I think most people assume that a novel takes ages to write, likes it’s the sole domain of retirees and full-time writers.But most first novels are written by people in some other full-time employment. They fit the writing into stolen moments in the evening, early mornings, Sundays.
The actual answer to the question, ‘how long does it take?’ is impossible because it depends, but anything which takes a long time to complete usually requires persistence, dedication and focus. In fact, in life, most things that are worth something are often attained by these three values as well.
When people say they haven’t got time, they just mean that they don’t want it enough and are choosing to do something else with their time instead. That’s fine but don’t use time as an excuse for not starting.
One thing that fascinates me is the perception of time. We all have exactly the same number of hours in the day and yet some seem to achieve so much more than others. I think when you get to the end of your life, your most proud of those moments where you used time effectively. How you use time reflects upon the size of the legacy you leave behind.
A novel is a sizeable investment of your time, so is training for a marathon, and both need to include a plan of how you’re going to reach the end. I own a coaching business aside from my “glittering” writing career and the most important thing I tell people is to focus on what they want to achieve. Without knowing where you’re headed it’s unlikely you’re going to find it, and how will you know anyway.
So, before you crack on with your new novel I think it’s a good idea to have some kind of expectation in your head of when you’re aiming to finish it. When you run a marathon, you don’t say, ‘I’ll just keep running and see what happens,’ (unless you’re Forrest Gump). It’s important to allocate a time to it subconsciously.
Because the answer to the question is completely unscientific, the only way to calculate it is by looking at previous evidence. So, I’ve tried to make a list below of some famous authors who I could find that disclosed this vital piece of information.
- Annie Dillard – 3 years per book
- Arthur Miller – Death of a Salesman – 6 weeks
- JK Rowling – Philosopher’s Stone – 6 years
- JK Rowling – Entire Harry Potter series (7 books) – 17 years
- Isabel Allende – roughly a book per year
- Jonathan Franzen – Freedom – 9 years
- Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees – 3 years
- Kathryn Stockett – The Help – 5 years
- Danielle Steel – writes up to 5 at a time – 2.5 years per book
- Sara Gruen – Water for Elephants – 1st Draft 4 weeks
- Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange – 3 weeks
- Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 – 9 days
- Georges Simenon – Inspector Maigret books – less than 2 weeks average
- Robert Louis Stevenson – The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – less than a week
- Michael Ondaatje – The English Patient – 6 years
What’s the conclusion? A book can take as long as you want. Parkinson’s Law, ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion’. Set a target to work to and your productivity will increase. If you still need help to come up with a realistic expectation then use this handy calculator which I found on the PowerUp website.
Until next time…