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How long does it take to write a novel?

191 weeks and 1 day.........at least that what it says on the online 'how many days' calculator. Phew, just finished at 09:22 today with a great sense of smug accomplishment after the germ of an idea on 15th Sept 2015. Wow, was that really more than 3 years ago?
And this is my second attempt. The first one took 8 years.
I think it's time I gave up the day job!

How about the rest of you guys? Pleeeeeeese don't tell me 3 weeks or I'll have to shoot myself.

Iain C.
PS: Aiming for self-publishing on Kindle early next month. Look out for 'Shadows from the Sky'.

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Replies (16)
  • Relax, Iain,

    I took around 8 years to finish the first draft of book no1. I'm now around 14mths into editing it. Hopefully, I will get a bit faster than this with any others! 😁 


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    • Phew, now I feel better. Good luck with the editing. Did you go for a JW professional edit? I did and it was excellent. Meant I had to do some serious cutting and restructuring but well worth it

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      • Hi Iain,

        I got my original draft edited just over a year ago through 'Creative Writing Matters'. (I wasn't even aware of JW then). The editing process was quite enlightening, and as a result of that, I have spent the past year making changes, many of them huge, in response to that. 

        I can look back and laugh at myself now (with a mixture of fondness and derision) for thinking, a 18mths ago, "Yay! I've finished my book!" 😂 

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      • Congrats!

        I'm three years in, and only half way through Act 2. I will have written and deleted at least 200,000 words by now, leaving only about 40,000 in the current draft. It's the learning of a craft that takes the time, at least for me.

        Again, well done and good luck.

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        • 200,000 Agh! Respect. But probably too long, unless it is Game of Thrones. 😊 

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        • About 8 years and just finishing the last chapter in first draft.  Part of the story's protracted evolution is because one book has now become two.

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          • Mine have varied immensely. My first novel, which NOBODY is ever going to be allowed to see, was complete in first draft in about 3 months. I was just so excited at this new outlet for my creativity. The first novel I'm still proud of took five years and many drafts before it attracted an agent. Unfortunately, it didn't attract a publisher and the agent drifted away. Nowadays, I lose count, because I tend to overlap projects, starting a new novel in between drafts of the previous one. Last year, I had three on the go at once. My last three complete novels each took between three and four years, but with gaps in between drafts, maybe about two years or less of actual writing time.

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            • Do you self publish? It seems like hanging around for years waiting for an agent to bite is not always the best way to go about it. 

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            • So interesting! I guess it depends when you start counting. I started writing the novel I'm writing now about 20 years ago... got distracted and wrote lots of non-fiction books... then woke up one morning February last year with a complete story in my head, wrote it down in a day, and it all grew from there. 'The Storyhunter', my most recently finished novel, took from beginning to the current manuscript exactly 9 months (working on it daily for many hours).

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              • First of all Iain C - well done you for completing a novel - a brilliant achievement for anyone to do that - it's not easy, despite what some people would have you believe! (I work full time at something else have a young family so I can only write when I get a spare 30 minutes or so here and there. I'm not as disciplined as I should be but do my best.)

                My last novel took 6 months to write and 3 months to re-draft, edit, cut, replace sections I'd cut, then re-draft, edit, re-write huge sections, redraft, edit then submit for a critique, then more of the same - total of 9 months to get to a point where I'm reasonably happy to submit.

                Then my editor fired it back with 1211 changes to be made (some very minor letter/phrase changes) but also some sections to redraft. All in all 11 months of graft to get it in a state to be read. Finishing a novel is a HUGE achievement for anyone, but unless you're like Stephen King and perfect every page as you go along, I expect you might need to do a bit of the above. You're attention to detail will be better than mine I expect but as all writers know a novel is never really finished but at some point it will be as good as you can get it....

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                • Datco, I was with you all the way until you got to 9 months...a nice gestation period so I'm told. But then you spoiled it all by expanding to 11 months. Bet that gave you stretch marks....

                  But kudos for the achievement considering your family. My kids are long 'off the payroll'. Kick 'em out and you will find it much easier.

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                • @Datco your speed is impressive! 

                  Iain Charles Don't ever worry that it's taking too long, as there'll always be someone who's faster or slower! I'm working on fantasy, the first draft was finished in 2012, after a year of writing, and I've been tinkering with it ever since (shortening, tightening, removing story lines that weren't right for the age group, etc.) During that time life - and other projects - have come in the way, so my dragons can sit in a corner for about a year, then I'll be motivated to work on it again. My second project took a year to write, but instead of tinkering I got a critique done of the first draft. It was an investment, but I'm sure that saved me years of dithering about and countless "questions to self". I think it has another 6 months of editing before I'll submit.

                  In general, I think editing gets quicker as you go, because of the experience you aquire. You also have to understand, as you're writing your first draft, that the first drat is just that: a first draft to get the story out of your head and onto paper. You'll probably have multiple drafts as you go, to work on the settings,  plot,  structure, language... But what fun it all is. :-)

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                  • It's so comforting to see this - I've been working on my current idea for around two years, some days more successfully than others - during which time I've also written about ten billion (mostly terrible) poems and parts of two other books too, but this is the MAIN project. I find it easier to flit between them than to focus just on one and get myself frustrated at slow progress - I also suffer from that crippling friend 'doubt' who tells me all of my writing is terrible - and when she's loud I stop writing and switch to something else and come back in a week or two (when I generally find it's not as bad as she made out and can see how to fix it!)

                    I'll share these timescales with my partner next time he nags me about it taking me so long ;-) 

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                    • If its not too late to weigh-in, let me share my experience. It may make you feel better, it may make you feel worse.  

                      In the Spring of 2000, I started working on what I thought would be a straight-forward novelization of a somewhat over-long screen play I had drafted in film school.  19 (!) years later, I'm still at it. 

                      Now, in the intervening years, I've had a busy career, raised two kids, and squandered much time and money on old cars with needs.  That "straight-forward novelization" I envisioned, steadily grew and developed meanwhile. After literally dozens of full re-writes, it is now a five-part epic--and I am still editing. At current, the series totals just over 500,000 words; but I estimate that I have actually written at least 2,500,000 words over the course of those 19 years. (My "Delete" key gets heavy use.) 

                      I have gotten notably faster and more disciplined with time. I just am currently starting a major re-write of Book III, replacing upwards of 90% of the entire text with new material, and I expect to be done sometime in the Fall.  

                      Someday, I might even convince someone to publish the damn thing. Even then, I suspect I might leaf through a print copy on a bookshelf and say to myself: "oh, I know how to make this better . . . " 


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                      • Remember at the start of this post when I said 191 weeks and 1 day? Well, sorry, I was lying. I got my novel all ready, including cover and blurb. Then I posted it on Bookfunnel and asked a few selected friends and colleagues to take a peek.  

                        Very interesting feedback. I was really hoping that they would not tell me what I knew was wrong with a certain section of the draft. But, my pals are no fools, and most of them spotted it. Damn!

                        So now its time for a bit more surgery. Maybe another two months.

                        Hate to mention it, but my feedback was very clearly in two camps along gender lines. One lot commented mostly on characters and relationships, and the other lot gave the focus to plot and action. No prizes. 😷 

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                        • How do you even define "write a novel"?

                          I have one novel on my list that's been germinating for the better part of 20 years. Maybe longer. I've not started outputting any prose for it. So does all that time count. And if it doesn't, should we count rewrites and edits?

                          Or should we simply count the number of active hours spent at the computer (or transcription device of choice) to get from page 1 to page n. (And how does that get messed up if, like me, you write out of sequential order - by PoV - so page 1 is written after page n?)

                          And… how long is a novel anyway? Are we talking 80k words? Or 120k? Or 150k? (I refer you to the proverbial piece of string).

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