I worked on my first book for three years.
And at roughly 45,000 odd words it’s not exactly War and Peace.
Of course, my little old book had to be put into stasis more than once. I’ve been working and there have been house moves and life changes a-plenty in this time. Still, it seems a long time for one book. And it made me think (or rather worry) – how long should it take to write a book?
How long is a piece of string? Double the length from the end to middle obviously – does anyone else hate that smart-arse answer?
The time authors take to write is an evergreen subject. Some well-known writers bash out piles of books a year, but how much someone like James Patterson actually writes of his books is up for debate. On the other side, some authors have paused for considerable lengths of time between books; 10 years for Donna Tartt and over 40 for Harper Lee. That builds interest but can also mean you’re forgotten about or even resented. A friend got rather wound up about how long George R.R. Martin is taking with the next “A Song of Fire and Ice” book!
Ultimately, it’s about the quality of the book. Do books that have taken longer have more depth? Do books written quickly have more passion? We’re back to the string argument again.
I don’t think there is a set length of time it “should” take (and that’s not a disillusion to comfort myself). Non-writers often seem to think there should be. If you’re an amateur and people know your working on something, they’ll be quick to ask you how it’s going and make comments if you say you’re “still working on it”.
But it’s your work and you shouldn’t punish yourself over how long you may take. The old statement “you can’t rush art” applies no matter what you’re writing. It’s normal for it to feel hard sometimes. It’s normal to think about giving up and to question your work. You have to be critical to get the best from your writing, but not so much that it hurts your creativity. Take a break, but if the story pulls you back in, I’d say you’re meant to finish it. At the very least, you get to rid yourself of all those plot bunnies and troublesome characters by sticking them on paper where they’re slightly easier to deal with.
Who cares if it takes you three years, or five years, or ten? There are no rules and great books are always re-written. It’s the quality of your finished product that matters.
So fellow scribblers, what’s the longest you’ve taken to write a book? Or the shortest? Do you have an average? Are you endlessly tinkering with a WiP or do you write everything like someone possessed?