I used to be a rabbit. I wrote quickly and I didn’t think of what I was writing much. All in all that’s a good strategy to create output and to test your wings. As a beginner (although you don’t necessarily need to write every day as we have shown in post #1) the more you write the better. The practice you get is invaluable. Writing fast and often (I used to write 10000 words every day for two to three weeks then take an equally long break) is useful when you start out.
However, there are two main issues with writing FAST:
- Trying to write when you’re not ready. Stories need time to gestate. The story that pops into a writer’s head fully formed is rare. It happens, and it’s a gift when it does, but these instances are rare. Usually, a story takes a while to complete itself in your head before you write it down. We’ll see below from our writing superheroes how stories come to them and how they approach the challenge of being patient enough to let it form on its own.
- If you write too fast then the quality of your writing may suffer. This ties in with the above. I know you want that story out. I know you want it written, preferably yesterday. I know there are some writers who don’t like the writing process but like being ‘done’. However: each story has its pace. You can’t force it. And that’s not an excuse for laziness. That’s fact. Your mind needs rest o figure out kinks and twists and turns and broken plots in your story. All good things take time.
That latter was a hard lesson for me personally to learn. I’m impatient by nature and I love to write fast. I can do it – if the story is ready. If not? Why, the story just crashes and burns, and it takes a while to recover it. Once I’ve gotten out of the frenzy of I HAVE TO WRITE NOW (EVERY DAY) EVEN THOUGH I KNOW THE STORY IS NOT READY I usually delete most of what I’ve written and go back to exactly where I knew the story needed to gestate and ignored the signs.
In the background of many writerly minds there seems to be a race going on: A lot of new writers are trying to get their projects finished and another started. They either want to be THE FIRST to use THIS IDEA or perhaps they are just worried an idea will run away if they don’t use it NOW. Or they just want to get it DONE because they don’t like the writing process and prefer to edit. Or they don’t like the writing process period. Alternately they may think if they don’t hit high in their youth they will never make it.
So how do our writing superheroes handle this need to write fast? Do they think it’s necessary to write quickly at all? I’ve posed them one simple question that’s allowed me to gain a lot of insight into the subject.
- How long did it take to finish your [novel/trilogy/project]?
ANNA: (On the Godblind Trilogy) My first trilogy has been a long and winding road! From first draft to publication, the first book, Godblind, took approximately 13 years. After that, the sequels came out roughly 12 months later – June 2017, August 2018, September 2019 – so a good decade and a half from story germination to published trilogy. When drafting Godblind, I didn’t have any external input from anyone at all, which may be one of the reasons it took so long. These days I draft a lot faster.
YOON: (On the Machineries of Empire Trilogy) I started [the first novel] Ninefox Gambit in 2011 and completed a draft in about a year, then spent another couple of years revising it. I wrote the sequel, Raven Stratagem, and most of the third book, Revenant Gun, on spec. The third one was about half-written by the time I signed with Solaris for the trilogy, but finishing it (in 2016) was complicated by the fact that we were flooded out that year and I had to ask for an extension to my deadline, which Solaris graciously granted. It takes me about a year to draft a novel.
TIM: (On The Wrong Stars Trilogy) I couldn’t even tell you the beginning of the idea. 2013 or 2014, maybe. As I began to plan the end of my Marla Mason urban fantasy series, I started to think about what I wanted to do next, and space opera was appealing. That’s when I began jotting notes. In 2015 I wrote the first 12,000 words of the Wrong Stars. That was to create a submission package, which also included an outline. Took a while to sell the book, and then the due date wasn’t for even longer, so I wrote and revised the other 80,000ish words in 2017, over about six weeks. I began writing The Dreaming Stars in December 2017 with the last 50,000 words written over five days at a writing retreat in February 2018. I started The Forbidden Stars on New Year’s Day 2019 and finished revisions [in] March. For all three, of course, there was more revision in response to editorial feedback, and copyedits, and proofreading, and etc, but the above covers my pre-submission process.
THORAIYA: (On the Titan’s Forest Trilogy) Initial concept was in 2012, final book published in 2019! At the time I was writing 5 days a week, aiming for a thousand words per day.
MARTHA: (On The Murderbot Diaries) Each one was different. I wrote All Systems Red in 2016, after I finished a first draft of my last fantasy novel, The Harbors of the Sun. All Systems Red was a novella of about 32000 words, and took me about a month to write. When Tor.com bought it for their novella line, they asked for a second novella. I started Artificial Condition, and it was a little longer but took about three months to write. Then I started on Rogue Protocol, then Exit Strategy. Both were around 34,000 words each and both took about three to four months each. The novel, Network Effect, was much harder to do. It’s 110,000 words, which isn’t particularly long for a novel, but it took about 18 months, just constantly writing and revising. So it took from around May-June of 2016 to the publication date of the novel in May 2020.
KAT: (An editor’s perspective on Whispers from the Abyss) Whispers from the Abyss Vol. 1 took about a year to go from concept to completion.
We set out an open call for submissions as well as invited a few specific authors that wanted to include. Reading submissions [after the deadline and maximum submission volume had been reached] took about two months. In all it took about six months to go from open call to selection process.
As for publishing, I ran Kickstarter campaigns to raise the funds needed to print the books. The Kickstarter lasted a month and many of the authors were kind enough to help promote the project. From there it went to the printer and in the hands of the reader.
[Whipsers from the Abyss 1] was so well received that we immediately launched the open call for Whispers Vol. 2.
ADRIAN: (Example: Children of Time) Now I’ve gone full-time writer (have been for a little over a year) I’d say around 4-6 months to produce a first draft, plus up to a month to turn that into a submission draft. I spent a few hours each day, mornings and evenings, and that generally suffices.
In general, the total lead-in time between breaking ground on a new book and that book hitting the shelves is 18 months to 2 years, and you’re entirely at the mercy of the publisher’s schedule for most of that.
EOWYN: (On The Snow Child) It took me about a year to have a first, rough draft of the story. Then it was another year of revising and working with my agent, and then maybe another year or more before it was actually out in the world.
SUE: [On the Semiosis Duology] It took me about two years to write Semiosis, and another two years to write Interference. I was working on other projects at the time or at part-time jobs, so I could only devote limited hours of work on the novel on most days.
I finished Semiosis in 2004. Then I started sending the manuscript or queries to agents and publishers. I got no takers, so I decided to write a couple of short stories set in the Semiosis world to get some attention. One of them, “Spiders,” was published in Asimov’s magazine in 2008, and it was picked for a “best of” anthology that year. (Both stories are available at the Semiosis website. https://semiosispax.com/2019/04/18/two-short-stories-set-on-pax/)
That piqued the interest of a small publisher, who bought the book, but then the economic recession reached the publishing business, and the publisher wasn’t able to get it to print. The three-year option ran out, and I got the rights back in 2014, so I began to try to sell it again. I found an agent, who sold it to Tor, and the book finally came out in 2018. By then, I’d finished Interference years ago, and when Semiosis did well, Tor was willing to pick up the sequel.
So … never give up.
JOHN: [On The Fisherman] I first had the idea for the story that would become the book back in 2003. [The] book was published in 2016. I didn’t work on it every day during that time. [There] were long periods when I was writing other things.
RICH: (On the Steelhaven Trilogy) I started writing the first novel in 2011 (my files show chapter One as written on 6th January). Book Three was published (according to Amazon) on 7th May 2015.
CAITLIN: (On The Luminous Dead) I wrote the first few chapters and outlined much of the rest of the book in fall of 2014. I then didn’t touch it, for various reasons, until November of 2015, when I decided to use NaNoWriMo as a prod to actually finish it. I wrote every day from then through the middle of December, when I finished the first draft. Editing was sporadic over the next year while I queried it, and I signed with my agent in spring of 2017. We did another editing round and sent it off to publishers, where it was bought by Harper Voyager in August 2017, at which point I had to rewrite the second half of the book entirely! That and subsequent edits took until the summer of 2018. So, all told, it was almost four years, but with a lot of breaks and different purposes for each edit.
There are two most important things we can glean from these answers.
1 (curtesy to Sue who summed it up in one simple statement): Never give up.
2: It seems that a lot of our superheroes took times off their works in project ‘for various reasons’ (quote by Caitlin but almost everyone mentioned starting the idea then taking a ‘break’ so to speak).
So what is the deal here? It seems to again come down to two reasons (apart from dreaded REAL LIFE getting into the way):
One, the story needs to gestate. It might mean the writer isn’t ready yet or it might mean the story isn’t ready yet. (You could of course argue those two are so closely related they may just be the same.) Time is required for your brain to make sense of the story – What it’s trying to say and how that information can best be packaged. ‘How’ it wants to say it. This unfortunately cannot be rushed. There seems to be no ‘average’ completion time either. Eowyn wrote her book in a year and published it in three. John took his time from 2003 to 2016 – 13 years. And our superheroes working on trilogies and series are unicornishly hard to pin down: a few months to a year. A few years to a decade+.
This all comes down to one important point which I’ve already mentioned in post #1:
The second insight: everyone is different. Each author has their own way or approaching writing and their own pace. An Adrian Tchaikovsky might plan to meticulously it takes him only a few months to finish a book. An Anna Stephens may take 10. And a Sue Burke might just take 14.
So is there a ‘wrong way’? Is there a novel that takes ‘too long’? Is it worth working on a project that doesn’t come to fruition until decades later?
The more commercially oriented of writers might say ‘yes! Stephen King writes a novel or two a year and he’s rich! I want to be rich!’. That’s fair enough.
But does it mean you failed if your writing doesn’t take off within its first year? Does it mean you failed if you can’t get the story outline together in a month?
Of course not! I don’t know where you got the idea and why you are beating yourself up about this! Each writer has their pace. Each book has their timeline. Rushed work is (usually) low-quality work. The best advice I can condense from our generous superheroes’ answers is this: Take your time. Don’t stress about your novel not being finished. Don’t fret over the plot not coming together immediately. Remember: All good things take time.
And remember to check in next week for the next batch of questions! Next Saturday on: Are there any hard and fast rules WE MUST adhere to when writing? The writing superheroes will have some great input for you!