I was having a conversation with some fellow book coaches recently when one of them described a client who was struggling. But the struggle wasn’t with plot or character or voice. It was with the idea that writing is a slow process, taking as long as it needs to take and sometimes a lot longer than we writers would like.
This writer thought it was time to hurry-the-heck-up, already.
So I thought it might be instructive to give you a couple of answers to my titular question.
How Long Is Long?
Here’s the example for my middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.
- December 2012: The idea for the story comes in the form of an image. After some brainstorming, I begin to draft a synopsis
- January – April 2013: I begin writing drafts. The numbers of drafts written during that time: 15
- Remainder of 2013: More drafts: 14 total
- Winter/spring of 2014: My agent, after sending me revision notes and having me revise and return to her, sends the manuscript out on submission. Kendra Levin at Viking buys the book summer 2014. She sends me her first set of notes in mid-fall 2014.
- All of 2014: More drafts and revisions both before and after book is sold to Kendra: 22 total
- All of 2015: More revisions with Kendra: 5 total. The book goes through copyedits: 4 total rounds, ending in April 2015.
- The book is published in March 2016.
So, let’s recap. The number of drafts and revisions in total: 60. The length of time it took me to write and revise before the book was sold: 18 months. The length of time between the book’s sale to Kendra and its pub date: 18 months.
Total time from idea to book on shelf: 36 months. Three years.
How Short Is Short?
Some books take longer, some take shorter. For example, the book I’m writing right now has been in my head and my working life since the fall of 2010. That’s 12 years, and I may (may, mind you) now have a “final” draft. I didn’t bother to count the number of drafts because it clearly is well over 60. And FYI: I actually sold this book in an earlier form to Kendra, but it fell apart and we had to abandon the novel. Notice that I have not abandoned it – the idea won’t leave me alone. So, I’ve kept revising.
On the other hand, my most recent book, CARRY ME HOME, took almost no time for me to write. I wrote the first draft in August 2019, and I logged 4 drafts. It sold in December 2019 to Krista Vitola at Simon Kids, and we had the final copyedits finished by summer 2020. The book published in August 2021.
That’s only two years from idea to publication, and with fewer than 10 drafts/revisions/edits.
BUT…………I’d been thinking about the idea behind CARRY ME HOME for at least 5 years before I sat down to write. I was carrying the concept of a homeless family around in my head and didn’t write it until I knew how to express what I was feeling about it.
So really, instead of taking a month to write, the book took me 5 years to write. Just many fewer revisions, fewer drafts than usual.
Add to that, CARRY ME HOME is a relatively short contemporary story. THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, and my work in progress are both long fantasies with complicated plots.
So, How Long?
Writing a book takes as long as it takes. Let yourself be inspired and don’t think you will do it all at once. It will take months. More likely it will take years. And even when you think you’re done, you’re almost always not.
A book coach can help you see your way through, and a good book coach will not tell you your book is ready to submit until it is.
Meantime, keep writing!!