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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Should there be a Time Limit when it comes to Writing a Book?

Yesterday I saw an interesting question posted in a writing group which I belong to. The person who posted it had a friend who worries that nine months is too long to spend writing a book, and that they're already a failure because it's taken that long to write it.

My initial reaction was to smile. After all, when I first started writing, it took me a whole year to get the book finished and my second book took roughly the same amount of time too. But I smiled because I could almost feel the writer's anxiety and that's exactly how I felt when I first started the writing journey.

Writing a novel seems an insurmountable task. It can take anything from a few weeks, a few months, or even years. In fact, one of my writer friends took a whole decade to write his first book. But now that book is finished and since then he's written several more.

In a world where everything is instant, anxiety can flare up when you want to write a book. No matter which universe you exist in producing a book can never be instant, and this is only a good thing.

But sometimes having some sort of deadline can be positive. It's no good if you think you can write a book in a year if you don't actually decide when that year is going to be.

So, how can you break down this task of writing a book into a more manageable accomplishment?
Well, that's easy. It's just like eating an elephant.

When I start out on a new project, I always like to brainstorm new ideas. This usually happens when I snatch a few minutes in between life's daily tasks. Then I take my ideas and write a brief outline. And I'll keep doing this until I feel I have enough ideas to start a chapter. A chapter usually takes about a week to write. I repeat this process over several months until I have completed the first draft of my manuscript.

But in between all this I always make sure I have enough time to reflect. Because reflection is one of the most important tools writers can have. Even when you're not actually writing your mind will still be processing the storyline. And this is usually the time when new ideas come to you, or you might want to alter the plotline slightly so it fits in with your new ideas. It's amazing how much 'writing' you do in your mind when you're not actually writing!

So think of your writing as being a nice big cake. It takes time to get the ingredients together, to make it and to cook. And none of those processes can be rushed.

Tell me how long it takes you to write a book. Can you write faster as the years go by or does producing a book always take a certain amount of time?


  1. How long is a piece of string? Too many newbies ask questions like this. It’s as if they expect rules for everything. Am I doing this right? Am I doing that? We really are the most insecure bunch. Writing’s a very personal thing and it’s pointless to compare yourself to anyone. I just wrote a novella. It took me five weeks: 25,000 words. My last book, which is about twice as long, took me five years. I would love if I could rattle off a novel ever ten weeks. But I’m not that kind of writer. Barbara Cartland was but I wouldn’t want to write like her. Writing, for me, is a natural thing and it proceeds at its own pace. I don’t force it. If I did force it could I write more? Probably, yes. But I don’t have that much more to say. Some people have 700 books in them (e.g. Cartland) and some only one, (e.g. Harper Lee who took two and a half years to write To Kill a Mockingbird). Some people happily write 2000 words a day (e.g. Stephen King) whereas others only write two or three sentences (e.g. Gerald Murnane). What’s the right way to do it? There is no right way.

  2. It depends on the book - my travel writing is fairly straightforward, as I know what happened, I have all my research handy, and am familiar with the process.

    But fiction - making stuff up is wonderful, but some days it's like pulling teeth!

  3. Jim Murdach, I love your comment as that is exactly how I feel about it. I took 5 1/2 months to write my first novel and almost three years to write the second. It was released five years ago, and I am still in the beginning stages of the third installment in the series! Many things have influenced my ability to write over those years, and I don't let it get to me. Everything happens in its own time, and when the time is right, I will complete this novel. Until then, I am simply trying to enjoy the journey and continuing to promote myself however I can. My readers know me well enough to understand that I can't, and won't, force a story, and that I will take my time to produce something that will be worth the wait.

  4. Thank you for your comments. It seems you all agree with me.

  5. Seeing that I am my own worst critic and tend to pick apart almost every detail of what I jot on the page, I chuckled when I started reading this post. Nine months. I've been working a reworking a book for...gosh...I'm not even sure how many years. The first draft took me about that amount of time. After finishing it, I sent it off to an agent. The agent sent it back with a note saying that it needed some work. So, frustrated, I let it sit for a few years.

    Then one day I reread it. What an eye opener. I found all kinds of crap wrong with it. The structure was off. The voice was not clear. The plot was muddled. The narration lacked zing The characters were flat. And the story lacked humor. Over all, I found what I thought to be a sound sweet thing was quite flat, lacked umph, and wasn't ready to be presented to the world.

    So, I started revising. I'm still revising. The more I revise the more the characters come alive, the more the story fills out, and the the more I discover what the story is about. At times, it becomes frustrating.

    So, I take a break for a few weeks or months, let it stew, live life for a bit, and work on some side project. When I do return to the it I find myself refreshed, ready to add, cut, or do whatever it takes to make the story come alive. Which at times means scrapping large portions, rearranging parts of the structure, or jiving up the characters. I'm on sixth....or it is seventh revision. I'm not sure when I'll get it done. But it's cool. I love the journey.

  6. Hi P.A.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. The writing journey is certainly extraordinary and it can take us on an epic adventure at times.