How Long Does It Take?

- by Laura Resnick

Adapted from:

Rejection, Romance, & Royalties:
The Wacky World of a Working Writer

I once wrote a book in two weeks, start to finish. It was a 200-page manuscript, a work-for-hire erotica novel published under a pseudonym which I used only that one time. I enjoyed writing that book specifically because it was a short, easy book that required very little thought, depth, craftsmanship, complexity, or realism. I usually find my work difficult, and it was enjoyable to do something so fast and easy for a change, though I wouldn’t want to make a career of it.

This does not mean, of course, that two weeks is how long it takes me to write a book. It’s just how long it took me to write that book, due to its particular properties and circumstances.

At the other end of the spectrum, I spent nearly three years writing a fantasy novel. At 445,000 words, it was far and away the longest book I’ve ever written-or ever hope to write. (It was so long, in fact, that I wound up having to split it into two books, The White Dragon and The Destroyer Goddess, both of which are still massive novels.) It was also the most complex, difficult, layered, and challenging work I’d ever done up to that point. 


I wrote its predecessor, In Legend Born, in roughly one year (but that novel was a mere 250,000 words). Back when I was writing series-romance novels for Silhouette Books under the pseudonym Laura Leone, I once wrote a book, Guilty Secrets, in about seventeen days (if you don’t count the two outlines I wrote for it, which Silhouette didn’t like and kept telling me to re-think). However, it was more typical for me to spend three or four months on a book for Silhouette- if we’re counting rewrites and trips to the coffee pot. Nonetheless, I sold one book to them that took me seven months to write because of numerous difficulties I had with it. So if asked how long it took me to write a Silhouette, I’d have to say, “Seventeen days or seven months. It depends.”

After leaving Silhouette, I wrote a 100,000-word contemporary romance novel for Kensington in about five months (or in two years, if you count the time I spent crossing all of Africa in between writing the proposal and then eventually selling and completing the book). There are some short stories I’ve written in a single two-hour sitting, and others which I’ve worked on for over a week.

My point-and I do have one-is that there is no “right” period of time which it “should” take to write a book. Each individual writer is different-and for some of us, even each individual project is different. While the person who doesn’t write just isn’t a writer (no matter what he may choose to call himself), the writer who writes v-e-r-y SLOWLY is no less a “writer” than the writer who delivers a polished novel every four months.

Pace is also unrelated to quality (that is, as long as you’re working at the pace that suits your own writing process). After all, many a piece of drek has been written at a snail’s pace, and many a good book has been written by writers with a fast pace (Nora Roberts and Stephen King being two well-known examples).

It is a useless exercise to compare your pace with someone else’s. I see writers doing it constantly, and it makes me despair-precisely because (write this down) it is a useless exercise to compare your pace with someone else’s.
A writer’s speed primarily matters in terms of income and career building. Obviously, the person who can get a novel onto the book stands every six or twelve months has a good opportunity for marketplace momentum and (statistically) a better chance at career-building than someone who only gets one book out there every four years. The person who turns in three books per year probably has a better chance at making a living than the writer who turns in one book every two years.

However, the equation is, in reality, more complicated than that. A hardcover New York Times bestseller who turns in one sensationally successful book every three years makes much more money than a writer who turns in three neglected midlist paperbacks every year. If it takes you eighteen months to write a fabulous book that your publisher is very excited about, this is probably much better for your potential career growth than turning in a mediocre book every six months that makes absolutely no one excited.

Laura Resnick
www.LauraResnick.com

2 comments

  1. Laura, great post. I’m often asked this question and am usually made to feel inferior because of my “quick pace.” It’s a very hard question to answer, because you have to explain what else was/wasn’t going on in your life at the time. But as you pointed out, the general opinion is that slow writing equates to a better book. Gah.

  2. I am replying as a reader. As long as the book is well written and interesting it doesn’t matter to me if the author is a fast or a slow writer. If the author is a slow writer ,and I like their work ,I will anxiously await their next book.