How long does it take to write a book? That question is on almost every set of author interview questions. The answer is as varied as the authors themselves.
So many variables enter into equation. Contrary to what many non-writer spouses think (esp. engineers—not talking about you, Hubs), writing a book is not a pick-up-put-down process, like data entry or drawing a blueprint. With data entry (which I’ve done, btw), when you stop at the end of the day (or even for a break), you mark your place and when you return you immediately pick up where you left off. Writing a story is much, much different.
Since stories reside in our imagination, we need to return to that “place” where we left off. For some writers, that means reading the last few paragraphs written or even the last chapter--if the time between putting down the work and getting back to it is short. But what if it’s been a week or a month? Then it’s necessary to read several chapters or from the beginning to firmly plant the story in our imagination. All that rereading of what’s written gobbles up time better spent actually writing something new. Even an interruption of a few minutes can yank us off that spaceship or out of 19th Century Colorado. Writers with short attention spans find interruptions even more onerous. Really good headphones might help. Let phone calls go to voice mail (or the answering machine). Tell Hubs and the (older) kids not to interrupt unless it’s a “B” emergency—blood or broken bones—like in Tony Baloney School Rules by Paul Mun͂oz Ryan. (Can you tell I have grandchildren?)
The best advice for beginning writers is “finish the book.” Piece of cake, right? It’s so easy to write a new story--until the Muse takes a hike and a “brilliant” idea for another story hits you. Don’t listen to that brilliant idea. Think of it as temptation. Finish the first book. When the brilliant idea won’t stop nagging you, take a couple of minutes to jot down notes. Then return to the first book and finish it. Develop the discipline early on that you’ll need after your book is published and your writing life turns crazy.
Okay, you’ve made sure the family knows this is your writing time. The phone’s off. You’re focused on your current WIP (work in progress). No interruptions. Clear sailing. Right? Not necessarily.
Let me share a little bit of craziness from the past couple of months. As soon as I sent Switched Resolution out for editing, I started writing the next book in the Outer Rim series. I was four chapters into the first draft when I received the edited version of Switched Resolution back. That meant put down the Outer Rim story and pick up Switched Resolution. Make changes, read through. Read through again—looking for typos, missing words, and continuity things like the color of the dog changing from red in the first chapter to black in the last. I was three days from the deadline to publish Switched Resolution when I received the first round of edits for my romantic suspense One Red Shoe. After publishing Switched Resolution on Amazon and Smashwords (no small feat, btw), I had to yank my imagination off that spaceship, plop it into present day New York City, and begin revising One Red Shoe. Meanwhile, I had to promote Switched Resolution while finishing big picture edits on One Red Shoe then do a careful read-through looking for typos, etc. (see above). Oh, wait, that magical dog with changing fur color was in One Red Shoe. Return 1st round edits for One Red Shoe to editor. Pick up The Chameleon (Outer Rim novel). Now where was I in that story?
Will there be more interruptions? Of course. I’ll have to put down The Chameleon when the second round of edits for One Red Shoe arrives. I have to say the past few months going from book to book is the most complicated my writing life has ever been. Prioritizing helps. Deadlines, even self-imposed deadlines, keep the writer on track.
How long will it take to write The Chameleon? Considering the above—oh, and I do have a family life, too—probably nearly a year from the day I started writing to publication. Maybe.
So, how long does it really take to write a book? As long as it takes.