Monday, February 11, 2013

32 Years to Write a Novel

Recently, someone mentioned that they were thinking of writing a book and asked me how long it takes to write an entire novel. This person knows I love to write and that I work for hours each day at the craft, and I guess he assumed all writers are alike. It's like building a house, right? A professional contractor can construct an average house in 60 days, so surely there is a standard time frame on writing the average book.  

 My response: It takes 32 years to write a novel.

In January, 2009, I began writing what I call a 'big book', Ragtown, a historical novel set during the building of the Hoover Dam. I finished it in November, 2011 and in December of that year, started querying it.  The exciting thing about that time was the quick responses I had to look at pages, which only convinced me that yes, it was a 'big book'.  I started writing a second novel in January. Might as well have the next one ready, right?

What was not nearly as exciting about that time were the rejections.  The writing they loved, the story they loved, but 1.and 2.and 3.and... After several months of this, I had to face the fact that although I loved the story, all of the comments I had received were valid. And it was time to kill my darlings.

It's not that I have a problem revising, not at all. But no one could pinpoint exactly what it was that Ragtown needed or lacked.  I certainly couldn't, as I was too close to the manuscript, and I tweaked and cut and added and reworded and...until I felt brain fluid leaking out my nose.  The problem was definitely in the first 75 pages, but, what, exactly? Four well established professional authors, two editors, twelve critical readers and thirty rejections later, I still wasn't satisfied.

So I started with page 1. I know that sounds like the obvious place to start, but for a writer, it's 'easier' to just revise what you've written. However, I had a half completed manuscript stuck in a drawer that I just decided wasn't the book I wanted to write, so I knew it was the right way to go.  And I began:

Once Upon A Time, in a land where hand cramps and eye strain rule...

I rewrote the first 75 pages. And again. And again. And again. Back through the channels of editors, writers, readers and rewrote again. And again. And again.

Today, 3 years and 1 month after I began this 'big book', I am satisfied--no, thrilled--with the first 28 pages.  28? What happened to 75? Well, after reading all of the comments from those above, I figured out the problem.  Going through the rest of the manuscript is proving to be--I don't want to use the word easy, because writing is not an easy game--but manageable. I know the problem. I know how to fix it, and I'm burning through pages now like a wildfire on crack.

Since I'm a tireless worker and don't seem to require much sleep, I should have it completed and ready to attack the query trail again in just a few months. I'm excited about it this time: for the right reasons.

3 years and 30 days to finally be satisfied with 28 pages. That is 32 years to write an entire novel.  Sound easy? Go for it.


Soon to rise from the depths of the Colorado River:  RAGTOWN (again)  


Anonymous said...

I hope this doesn't sting but I'm anticipating finishing the novel I'm working on by the end of this week. I'm looking at around 75k words for a length and a total rough draft time of 2 weeks.

To be fair, I've written a lot of books. It takes me typically 3 - 8 weeks to write one, depending on how things go. I'm anticipating releasing #30 this month (and the one I'm writing will be #31).

Yes, I started out being accepted at a publisher but have switched to running my own publishing business. That speeds things up and allows me to react to the market, but writing is still writing.

My editors (I have several, all are very professional and skilled these days), seldom call for major revisions to my stories anymore. They used to, but I've learned a lot by working with some knowledgeable (and occasionally sadistic) people.

That's the moral of this comment - stay the course, you'll get there. You'll figure out what works and what doesn't and that will spare you the pain of reinventing the wheel.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Thanks, Jason. And to be fair, the novel I mentioned above that I started last January was rough drafted in three weeks and only took a year for me to love it. I think it depends a lot on the material, too.

Suzanne Shumaker said...

Good wake up call Kelly! So many would-be authors have the idea that writing a book will be easy and publishing a book will be a natural finishing touch. Just not the typical route. You didn't mention the amount of years of formal education you have to back up your work, either.

I guess I look forward to seeing what happens with Ragtown in the next thirty-two years.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

Personally, I don't think formal education has much to do with it. I like that I did get a little, but I also think people learn to write through several different routes including just reading and writing a lot. Believe me, if it takes 32 years, I'm going to keep with this. My dying words may be 'Can I query you with a great historical novel?' LOL

Melody said...

I have been writing for about 2 years now and I have yet to finish a novel. I think it takes time to find your way in the writing world. It takes time to develop your writing style. I'm sure some people can write a novel in no time but it depends on their writing style. I like to write and edit at the same time while others prefer to write out a first draft and edit the draft in its entirety.

Great blog post Kelly! Keep up the good work.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

True, Melody. Different keystrokes for different folks. :)

Marat M'saev Daan said...

I do have one book published so far, but it is a collection of short stories. At the moment I am working on one novel, and I do have to say that for 2 years of writing it, I have 7 written out of 37 chapters. I like to think a lot about my characters, to try to live their lives. If i am not convinced that they can be real nor would be my readers tomorrow when it is finally published. not to mention that I feel like you, i am never satisfied with it and always have to change something. So, my calculating for writing it (with this writing tempo) is 11 years without editing. xD

Beth G. said...

I don't even want to talk about it.

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

11 years, not bad! Good luck, M. :)

Kelly Stone Gamble said...

I remember the satisfaction of writing 'THE END' only to soon realize it was just the beginning.