Monday, June 30, 2008

The slow passage of time. Or not. Or something.

I'm seeing a lot of discussion around the internet these days about how long it takes to write a book. And whether one book a year is too much to expect. And if we're sacrificing quality, and all of that stuff.

It's sort of an odd subject for me, because I write fast. My current WIP is taking me longer to write than any other book save the very first one I ever wrote (one day I'm going to find that thing--it survived in hard copy somewhere, I think the garage--and post a little of it somewhere so we can all bask in the suckitude. Really. Just awful.) Anyway, that one ended up clocking in at about 100,000 words by MS count. A lot of it was padding.

It took me roughly four months to write, I believe.

The current WIP is at 13 weeks. 97k words. And I am literally writing the last few pages as we speak. Well, technically, literally, I'm writing this blog entry as we speak, but you know what I mean. I'm writing the last scene of the WIP, I'm just taking a break. But the book is effectively done, at least the first draft. All mysteries have been solved, everyone's died who's going to die and everyone's lived who's going to live, and I have two little loose ends to clear up, one in the form of a casual pick-up who must be dealt with somehow and the other I'm not revealing.

And that is the second-longest it's ever taken me to write a book.

Even then, really, I guess I need to take a few weeks out of those 13. Because at least two full weeks were taken up with edits. Then there was the week I lost to the stomach flu. And various other odds-and-ends: a night I went to bed early, or there was a movie we wanted to watch, or whatever. So I guess in terms of actual writing time I think 9 or 10 weeks is probably a fair count.

The thing is, I do write rather fast. And I do set high goals for myself and I do force myself to meet those goals, as a rule. I do that in part because I believe the book loses freshness and urgency if I dawdle too much. But I also do that in part so I can afford to take the occasional night off, or so if I lose a week due to a stomach flu it's not the end of the world.

And then there's editing. This project will be fairly edit-heavy, I think, but even then I'll probably devote two or three solid weeks to it. That's about what edits usually take for me, re-reading, re-reading, re-reading again, making notes, playing with sentences, moving scenes around, filling out or thinning subplots and adding in stuff I decided would be cool at the end and so need to go back and foreshadow.

So working at my laziest pace, a novel (from start to complete edited ms) takes me, say, four to five months.

The thing is, I've always thought that was pretty standard. Or even that I'm rather slow at times. But I guess not.

What do you think? Or are you tired of this subject?


BernardL said...

It always comes back to personal style, D. If the book sucks when it's finished, it won't matter whether it took a month to complete or a year. The reverse is also true. :)

Amie Stuart said...

I think what really bugs me about this is that the original articles that spawned this discussion pertained to NYT Bestselling authors who get paid 7 figures a book. I can't seem to dredge up a lot of sympathy.

I can write fairly fast (depending on the book...right now I'm a bit burnt out) so 2 a year is comfortable for me. I'd like to do more but I have a dayjob and kids. As a reader I'd rather see 1 or 2 well-edited books a year from my fave authors than 4 sloppy first drafts and yes, I do think quality can suffer. ANd yes, I think a book benefits from resting before it's edited.

laughingwolf said...

what b sez...

i like to stow the completed ms away for a longish time, then edit/re-write, furiously, before kicking it out there

i'm talking screenplays, have yet to tackle a novel....

Bernita said...

The time thing can vary from writer to writer and from book to book.
And some people are just faster than others.
I'm slowest in the thinking times that preceeds a story.

Charles Gramlich said...

If I were able to write full time it would probably take me 5 to 6 months to finish a Taleran book, at about 70,000 words, and probaly a year to finish a thriller like Cold in the Light. As it is, with writing between work, it takes me much longer.

bettie said...

I consider myself a fairly fast writer, once I get in gear. But, for me, an idea has to spin around a bit in my head--it's kind of like when you're riding a 10-speed, and you switch gears. You may have to pedal a few useless cycles before the gears catch and you get going.

Problem is, the more I've got going on in my life, the longer it takes to get in gear (work out the bugs in the plot, solidify the characters in my head, etc.). Since I started this whole work/school/write thing, writing has been like pulling teeth.

Obviously, a new system is required. Now, if only I could figure out what that is... :(

Seeley deBorn said...

If I can get through my next novel in less than 2 years I'll be thrilled. Since this was my first, and I had no clue what I was doing when I started (seriously. didn't even know what POV was, didn't know how it was going to end and actually thought I was writing a 15k novella) I'm thinking the next should take me between 6 and 8 months. I don't count the full time job, the cross country move etc in my time, because I know that even with those things I still would have needed 2 years to finish the damn thing.

There have been times I've read a book and came away feeling like it was banged out in a couple of months in order to meet a contract deadline, and at least one author I know of has said she never wants to contract 2 books a year ever again. I think in general 6 months to a year seems reasonable. But that's just for the writing...plotting and research and whatnot would have to come before. For me anyway. My process of actually deciding on the plot and characters is excrutiatingly slow. Writing seems fast in comparisson. 2 years, fast. I'm going to be dead before I get a writing career off the ground.

Unless someone invents something that will just take the picutres from my head and slam them into a .doc file with no typing involved. I'll bet I could shave off a month or 2 by making it over 40 words a minute...

kirsten saell said...

I'm a pantser, I begin with a scene and go from there. I don't even always know who the heroine(s) and hero(es) are at the start.

That leads to a fair number of breaks where I don't know quite where to go, and it can take a week or two of not writing to figure that out. I usually have an end in mind--the bad guy dies, good guys live happily ever after, vague much?--but I honestly don't know how to get there until the last minute sometimes.

I'm lucky in that when it's flowing, I can do a lot--10k in a day more than once. And it's clean--I usually only spend a few days in edits (two read-throughs where I tweak sentences and fix continuity errors) and off it goes. So far, in two books, the most I've had to rewrite for my editor was a paragraph she thought was too over the top.

I've often thought my process was too organic. I don't have a daily writing routine, I don't have concrete goals, other than "If I don't get the ms in by October, it won't release in January, and boy it better be clean if I'm gonna cut it that fine!".

But then I think about character bios and outlines and timelines and deadlines and it gives me hives. *shudder*

Amie Stuart said...

Betti I totally fall into the "I use a slow-cooker for my ideas" camp!

cindy said...

i think you may be a pro now. it takes me about 4 to 5 months to write a rought draft BUT probably at least 3 or 4 months to research and a year to revise. (multiple revisions, also using notes from crit groups.)

now that i'm contracted, things may work differently, which makes me very nervous. since really, this is only the second novel i'll have written ever (the sequel) under stricter constraits and with probably higher expectations.


Anonymous said...

I'm like Kirsten in that I really don't know much when I start writing but I have only written 2 book-length stories.

Most of my tripe is short stories and poetry written via my "don't think, write" style. I am a true poetaster.

I agree with bernita that it varies (and it should) from person to person.

Anonymous said...

I likely could write a full novel (I typically do three drafts a book) in four or five months. But with nothing selling at the moment I'm letting myself write leisurely. I let myself get distracted because, if things work out, in the future I won't have that time.

However, a major part of writing is discipline, being able to sit down and easily get into the "writer mindset", being able to brain storm your way through a lull, judge word length and pacing etc. I think that's what a first novel is, learning how to do all that, all the little things you never realize must be learned. Once you get practiced at those things you can stop working on writing a novel and start working at writing a good novel :)

Sylvia said...

I do that in part because I believe the book loses freshness and urgency if I dawdle too much.

This is critical, I think. I had an article idea two weeks ago that I put off writing (because there were other things more urgent) and now I am finding it hard to approach it at all. Meanwhile, another piece which I know is not-that-good-a-concept got finished, because I did it on the spot rather than trying to schedule it it.

I presume I would suffer from the same problem * 10 with a novel!