How long does it it really take?

I’ve been poring over my calendar this week, trying to assess what is realistic for me to achieve for the rest of this year (so far it’s gone WAY too fast!) – I’m half way through one WIP and have just the first few initial chapters and a draft proposal for another – so I’m trying to decide whether I can complete one or both of these projects and keep my sanity (that last bit is optional!).

Going through this process has made me realize just how little I keep track of the time it takes me to actually complete a novel – from initial research and drafts to the final version that is ready to be sent out on submission. My first book  probably took about a year and a half, the second a year…the third about the same (although it took much longer before it saw the light of day). One project, however, took almost two years to complete with a great deal of interaction and revision on the question of mythology and backstory with my agent and beta readers. However, beyond this, I can’t say I really know in quantitative terms how much time it takes me to finish a novel.

One of my author friends records her writing time in hour and minute increments so she can quantify just how much time it takes to finish her novels. I’m (sadly) nowhere near as organized and so my estimates are based on little more than cumulative time taken rather than hours actually spent (and let’s face it some days are way more productive than others!).

I know that when under pressure or deadline I can write efficiently and effectively (fear and panic are great motivators )- otherwise, I  find (at least at the beginning of a project) a great deal of dithering and second guessing especially over whether I’ve chosen the right book to pursue next (though don’t we always doubt this when we start a project?!). This year, in particular, has involved a lot of uncertainty and second guessing but now (I think) I’ve selected the projects to be finished. The question is, can I do it? Which led me to wonder, how long does it actually take most people to complete a novel? (I guess I’ve only just realized how few people I’ve asked this question).

So this means over to you TKZers…How long on average does it take you to go from the start (rough and horrid) to the end (polished and ready for publication)? Do you keep track of your writing time so you actually know how many hours it takes? And if so, do you then know how this time is divided into drafting that first draft, versus research or revisions and editing?  For someone like me, who has frankly never even considered using a time sheet or evaluating how I spend (or don’t spend) my writing time, do you recommend using any time management tools that enable you to (realistically) answer the question – just how long does it really take you to complete a novel?


9 thoughts on “How long does it it really take?

  1. I keep a simple spreadsheet of daily word count, so I can go back and see when I started putting words on the page (and since I’m not an outliner/plotter, that’s usually close to the start of the project). Tracking hours? That would be impossible (for me), since I write in many short sessions most of the time. Checking my spreadsheet, I started working on my last novel on Feb. 16th, finished the draft on August 16th (and there was a bunch of time off for edits on the previous one), and I sent it to my editor on August 25th.

  2. Thanks Terry – I don’t keep track of anything at the moment though I have attempted checking word count totals and then that always falls by the by. Thanks for the info though – you’re certainly faster than me:)

  3. I’d say nine months is my average. It takes about five months to write the book; one to two months for several revision sweeps, and another month at the front end for research and plotting.

  4. No matter how you work, it takes exactly the same amount of time to write a book. What changes is the amount of wasted time you put in-between you work periods.

    I don’t keep track of time spent but I do keep a to-do list in a large, written daily planner (Thanks Staples). It is great fun to check off the 2k words written one day and the review of the work the next. This helped me reduce my overall writing time from a year to 6 months for a 90k novel. Try it. It might work for you.

  5. It takes me three months to draft, two more months to revise/rewrite, another two months for beta readers, another two or three months for editing … So, eight or nine months per book. I try to have a couple of books in different stages all the time, so I can release three books a year. I’m experimenting with the outlining method in the book Take Off Your Pants in an attempt to speed up production. Seems to be working so far, but I haven’t hit the Big Swampy Middle of my WIP yet. 🙂

  6. There was a time when I tried to keep careful records of word count by day. Now, I have no idea what I’d say if someone asked how long it took me to finish my current project. I started it around 2005, put it away, brought it out again at various times for revision (mostly between other projects), and finally declared it finished enough to submit this year. I mean, really, ten years? Would we call that obsessive….or just ridiculous?

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