like pot noodle - you know it's dirty, unwholesome, trashy drunk food, but.... you just want it in your mouf"

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  18. #18
    lethargically ardent, fervidly agog JCornelius's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Putputt View Post
    /.../
    I'm always in awe of writers who churn out a publishable book every 2 months. That is some talent.
    And this '2 months a novel club" includes some real heavyweight names, like Iain Banks, John Saul, Ben Elton, and Robert Silverberg. Keeping in mind Banks's stuff totally approaches the level of Martin Amis, John Saul's--that of Thomas Harris and the other Koontzes, and Silverberg's--those of Zelazny or Delany.
    Yet Amis and Harris and Delany would jump through hoops to get a sentence down, while these fast guys--bam! bam!--and now to go do something else for the remaining 10 months.
    That's gotta be a mutant gene or something.
    Last edited by JCornelius; 05-27-2017 at 06:00 PM.
    A list of the *Real Fitzgeralds*
    Sometimes I take a topic and instead of debating it, I simply use it as an excuse for a slapdash essay on the subject. Because writer.
    Yet everything I say on this forum is with a fat "IMHO" implied.

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW talktidy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCornelius View Post
    I've even more or less given up becoming a fast writer. Slightly less glacial would suit me just fine.
    Oh, boy, do I identify with this aspiration.

    For me writing becomes especially slow and difficult when my internal editor won't sit down and shut up. Instead, it keeps elbowing its way into the forefront of my mind, and quibbling over word choice, while I am trying to get a scene on the page. I wouldn't mind so much, if the stuff I had already produced did not need further work, but it does.

  20. #20
    Such a nasty woman SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    Yes, editing takes the time. It should only take 3-4 months at most for a first draft. And the rest of a year, at least, to edit.
    Quote Originally Posted by be frank View Post


    Good lord do definitive statements like that annoy me. Not everyone writes the same way. While your first draft might not take more than 3-4 months to write, it doesn't make it universally true.
    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    It is a generalisation, yes, but I think it's achievable for most. Depending on length and genre and all that.
    I've worked in publishing for over thirty years, have worked with hundreds of writers and am friends with hundreds more, and I can say conclusively that no, it's really not.

    By all means tell us what works for you, but please don't tell us we should all be doing the same. It's neither constructive nor true.

    Quote Originally Posted by megan_d View Post
    I don't think I could ever write a first draft in three to four months! Maybe if I was a full time writer... but even then I doubt it. Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm doing something wrong when others say it like it should be easy.
    Sometimes becoming a full-time writer makes people less productive, not more. What's important is that you're writing in a way which is both physically and emotionally comfortable for you, that you're happy with your work and your progress, and that your writing isn't costing you too much in terms of its impact on your family and friends. Don't compare yourself to other writers here: you are unique and have your own talents and abilities, and they should be celebrated, not criticised. You're good.

  21. #21
    lethargically ardent, fervidly agog JCornelius's Avatar
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    One of my recently discovered favorites in the fantasy and sci-fi department used to work in a factory, and wrote three hours a day, pining for when he could have the opportunity to really write. When he did become a full time writer, it turned out he can still only write three hours a day. After that the prose becomes leaden and his brain stops working. Switching to writing as a career simply cleared up some free time during the rest of the day, but did not add writing time.
    Didn't stop him from becoming a total success, though...
    Last edited by JCornelius; 05-27-2017 at 07:01 PM.
    A list of the *Real Fitzgeralds*
    Sometimes I take a topic and instead of debating it, I simply use it as an excuse for a slapdash essay on the subject. Because writer.
    Yet everything I say on this forum is with a fat "IMHO" implied.

  22. #22
    practical experience, FTW
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    It takes as long as it takes. There's no set in stone rules or timelines. Thank heaven.
    " Never thought I'd get this far"

  23. #23
    Resist. Love. Go outside. Marlys's Avatar
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    I'm one of those who didn't become more productive when I quit my day job. I just got things like TV and family time back. And took up running.

    For the record, my first drafts have taken anywhere from six weeks to over a year--when the effort is sustained, that is. It took me eleven years to complete one of them, working in fits and starts. Five to seven months seems to be my sweet spot, but it depends on the novel and what else I have going.
    I'm a twit, too: @PearsonMarlys

  24. #24
    ... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Sorry. I'm not trying to offend. I realise my experiences are very limited. Everyone I know personally seems to be at the prolific range, and not the long slow artistry range. I just assumed the latter were more rare.
    "Where shall the word be found, where will the word
    Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence."

    ('ash wednesday' - t.s. eliot)

  25. #25
    Dead Men Tell No Tales Chasing the Horizon's Avatar
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    I can both draft and edit very quickly if I'm focused and not too busy with other things. Realistically I can write a draft in 2 months or so (and my books are always well over 100k) and edit in the same amount of time. But what I can spend years on is the planning and outlining. It's why I can then knock out a very clean draft at faster-than-NaNo pace, because everything has been worked and reworked ahead of time in my elaborate outlines. I know this is an uncommon way to work, but I enjoy writing the actual prose most when I can focus on how to put my words together instead of worrying about what I'm trying to say, and also enjoy working out the plot and actions of the story most when I can just scribble it down however in an outline no one but me will ever see.
    “Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. Not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs, but what a ship is, what the Black Pearl really is ... is freedom.” ~ Jack Sparrow

    “Perhaps on the rare occasion pursuing the right course demands an act of piracy, and piracy itself can be the right course.” ~ Governor Swann




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