People, I’m here to let you in on a little secret. Ok, a big secret. You may read the title and think to yourself “well, how long does writing a book take?”
If you’re thinking “Oh, how hard could it be?” and have never tried to write even a short story before, stop right there. Please. I’d be happy to talk to you, or answer questions, but don’t try to assume how easy or hard my job is if you’ve never had to do it. My own mother is an aerospace engineer, a literal rocket scientist, and she makes it look easy. But there is no way a job requiring that much math is easy. Just like I have no idea what being an architect is like, so I’m not about to go up to one and say “oh, how hard could it be? It’s just drawing buildings, right?”
Yeah, the architect would probably slap me.
Now, I’m probably not going to slap you if you pull the “how hard could writing be” thing on me, because I don’t like violence (and besides, this is the internet and it’s hard to slap anyone through here), but I can guarantee that saying that to any writer will annoy them.
First, writing fiction is essentially inventing a whole other planet in your brain, then putting it down onto paper. I don’t know about you, but that sounds badass to me.
Second, it’s complicated. Characters are not static. They don’t do what they’re supposed to. The main hero and heroine in my newest book series were supposed to have more of a platonic relationship, but then the romantic chemistry crept in and I had to go change all of the previous relationship. Yeah, a bit weird, considering where I had been going, but I think it improved the books.
Go pick any (good) mystery novel and read through it. I don’t mean right now, because that’ll probably take a whole day at least, but think about it hypothetically. You’ve got your clues, your red herrings (clues that lead to false solutions), and your resolution. The bad guy is caught, goes to jail and/or is killed, and the heroes get to box up their case files and go home. Or on that vacation. Or retire. Or drink themselves into oblivion. Or whatever.
Or how about a romance. That’s an entire book’s worth of little more than sexual tension and something keeping said sexual tension from being resolved. It’s fine if that’s your thing, but… it’s not mine.
Or sci-fi and fantasy, where the writers have to (usually) think up entirely new worlds or societies, their rules, their culture, their heritage, their opinions. It’s enough to drive a person nuts. I spent so much time worrying over this one detail of my made-up steampunk society that I was losing sleep over it.
The detail: Why most of the characters in my fictional city wore sunglasses most of the time. I promise, my story isn’t set in the Matrix.
Stupid little detail, right? But it was important to me, and I wanted there to be a justification beyond “it looks cool.”
(Note: thank you, mom, for helping me work through that funk.)
Yet a lot of writers get weird/judgmental/amused looks when we admit to someone — be it a friend-of-a-friend at your cousin’s friend’s brother’s birthday, or a distant family member who you haven’t seen in months at the family reunion — that we’re unpublished writers. Well, so sorry for not fitting into your idea of a perfect career (stop glaring at me).
Like we’re being judged for not being able to pump books out like babies.
Ok, ew. Bad analogy. But you get my meaning, right? At least with babies, women know approximately how long they’re gonna be stuck with wonky hormones and weird cravings. Books don’t even offer their authors that much. You can bang out a novel on improv in less than a month, or you can map out the details years ahead of time. Either way works. Though I personally wouldn’t do the less-than-a-month technique.
I’ve been working on the first book in my series for at least a year now, maybe almost two. I don’t know how long exactly, because I didn’t record the start date. I thought that at least it would be ready to be published by my birthday this year (in July, in case you were wondering), and all I’d have to worry about would be finding a cover artist and formatting it for ebook.
Surprise, surprise. It’s only about 98% finished. I had to completely re-write it a few months ago (as in, from scratch) because I didn’t know how to fix the many issues it had. It’s much better now, but I still need to proofread and check my math and research in one scene where my heroine uses some code-breaking and astronomy knowledge (thank you, internet) to find a secret left behind by her husband’s family. Of course, that all goes flying out the window if some savvy reader decides to test my math themselves and gets a different answer.
The second book in the same series is probably about 95% finished. I like the changes I’ve made, but a few of them are worded awkwardly, and the whole thing needs to be proofread.
The third book is currently in-progress, with the rough draft maybe two-thirds finished. And it’s so bad it makes me want to cringe or tear my hair out as I write it. But I have to force myself past that because it’s just a rough draft.
Writers, repeat after me: it’s just a rough draft. It will be edited, proofread, buffed, polished, washed, brushed, and made to sparkle by the time anyone other than you, your editor, and/or your cat read it. I promise, your cat is not judging you. (At least, not for your writing.)
As for the writers who have actually finished a novel and published it — and I’m referring to actual good novels that have been professionally written and edited, not the infamous “tsunami of crap” that a lot of people complain about in the ebook market today — I salute you. This is hell on earth.
But it’s your baby. The story is the writer’s baby. You worry over it, slave over it, love your characters and your settings, and you fight to make it all real. It’s something writers share. Even if you’re a romance writer (honestly… how?) and I am most definitely not, we can at least bond over how difficult it was to make and publish. And then it’s released into the wild to be scrutinized and criticized by strangers whom you’ve never met. It’s like letting your young child run wild in a room full of strangers. Albeit, maybe, not quite so dangerous.
I am writing, every day. It’s slow coming, but it’s coming. And as soon as it’s ready, it will be published.
So, my digressions sort of mutated out of control. But to answer the question I asked at the beginning of this article: How long does writing a book take?
Answer: Who the heck knows?
Sorry. If you were looking for some magical one-size-fits-all answer, you’ll have to contact a fortune teller for that.