Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

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polymath
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Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by polymath » July 9th, 2011, 8:57 am

Concerned parties who track how long it takes say an average accomplished author spends five hundred hours writing a novel from start to finish. A statutory work year is currently two thousand hours. Theoretically, four novels per year are possible then. Some authors have published that output for awhile. The average throughout the opus of literature is closer to one in ten years. Recently, in the past century with more rapid manuscript to publication technology advancements anyway, one per annum.

Considering the average novel is one hundred thousand words, or roughly three hundred Standard Publication Format pages, five hundred hours works out to three and a third words per minute. Of course, that includes draft writing, rewriting, and revisions, although it doesn't include editorial revisions, which for accomplished authors are usually minor anyway, well, that depends on the author and the publisher and the editor.

Considering the average reading pace and speaking pace is one hundred fifty words per minute, writing is a glacially slow process. Ratio of writing to reading-speaking: 1:50-ish. The mental composition pace is far in excess of reading or speaking verbalization pace. I don't believe the speed of thought is measurable, though I'm sure it's nanoseconds. No wonder it's so hard to fully realize an inspiration onto the page so readers can share the participation mystique.

And, of course, that writing metric is no assurance of publication success. It's my experience that writers who pursue output quantity as an indication of progress overlook quality progress. Perhaps writing and writing and writing might improve mechanical style, craft, and voice; however, at some point, there oughta be a frank and blunt assessment and rethinking of the process for best outcomes. A truism says the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

Meanwhile, the Move to Babel is nearly complete. Effective Tuesday, I'll be all the way there, come Hell, high water, or indifference.
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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by longknife » July 9th, 2011, 10:42 am

Someone asked me yesterday how long it took to write a novel - and I couldn't give him a reasonable answer!!!
I can go back to see when some of my earliest folders were set up but that doesn't give the story either.

How long does it take?

Until you finish!!!

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polymath
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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by polymath » July 9th, 2011, 11:55 am

lvcabbie wrote:How long does it take?

Until you finish!!!
I suppose there oughta be a definition of when a novel or other narrative is finished. I'm sure self-imposed definitions vary across a broad gamut. Paraphrasing Aristotle's Poetics, a narrative is complete when a main dramatic action is complete. A dramatic action is complete when the circumstances of a main dramatic complication compel a larger-than-life transformation in the final outcome, the denouement act.

Aristotle limits the transformation to from bad fortune to good, from good fortune to bad, or bad fortune to worse. There are other outcomes with profound transformations that have come along since 350 BCE. Not necessarily from bad to good or good to bad fortunes, but profound, unequivocal, irrevocable transformations of personalities, behaviors, and/or traits, transformations of the essence of being.

Transformation isn't the end-all, be-all of when a narrative is finished, though, but it's among the top thousand, maybe in the top ten essentials of a fully realized narrative.
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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by dios4vida » July 9th, 2011, 12:08 pm

Well said, polymath and lvcabbie!!

I'm a slow writer by many standards - I've been writing for almost ten years and have 2 1/2 novels written. Even without counting sabaticals and breaks for various reasons, it takes me around two years to write a book. I used to feel bad about that and wish that I could write faster, but lately I've come to realize that the time it takes to write a novel doesn't matter. All that's important is the quality of the end product. So how long does it take? As long as it takes!

And congrats on the move, polymath. I hope you enjoy Babel. :)
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by TedtheThird » July 9th, 2011, 7:08 pm

I think it will vary from person to person. Some people may be able to bang out 1000 words/day and be done in months. Others might take longer. With my life situation (Dad, Full Time job) 1000 words a day can be really challenging. I used to just write as much as I could, and when I was done, I was done. Lately, I've tried giving myself deadlines. I treat these as if they are coming from outside source, like a publisher or an agent, even though they are self imposed. I try to make them equal parts challenging and attainable. My current goal is to finish a novel within one year of starting it. That gives me until November to finish my WIP.
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polymath
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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by polymath » July 9th, 2011, 7:40 pm

TedtheThird, if you put five hundred effective hours into your current work in progress, that amounts to a ten-hour-workweek year of overtime. Parental obligations I'm sure measure a considerable amount of time. My father's lifetime parenting probably averaged about twenty hours a week, on the thin side considering there's seven siblings to share that time. Mom's wasn't a whole lot more after compulsory potty training completion. We siblings raised each other, and were domestic drudges, in spite of our sibling rivalries and pecking order squabbles vying for sparse parental attention. That's the way of the Baby Boomer generation I come from and generations before me, maybe the way of not a few generations' experiences since in some households. Such is life.

A full-time job, at least forty hours anymore. There's a practical workweek of up to eighty hours, as it was a century or two ago, or total nonsleep time of one hundred twelve hours, not counting time for essential daily living activities, eating, domestic chores, ablutions, commuting, shopping, etc., but not much time left over for having a private life.
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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by longknife » July 10th, 2011, 11:23 am

I spent some time - at last! - working on the third novel of my Father Serra trilogy yesterday. The words flowed well and I think I managed to continue in the thread I started.

But, it ain't easy when you step away from a work like that for a week or two.

Darn but it's hard with so many other things to do. I often don't understand how you who have jobs manage to get any writing done at all.

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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by Rebecca Kiel » July 10th, 2011, 3:41 pm

How long?

As long as it takes to do it well. Pure and simple.

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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by Louise Curtis » July 10th, 2011, 7:14 pm

I write first drafts very quickly (usually about two months for YA length books) and then spend at least six months editing, with gaps of at least a month or two (during which I usually edit something else) to help myself see my own mistakes.

Of my thirteen books, here's the fastest and slowest (I'm ignoring the 200,000 book I wrote in longhand and then typed and edited):

1. I wrote a first draft (of 50,000 words) in three days (and then wrote almost nothing for months). Bizarrely, it turned out not to need much editing, so it's only had about five drafts (some of them little more than a read-through), totalling about a hundred hours. So altogether, I reckon it took about 150 hours. It's currently 65,000 words.

2. I wrote a 50,000 first draft for NaNoWriMo 2004, again taking less than a hundred hours. But since then, I've done about twenty-five drafts - many of them very major (one involved throwing away the second and third book in the trilogy - that hurt, but it was necessary). At its longest, it was 120,000 words. It's currently 85,000 words and in need of another minor edit (I changed a character from good to evil to add tension). I'd estimate 500 hours over seven years.

Neither of these takes into account the amount of time spent with the novel bubbling in the back of my mind - a crucial part of the process that usually takes years.

I've written a book a year for thirteen years (on average). I don't deliberately write one a year; it just works out that way. I've read somewhere that the "average" writer produces one a year.
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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by GKJeyasingham » July 10th, 2011, 9:24 pm

Woah, you guys write fast. I tend to write in short "bursts" - three to five hundred words per day, then I'm done. It also depends on what I'm writing. I find that I'm able to write parts with dialogue faster than parts without, simply because I always try to coat my dialogue with a few layers of description (which I don't really have to think about too much).

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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by Quill » July 11th, 2011, 1:16 am

Yep, God bless you fast writers. I write like molasses flows on a winter's day in the Canadian Rockies. Research, field trips, first draft, revisions, polishing, queries, and synopses, it takes time.

I spend five hundred hours on hemming and hawing alone in between writing the book. Roughly two-fifty on hemming, and two-fifty on hawing.

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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by oldhousejunkie » July 12th, 2011, 12:57 pm

Well it took me 10 years to finish The Enemy Within... So I guess that means I need to get on with it and cut that time down by 95%. My new novel is moving just as slowly, but I am determined to get it polished off in a year. I hope I'm not being overly ambitious!

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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by bcomet » July 12th, 2011, 1:32 pm

There is a LOT of dreamtime and outline and character development time that I go through that probably looks like I am just doodling and/or staring off into space that goes into my novel-writing.

Somewhere between 1 and 3 years, a novel will be sitting before me, all fluffy and ready to go to the party.

But there are projects that are just out the gate and others that stroll.

I'm afraid I can be too good at procrastinating sometimes, but it helps my pace when there is someone waiting for it, wanting it.

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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by Leonidas » July 12th, 2011, 1:52 pm

I've been writing my WiP off and on for about the past two and a half years. That includes two NaNo wins, with two completely seperate drafts. Now I'm rewriting it again and by this May I need to have a polished, readable story. The only reason May is my deadline is because my school set it for me -- working on your WiP for an independent study means that you no longer set your own goals, and you get to add on the guilt of "i'm not doing my schoolwork" in the summer.

It's fun.

If I wrote every single day like I wrote for NaNo (at least 1,667 words a day), I could probably finish writing a manuscript in a year. I think I'm going to make that my new resolution (starting tomorrow): Write everyday like it's NaNo time.

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Re: Novel Writing: How Long Does One Take?

Post by trixie » July 12th, 2011, 2:29 pm

I agree with Leonidas. I've won NaNo the past two years but in the 11 other months, I've fiddled around with edits, redoing some scenes, and not putting my best effort forward.

I believe if I really TRIED, I could write two books a year. Not good books that were finished and edited, but good enough for my standards. However, I settle for one. For now... :)

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