Elizabeth: Book Done Yet?

Before I get to today’s post, I want to give a shout-out to Eight Lady Jeanne, who recently said good-bye to the day job in order to devote all her time to writing, with the intention of publishing a trilogy of paranormal romances early next year.

Yay, Jeanne!

I’ll admit to being envious.  My fondness for shoes, books, and travel (not necessarily in that order), along with a job that has turned into something really great in recent months, pretty much guarantees I won’t be making that kind of life change any time soon.   I’ll definitely be living vicariously through Jeanne though, and cheering when I can finally click “buy” for her books.

Completing a book and finally being able to release it into the wild (aka publishing it), brings me to today’s post.  Do you find yourself fielding the “is your book done yet?” question from friends, family, or well-meaning strangers?

When I started working on my first book after the McDaniel program, I used to hear that fairly frequently from a variety of sources; frankly, more frequently than I liked, as the writing process dragged on and on.  Now, on book three (with the first two not really fit for public consumption), I haven’t heard the question in a while.  I’m not sure if folks have lost interest or if they just realize the writing process takes as long as it takes.

I know the process has certainly taken longer than I expected it would back at my first RWA Conference in New York when I made the decision to “give this writing thing a try.”

For fun, I asked Google today:  “How long does it take to write a book?”

The answer:       Six months.

No really, that’s the answer that came up, along with this text:

“It can take a long time to write a novel, if you’re doing research or you get stuck, or if you’re fine-tuning sentences or having trouble with point of view. On the other hand, other writers, like author Jane Green, whose newest novel, Tempting Fate, is a NYT best-seller, writes her books in six months” ~ Huffington Post, .May 20, 2014

Fortunately, further down in the results set, I found an answer I liked a little better:

“Writing a novel takes as long you want or need it to take. . . As long as it takes to write a good book for readers and to satisfy yourself as an artist. Nothing else matters.” ~ Holly Robinson, Author

I’ve had to adjust my expectations about how long it should take to write a book from my early optimistic days.  Among other things, I woefully underestimated the challenge of combining writing with a full-time job.  This year, having been reminded that democracy is a participatory activity, that challenge has been even greater.  I also underestimated the difficulty of getting those great scenes out of my head and onto the page consistently.

Fortunately, when I start to feel discouraged at my snail’s-pace-progress since completing the McDaniel program, I can head over to the Argh Ink website of our mentor/teacher Jenny Crusie for confirmation that writing takes as long as it takes even for award-winning authors.

Naively, I started out writing with a spreadsheet (I am a numbers person after all), mapping out how much I needed to write each day in order to meet an arbitrary deadline that seemed reasonable.  There were, of course, charts.  Things kind of went off the rails fairly quickly.

Turns out, although I’ve been able to successfully complete a November NaNoWriMo manuscript twice (though the last one took an extra week or four), that’s not a pace I can sustain or that I even want to sustain. Writing to that kind of intense schedule invariably left me stressed and cranky and grasping at excuses not to write, which took the fun out of the whole process.

Live and learn.

Now I’m following a more relaxed path to the finish line and focusing on enjoying the process along the way, rather than making myself crazy over the end result.

So, how long does it take to write a book?  I’ll let you know when I get to “The End.”

In the meantime, what kind of expectations did you have when you first started writing and what would your answer to “how long does it take to write a book” be?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Book Done Yet?

  1. I love this post. It reminds of what a fellow writer recently told me at a writing retreat about writing. You don’t know what you don’t know. What that means to me in writing my books is I don’t know somethings about writing and some things I don’t know that I don’t know, so that being said sometimes it takes some of us longer to write books than others…and that’s okay.

    • Glad you liked the post Janice, and you’re right, the writing process is full of things we don’t know and things we don’t know we don’t know. That’s the fun of it though, right? Uncovering all those things and figuring them out.

      Good luck with your writing.

  2. First, thanks for the good wishes. I timed my retirement to start the first of May, when the weather would be nice so I could be outdoors while all my former workmates were slaving away inside. So far, I’ve spent the one nice day cutting grass, but it can’t rain forever (glares balefully at the sodden cloud cover overhead).

    I can complete a first draft (while working a real job) in about six months. Unfortunately, it’s still unknown how long it takes to turn those first drafts (I have two of them now) into publishable final products.

    I’ll let you know when I figure that out.

    • Bummer about the rain . . .maybe Mother Nature is trying to keep you from distractions 🙂

      That’s great that you can complete a first draft in six months, even if it needs additional work. That seems like a reasonable time-frame to work towards. Looking forward to seeing your final products when they’re ready.

  3. I think I could crank one out in three months, but it wouldn’t be consumable product. It’d have great, big gaping holes and lots of bandaids slapped over those holes.

    (-: My standards say nothing I’ve done so far (novel-wise) is good enough. So, it’s just a matter of learning what’s blocking me, and what I need to improve on. (I say that like it’s simple, ha-ha-ha.)

    Right now, it’s often a matter of knowing when to let an old project go, and taking on a new project. I don’t want to be one of Those Writers who have never finished a book, but just keep flitting to the new one in search of . . . I don’t know what. Automated writing? Channeling a spirit? The Book That Writes Itself. I realize that sort of thing is a zillion to one chance (and those who have done it may be . . . filtering reality to some extent).

    I’d be happy if I could stick to a short story long enough to finish it . . . .

    Writing sprints are fairly quick; they have to be less than 1000 words (well, just about?). And I can keep a thousand words in my head at the same time — at least the conceptual idea behind them.

    If I could write a thousand words a day, and then after a few months, I’d have . . . okay, we all know that road leads to madness. It only works in retrospect, I think. “Wow, I stuck with it, wrote 1000 words a day, and look what I’ve got!”

    • Three months for a draft sounds pretty good to me, Michaeline, regardless of whether there are gaping holes and/or band aids. At least at that point you’d have something concrete to work with. Glad the writing sprints are working out for you – you always come up with such creative responses to those. I’m envious of your abilities there.

  4. I love the question, “Have I read anything you’ve written?” Seriously, how the hell would I know? Given that I’ve only put out one fiction book to date and most of my freelance writing work was proprietary work product for corporations, I can pretty comfortably just say ‘no’. It’s still annoying. I think they’re probably getting at the question of what I write – what genre, what kinds of stories – but just don’t know how to articulate it.

    I know several writers, even ones who are traditionally multi-published, who want to avoid questions about what they’re currently writing and when it will be done and whether random person asking the question will like it (again, seriously???) so badly that they actively avoid the topic of what they do for a living. One friend actually lies about it. She says, “I’m a fiction writer. It’s good practice.”

    • Nancy, I’m with you on the “Have I read anything you’ve written” question. I like to give those folks the benefit of the doubt that they’re just asking “what do you write,” but it irritates me each time, although “are you still working on that same book” is even worse.

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