How Long Should Writing Take?

I recently followed a thread on Twitter asking a simple question:

The responses which Morgan Wright received ranged from the lengthy and philosophical “46 years, going on 47…” –Rob Grant, “70+ years…” –Donovan Baldwin, to the incredibly brief “One to three months, depending on length” –Kevin Potter, but the majority fell into a clear window:

About six months to a year.

And that sounds right to me. Every article I’ve ready from professional authors suggests that writing every day is essential to building the habit, the mental muscles, the ingrained attitude of creation that is essential for the craft of writing.

Your first novel might take you longer than a year to write. Indeed, as two of the comments above suggest, many people believe that your first novel will take you {time since you were born} years to write. There are also many writers who will spend years carefully crafting their masterwork novel while churning out “lesser” works to pay the bills.

But the essential thing to remember is that writers write.

And you shouldn’t get to precious about your novel being perfect.

But how do I write a whole book in a year?

There are essentially two schools of writing and, like any truly powerful Jedi, most successful authors find a way of operating in the shadows between them.

On the light side, the side of order and rules, we have the planners. The writers who will construct a detailed outline of every event which will happen in their novel, as well as character biographies and encyclopedias of the rules which govern their imagined universe. Then, when the time comes to “write” the novel, the author essential fills in the skeleton of the outline with enjoyable prose and witty dialogue, bringing the whole novel to a conclusion within a few short weeks.

On the dark side, we have the agents of chaos: The writers who go, “I’ve got an idea!” and dive into their novel with a fistful of stock characters and weird settings, emerging from the midnight swamp a few months later with a complete wreck of a novel, which they then spend a few weeks massaging into a more recognizable form.

In the parlance of NaNoWriMo, these two schools are often called planners and pantsers, as in “flying by the seat of your pants.

Do what works for you!

Really, there is no law to writing except the first rule: WRITE.

(Okay, there are actually lot of rules and I’ll probably post a few rants about easy to fix problems that I keep seeing in writing, but right now the most important thing is to actually write. Once you have words on the page, they can be fixed with enough effort. Until then, all you have is ideas.)

I am going to offer you a guideline though: If you are genuinely writing at least one page a day, then you should finish your novel in a year. Two years at the most, and only if you keep getting distracted by other projects or the demands of real life.

If you’ve been writing the same book for five years, and it’s the first book that you’ve written, I’m going to go out on a limb over a toxic swamp and suggest (in the nicest possible way) that you bury that novel in the bottom of your hard drive and write something else. You’re stuck. You’re being too careful. You need to try something new.