Thursday, March 01, 2018

How long is too long?

I wrote my first novel in about 15 months. It wasn’t very good. I rewrote it several times, and despite all that CPR, it still wasn’t very good. But it was finished. When I got my first book contract, I was obligated to produce a book a year. I finished those first few books in about nine months each.

I’m starting a new series, and the time I’ve spent on this book has me thinking I’ve gone back in time. Life is more complicated now. I have three kids, for one thing. I had a health scare this fall that threw a monkey wrench into my pace. But when I’m done this book, I will have nearly two years into it. Not long, maybe, to some. But for a genre writer, who thinks of himself as a series author, two years seems like a long time.

If you write series –– and I love the process of seeing a character develop from book to book –– two years is too long. Publishers want a book a year. I get that. I grew up eager for spring because I knew the next Spenser novel was coming. You can’t create a brand and then run out of the product.

But we’re not making widgets.

So how long is too long to produce a book? The simple answer is as long as it takes. You need to write the best book you can, especially when you’re launching a new series. And once you “have the voice, the next one is easier,” the saying goes. Maybe.

Stephen King, in On Writing, says three months is optimal. I see his point: you need to be close to the text to follow the plot development. I have an encompassing day job, so writing a book in three months isn’t an option. My way around this is to work in 50-page chunks, writing and editing before moving on. If I hit a wall or have to go a few days without writing, I go back and reread the entire book again. This prevents me from losing significant forward momentum.

So how long does it take me to write a novel? Hopefully not two years each time out. But the answer remains as long as it takes.

I’d love to hear from others regarding this question.


Rick Blechta said...

Yes, Stephen King is probably correct. Three months seems a reasonable time in which to write a novel -- if one is a full-time writer. Let’s face it: it is your day gig at that point.

For those whose writing has to be squeezed in around other work that pays the bills, six, nine or even twelve months is not unreasonable to produce a full-length novel.

John R. Corrigan (D.A. Keeley) said...

And yet here I am more than 18 months in. My surgeries and multiple drafts haven't helped!