Reader Friday: How Fast?

I usually write a play in six days. A novel takes a month. – William Saroyan

What’s your normal turnaround time for a full-length novel? Do you set deadlines for yourself? Does it vary from project to project?

Do you wish you could write faster? Or is your pace just fine?

19 thoughts on “Reader Friday: How Fast?

  1. Normally, a first draft takes me about 4 months. I will say, 2020 was not normal, but I put out two books and my next should be coming out in February.

  2. My goal is: rough draft in three months, initial editing and beta reader feedback in two months, final editing in one month. Thus far I always get behind, or rather, something else gets in the way.

    I would like to write two books a year. I’m closing down a business (my day job) and hope to have much more time to write in “retirement.”

    Carpe tempore.

  3. First draft in 5-6 months (if I’m well organized). I wouldn’t mind writing a little faster (say a draft every 4 months), but a book a month, such as the Saroyan quote, would be overwhelming to me. I have a feeling I’d lose interest in writing if I tried to draft a book a month — even if I wasn’t spreading myself around to other interests as well. I’d love to know the secret to avoiding burnout for those who produce a book a month.

  4. Y’all are inspiring.

    I wrote my first 3 books (not novels) between 2016 and 2018, releasing one a year. I’ve been working on my first 2 novels for about 2 years. Sometimes I do wish I could write faster, but that’s not a skill I’ve developed…yet…and not sure I want to.

    Several months ago, I ran across an author online (whose name I’ve forgotten) who claimed to have written and released a book every month for the last few years. How can that possibly be done? 🙂

    • A majority of self-pubs with such a fast release are writing novellas, not novels, which are a third or less in word length of the average novel. The thought process is that faster output means more books out so more readers.

  5. Timely topic, Jim. I just finished another first draft in a based-on-true-crime series (Book 7), and I keep a journal of what I do in a day by the quarter-hour blocks. I know my figures are about as accurate as I can get. Here’s the breakdown for this draft that I’d like to share with others if it can be of some help/interest:

    Total Word Count – 53,950
    Total Draft Days Spent – 24
    Total Hours Spent – 57.25
    Average Words Per Day – 2450
    Average Words Per Hour – 942.4

    I started this draft on Nov 22 and finished on Jan 03. There was a fair amount of downtime over Christmas as well as I have an unrelated business I attend to part-time for the first two weeks every month. I’m half-way through edits and will have the ms off to the proofreader by Monday. She has a week turnaround, so I’ll comfortably have this published by month’s end.

    My plan (goal) is to have 6 books this length done in 2021 (1 every 2 months) which I achieved last year, therefore this is realistic unless I get run over by a bus in the meantime.

    BK asked about burnout which is very relevant. To me, writing isn’t work. There’s nothing else I’d rather do at this stage in life (I’m 64). However… there’s a mental limit as to what I can put out without the product going to excrement. The highest word count in one day was 3961 in 4.0 actual working hours and I’d had enough.

    If there’s a secret (and I don’t think there is) is to get the butt in the chair and get the fingers on the keys. I take regular breaks – about an hour writing and 15-20 minutes off. I also set a goal of completing chapters (scenes) rather than trying to achieve a specific word count. It’s like old Anne Lamont says, “Take it bird by bird, buddy.”

    • Excellent, Garry. The bit about taking regular breaks is apt for any writer. No doubt you’ve heard of the Pomodoro method. When I take a break I like to lie on the floor with my legs on the bed or a chair and let some blood flow to the noggin.

    • Great advice, Garry. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard. I like your time tracking. I might do this in 30 minute increments, but 15 would really keep me honest. I need to be a much better boss of myself 🙂 I’m about to turn 60, and want to use my time to write as much as possible going forward.

    • My goal this year is to learn butt-in-chair and actually writing during that time instead of wasting my valuable brain energy doing who-knows-what on the internet.

      Quick question – are the books you’re writing now in the same series as your true crime?

  6. I have to echo Garry above about this being a timely topic, Jim. When my writing is running smoothly it takes me about 6-8 weeks to produce a draft. Factor in revision, beta reading, more revision, a run by my editor, proof reading, plus the outlining on the front end, and 5-6 months to produce a book. That was the case for me in 2016 through mid 2018.

    Then I started a second urban fantasy series with great expectations, and it took me a year to produce the book. I then went back to my first series at the end of 2019, and wrote the final book in about five months (not counting some journaling months earlier). I tried to write a sequel to the great expectations novel, but found after a few months I couldn’t make it work, so I put it aside.

    Then I began brainstorming and outlining my first mystery, in September, and started the draft on November 1st. It’s been slow going, in part because it’s a new genre, but also because I tried to draft another fantasy novel at the same time, beginning in December. After five weeks, I realized that was working, and I’ve committed myself to finishing the first draft of my library mystery by January 31.

    I’d say the biggest impediment to my producing a novel faster is both producing an outline that works faster and giving myself the opportunity to discovery write in flow state once I’m drafting. I need a blueprint before I start a novel, but I also must listen to my subconscious when drafting, it can come up with some awesome material.

  7. Varies. Most of my SF novels come in at around 50,000 words and take a little less than 2 weeks. The longest (in another genre) came in at 126,000 words and took 32 days.)

    I cycle as I go, so I write a clean first draft and am finished. I often write 2 novels in a month. When I finish, I send the novel off to a first-reader to check for typos and consistency issues, spend a half-hour or so apply those then publish.

    No deadlines, but I use a daily word-count goal of 4000 words of publishable fiction.

    I don’t wish I could write “faster” (I write about 1200 words per hour, or around 20 words per minute… slow) but I do wish I would spend more of the time I’m in the chair actually writing fiction.

  8. Great question/topic. Like the earth orbiting around the sun, I’m currently on a yearly schedule. And there is a season for each part of my process.

    The first season is for wandering around, playing with concepts, drafting a premise, daydreaming, looking at clouds. Once I’m focused on my story, I start reading and researching. And because I’m now in SciFi/Alt History/Fantasy, I read books, articles, research studies, looking to see how they intersect with my emerging story, which I outline in broad structural elements. In Spring’s second season, I start drafting, shooting for a scene a day, sometimes making it, sometimes not. I’ve also started playing with cover designs to keep me focused and inspired. The Fall season is for self-editing, reading “dummy” books of my draft that I’ve ordered from KDP, and finally sending a decent MS to my Dev Editor. After editorial fixes and corrections, I’m now in Winter, and it’s time for Beta readers. Once those are back, and after I’ve got a final draft, I finish the cover and interior designs (I’m 100% Indie and do it all) and hit “Publish” on Amazon. The rest of my year is spent on early promotion and marketing. And exhaling and relaxing a bit before my next orbit starts.

    Maybe I’ll speed things up someday. I’ve recently read that the earth is rotating faster on its axis now. Guess I’ll have to go faster to keep up with it.

  9. I spend about a month thinking about the story, working out my characters and their backstory, and writing the white-hot document. Once I start the actual book, which is between 90k and 100k, it takes me about three months to lay down the first draft which is always the suspense line. Then I go back and add in the romance…it’s much easier for me to put my heroine in danger than to get her together with the hero. lol. Altogether, it takes between five and six months to get it ready to submit.

    I’ve enjoyed reading how everyone else writes their stories…but I may have to do Harvey in…or just paint me green. lol

    • I’m a slacker when it comes to the old pulp writers, Patricia. And really, in what other job could I work only four hours a day and not be sacked? Not to mention being considered “fast.”

      • Jeanne, JSB talks about writing the white-hot document when he first starts a story. After he’s put scenes on index cards and arranges them in order, he writes what he knows about the story, almost stream-of-consciousness writing.
        I don’t do the index cards, but once I have a feel for the story and my characters, I write what I know about the story, starting with the beginning.
        The next day, I’ll add to it, or maybe revise some of what I’ve written. It helps me get a ‘feel’ for the story. Check out JSB’s craft book. Plot and Structure..

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