Monday, March 11, 2013

How Long Should It Take to Write a Novel?

I've seen a lot of blog posts recently with writers complaining about how hard it is to find time to write, or how they've been working on the same story for YEARS and just can't quite get it right.

Here are my thoughts on that subject:

EVERY writer struggles with those same problems.


SUCCESSFUL writers spend less time complaining about it, and instead, learn how to FIX IT.

The reality is that if you are serious about getting published and being successful as an author, you have to figure out what areas you struggle with, and fix them.

When an agent or editor calls, interested in your manuscript, you can bet they will be asking some probing questions. "How long did it take you to write this story?" "What else are you working on?" "Do you have other manuscripts completed?" They don't want authors that can't get the writing done.

Take a step back and look at your writing life through an objective lens. What is it that's holding you back? And how can you fix it?

No time to write? Find some. Get up earlier. Set aside a little chunk of time everyday, and, as Martine Leavitt would say, chip away, chip away, chip away. Make that time count.

Bogged down trying to get your story just right? Find a good critique group--and LISTEN to what they say. Move on. Maybe that story just doesn't work and it's time for something new. Set rules about how much time you can spend editing each day--maybe only allow yourself to re-read the one page previous to where you left off. Five minutes tops.

Plot going nowhere? Try pantsing. Try outlining.

Embarrassed by a hideous first draft? Welcome to the world of writing. That's why I prefer the term rough draft.

Discouraged by negative feedback or a lot of critique from your writers group? Step away. Let their comments percolate. They're not trying to be hurtful, they're trying to help your story. EVERY writer--no matter how good--can still improve. If you need warm fuzzies, ask your spouse to read it and have them tell you only the things they liked.

My point is, to be successful in this business, you have to be able to get the manuscripts written. Written, polished, and ready to go.

Figure out what's holding you back, and FIX IT.

DON'T compare yourself to other authors, you aren't them. Experiment, learn, and find out what works for you.


  1. Great post. I love what James A. Owen says about this. "If you really, really want to do something, no one can stop you. If you really don't want to do something, no one can help you. The choice is always entirely up to you."

  2. Inspiring post! Goes along with Brooke's about hard work. It's much easier to complain than to work on fixing something, but in the long run the complaining won't pay off (doesn't really pay off in the short run either, I suppose).
    I'm not a writer, but I am a semi-professional whiner, so I have some experience in that area. I find that I often get bogged down by wanting to do something perfectly (motherhood, church callings, etc.). Since perfection isn't possible I do nothing at all! Making yourself try something, even if it may very well end in disaster, is so difficult. But sometimes the trick is just moving forward in the direction that looks the best and learning as you go. Doing something is nearly always better than doing nothing. I think you could also say that writing something is nearly always better than writing nothing.
    You're a great writer and all around productive person!

  3. That is some great advice. I am working on my first book that has transformed its story three times on me now. I was frustrated at first for not being able to complete what I had set out to write at first but I am thankful that my imagination runs as wild as it does because it is giving me a wealth of ideas that I can use at another time. So, like you said, I am not going to complain that I am having a hard time writing, I am going to slap myself in the face, say grow up, and finish this journey like you set out to do. Can't wait to read your new book and good luck.

  4. Well said. One of my friends just wrote, revised, and sold her newest novel in 2 months. That is rare. Big time rare. But seriously possible and totally motivating in my opinion.