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.
Now querying THEY CALL ME CRAZY
Soon to rise from the depths of the Colorado River: RAGTOWN (again)