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How long it takes to write a novel


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Does anyone else struggle to write a novel in LESS than a year? I've been working on a few books for... years now. I started one, worked on it for a while, realized I had NO IDEA how to end it, so I put it on the backburner and have pulled it out here and there, then tried another one that I felt was a great idea... I haven't ever been able to finish any book, let alone one of good quality, and I've been working at it for years. Part of it is being a homeschooling mom (not only does that take time, but for me, it's really hard to shut down the "mom-mode" and be able to focus on something that involves tough topics while my kids are just in the other room). It can get discouraging reading about people who didn't have any plan to write a novel saying, "the words are just pouring out!" "this novel is practically writing itself!" And I'm happy for those who get to write so easily and finish quickly, but I'm curious if there's anyone else who is still picking away at that novel they have a passion for, even though it's taking forever to do the research and figure out the right details that will make it a great book.

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3 hours ago, JosiAtara said:

Does anyone else struggle to write a novel in LESS than a year? I've been working on a few books for... years now. I started one, worked on it for a while, realized I had NO IDEA how to end it, so I put it on the backburner and have pulled it out here and there, then tried another one that I felt was a great idea... I haven't ever been able to finish any book, let alone one of good quality, and I've been working at it for years. Part of it is being a homeschooling mom (not only does that take time, but for me, it's really hard to shut down the "mom-mode" and be able to focus on something that involves tough topics while my kids are just in the other room). It can get discouraging reading about people who didn't have any plan to write a novel saying, "the words are just pouring out!" "this novel is practically writing itself!" And I'm happy for those who get to write so easily and finish quickly, but I'm curious if there's anyone else who is still picking away at that novel they have a passion for, even though it's taking forever to do the research and figure out the right details that will make it a great book.

I first said I was going to write a narrative nonfiction in 2003, and only 15 years later I actually got it released! 🙂

I did just really quickly bang out a short novel during NaNo with no planning at all, and based on the last couple of weeks I'll be fixing it for at least the next year and it may never be worth releasing.

 

I've had a fiction trilogy in mind for at least 3 years, and other than reading 3 textbooks on the history of the setting for it, I haven't done anything for that, so maybe in a decade or two I'll get that out as well. 😅

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I've done a full rough in a month and a half - over 100,000 words.  It needs heavy revision, however.

 

I pumped out the roughs for two novels of a series in about 4 months.  It started as a standalone, and just sorta grew.

 

The current novella I'm working on has been rough.  I'm rounding out two months on it, and not yet completed.  Part of that is that I've been searching for the heart of the book, as well as contending with being too redundant with story elements.  I've had a bit of s breakthrough as of late, finding a theme (the belief or disbelief of miracles, and struggling with seeming contradictions in God's Word) and introducing a new character, so it should go easier.

 

A lot of it has to do with inspiration, the time you have to write, and dealing with plot holes that come up in the course of creation.  Sometimes it's BAM, BAM, BAM and I pound out one chapter after another.  Other times it's a struggle.  Plus, COVID, disruptions in my schedule, the Election, and all the worry over my tooth all have a hand in my literary lethargy.

 

I am a proponent of putting yourself on a writing schedule.  Find a time and a place where you can focus.  Mine was one day a week, at a cigar bar with my tablet, my cigars, and my snifter of Spanish brandy.  Sunday through Friday gave me lots of time to think over what I wanted to write, and when Saturday rolled around, I could pound out a chapter, 2000 - 4000 words in a matter of a couple of hours.  While once a week seems kinda sparse (I wrote on other days when I had an idea that I couldn't let go), I was able to maintain a minimum amount of momentum and consistency.

Edited by Jeff Potts
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I don't have that problem, Josi, but I don't think you should worry about it either.  Margaret Mitchell and John Steinbeck too their sweet time writing, too.  

 

In fact, I think it's great that you're taking your sweet time to write your novels, because you are putting a lot of thought behind your novels.

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Don't worry about it! In the expectation world on writing, you'd think that you had all the time in the world to write and research and write some more. In reality, you've got fifty million baseballs of life launched at you that you need to hit (weird description, I know; it was the first thing that came to mind). I do what you do all the time--get an idea for a story, write maybe a chapter or a prologue or not even half of either--and then completely push it aside because I just don't have time for it.

So depending on your schedule, you might not be able to focus on writing. But don't feel like you have to! Keep your focus on what the Lord has for you to do, then feel free to write when you need/want to!

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Maybe this is a bit silly, but I think if you’re not having fun doing it, if trying to finish a novel is a guilt-trip or stressful, maybe you should let your writing take a different tack for a while. Try short stories, or essays, or poetry—something you can finish in a few days or weeks, and feel good about. Then you can dash down a chapter or two of your novel just whenever, so you aren’t losing the ideas, but finishing the smaller projects gives you a sense of accomplishment, too. I’m a mother of young kids as well, as are quite a few of us on this forum, I think, so you’re not alone!

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I seriously doubt that this is a record of some kind, but I started my first book back in 2000. It needs a major rewrite! I had a short story in mind for about five years before it actually worked its way through my fingers. Sometimes it's about your mind developing the idea, and other times it's about life getting in the way.

 

You're not alone (in any sense of the word).

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1 hour ago, Zee said:

Maybe this is a bit silly, but I think if you’re not having fun doing it, if trying to finish a novel is a guilt-trip or stressful, maybe you should let your writing take a different tack for a while.

 

I agree with Zee. If it feels like that, then give it a rest.

 

As for how long does it take to write a novel?  It depends on the story for me. Some come quickly and I get the first draft done pretty fast.  Others, like my current WIP, required a lot of research and planning before I put pen to paper, but essentially I wrote the 1st draft of the novel in a month (part of NaNoWrit month).

 

That a first for me usually a 1st draft will take 2-3 months and then another couple of months to polish it up and get it beta read and a final draft stage. As a rough estimate 6-9 months but again there have been work, I have ditched because it like pulling teeth and I don't believe if a story is ready to be told it should feel like that.

 

Whatever you do - don't press delete - file it away. You never know when material will come in useful.

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My first novel got so long I had to split it into a trilogy. The whole trilogy took 9 years to write, so an average of three years per book.

 

I learned some lessons.

 

1) Outline. It doen't have to kill your creativity. You can make an in depth outline or a rough one.

2) Calibrate. Once I started to outline, I had to learn how many pages of book would come out of each page of outline. This will be different for each writer. For me, my first guess was ten pages of book per page of outline. My error was that I was only accounting for the main character. After I added some subplots, it ended up at 20:1.

3) Timeline. Control your timeline. My trilogy spanned 25 years! I decided to write a novelette and confine all the action to a single day. I plotted it out, hour by hour. This was successful. I ended up with a 20,000 word story. I achieved my goal.

4) Organization. My early books were a mess. Paper notebooks of ideas. Computer files scattered about the directories. I finally started using "Index Card", an iPad app. I create ordered stacks of cards: character outlines, chapter outline cards, bibliography cards (especially for nonfiction), one stack for each research topic (like the Apollo missions and moon rocks for one book), and stacks for whatever I want to keep organized. 

 

Outlining tells me when I have a complete story. I compare my outline to the standard structures, like 3-Act or 4-Act or Hero's Journay. If I am missing a vital plot point, I know where to add more meat.

 

Calibration helps me control word count. When the story is done, I look back at my outline and learn from my process.

 

Timeline helps me avoid impossible situations and also control length. After my success with the single day story, I wrote a complete novel that spanned exactly one month. Forcing the plot into a single month was challenging, but it created incredible suspense!

 

Organization helps me not forget important information. It is crucial for allowing me to put down a project for a year and pick it up again later. My best novel so far was on the back burner for two years. I ended up returning to it, improving it, and finishing it. That was only possible because I had detailed notes on alien species, all the special locations to use as setting (including a fantasy world map), names and roles and allegianes of all characters, etc.

 

For my latest book, I applied a new technique: Mind Mapping. It was recommended to me by some people here at CW. It helped me find my core idea and map it into a nonfiction book. I bet you could use it for fiction too. As a result of this technique, I completed a book outline in a month, and a 750 page (!) first draft in nine months.

 

Conclusion: I learned these techniques slowly, over the years. They build on each other.

 

 

 

 

Edited by paulchernoch
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I am in the same boat. I'm reaching the end of my main project, which I have been working on for a long time. I have several others on the back burner, but my main issue was having looong stretches where I did almost no writing at all.

 

It's only been in the last year that I have forced myself to get dedicated to sitting down several times each week to write whether I feel like it or not.

 

Don't get discouraged! You'll get there. Just keep at it.

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I know I said this already, but if there is one thing I cannot emphasize enough, it is: create a writing ritual.  It doesn't have to be every day, but if this is something you really want to do, you need to somehow make time for it.

 

The book I'm currently querying was actually written sometime in the early 2000s.  It was a dreadful thing, but there was a kernel of a story in there.  When it didn't get any traction, I put the thing away and sort of walked away from writing.

 

But the impulse to write didn't leave.  Some time in 2016(?) I started to rewrite a short story (related to the aforementioned book), that ended up being a novel of over 100,000 words.  For some reason, I just couldn't let it go.  That's what finally led me to where I am today.  Lots of false starts (I actually have 5 full novels complete in rough form and 3 more in development), but a lot of content.  I think this is where I am going to stay.

 

The thing is, if you feel compelled to write, the best advice I can give is don't stop writing.  Work your writing time around your schedule, set a couple of hours aside for you.  Either every day or every week, but set it aside.  Don't get discouraged and walk away like I did.  Because the compulsion eventually comes back.

 

The second piece of advice I can give is: just write something.

 

I work in software development.  Nearing 30 years in this game, I'm the go-to guy for large, ambitious projects, mainly because I can pull them off.  This isn't because I'm some genius at this stuff (though that word has been bandied about), but because I've learned over the years not to get intimidated by things that look insurmountable.  The key is, start somewhere, and just keep plugging along.  Things will get done in time.  It's almost like mountain climbing but in reverse.  When you're climbing a mountain, they generally tell you to not look down.  My advice is: never look up.  If you're constantly reminded you're never getting anywhere, you'll get discouraged, and eventually quit.  This is not a sprint, but a marathon.

 

If you write something, then put it away, odds are that you'll be able to use that idea elsewhere.  The point is to keep the creative juices flowing, even at times when you feel burnt out (a period that I am going through now).  Eventually, you'll come up with one idea or another or something will click, and you'll finish those works you have on the backburner.

 

So, keep writing.

 

Make time for it.  Make it a ritual.

 

Write anything, even if it is a rough idea, or a strange snippet of dialog.  You never know where it'll lead.

 

Don't worry about not getting something done.  Worry about crafting a good story.  The whole publishing thing will happen in time, one way or another.

 

I've got dozens of abandoned ideas, partial manuscripts, and so on.  Some of them with great ideas behind them.  Time and focus force me to apply my efforts to other things.  It happens.

 

 

I hope that helps.

 

 

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I was someone who was never able to focus.  Just like you @JosiAtaraWith half written plays, soap opera and fiction novels stuck away somewhere, and several notes on ideas that never got off the characterisation pages, I realised I was never the person to finish a project.  That was until I had a nonfiction idea and asked a friend to co-author with me two years ago.  With a binding partnership agreement in place and deadlines for completion of chapters - she was very organised - I felt some discipline on my part was needed to prove my commitment.  Unfortunately, she passed away last year and the book was left half completed.

 

What I did not know was that God used the situation to put some focus and discipline into my life.  Early this year, I wrote a 35K nonfiction book that was sent to a friend to read.  It looked like something I could send out to publishers until I decided to rewrite it again and again until I am not sure what I want the contents to be anymore.  Now, I am struggling to find time to tidy it up again into a book.

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3 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

I know I said this already, but if there is one thing I cannot emphasize enough, it is: create a writing ritual.  It doesn't have to be every day, but if this is something you really want to do, you need to somehow make time for it.


My friend Story Grid Certified Editor Danielle Kiowski wrote about her method - she writes 500 words a day, and spends 30 minutes reading up on the art and craft of writing. I've been doing this for a couple of weeks and I'm getting more written each week.
https://storygrid.com/530-2/

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Thank you, everyone, these were very encouraging to read! I realize that this time of year is a time I can't expect much from myself and need to be stronger in declining extra responsibility that I am unable to do without stressing myself out too much.

After a very stressful evening on Saturday, and now that most of the busyness is over for me, I took a day to just write on Sunday. I set aside my main books and pulled out an old one that is so full of horrible writing and plot holes and no research and ALL THE FEELS and drama, and just let myself write without worrying about any rules. Just having fun again. Then today, my neighbor offered to watch my kids, and the toddler actually stayed there for almost 2 hours (we tried this a few other times and baby just DID NOT allow it) and it was great! They joked that "I wouldn't know what to do with my time" and I said that i knew EXACLTY what to do with my time! So it was nice, and then I pulled up my main book because I felt guilty for not putting at least SOMETHING into it with my free time, and I think I finally figured out the ending to section 1.

 

So thank you all again!

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When I had young children (but past toddler stage), I would take my kids to large indoor playgrounds - the ones with slides and tunnels and ladders, and ball pits, including McDOnalds playspaces. They would play for hours and I would sit on the picnic table and write. I positioned myself so that they couldn't run past or exit the building without me noticing. I found that the constant chatter, loud shouts and laughter of the kids was like white noise. I could tune it out entirely. I got a lot of writing done that way.

 

Paul

 

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