Social media makes it easy to compare our process to other writers. I recently happened across a debut author celebrating her book’s release on social media. Her book had been purchased at auction for a six-figure advance. It got favorable press ahead of the release date. Every author’s dream, right?
In an interview, she claimed to have written the entire book in under three days.
If you’ve spent more than three days — not to mention three years or more — on a book, you probably cringed at that last sentence. For some reason, we think faster is better. Yet speed and quality don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another. The length of time it takes to write a book varies both by person and level of experience.
Writing speed is just another comparison trap.
When a writer friend says, “give me enough time and I can write 10,000 words in a day, easy,” we’re tempted to reply, “I know what you mean — if only we had that time, right?” We don’t want others to see us as that writer who fusses over our work for years. If someone else can write the same book faster, why can’t we?
Writing speed demons may experience anxiety in the opposite direction. All the Light We Cannot See is pretty much universally loved by readers, and it took almost a decade to write. Does that mean you can write a better book by taking your time?
Neither process is inherently superior. Fast writers doesn’t necessarily beget slipshod work, nor does a slow writer waste too much time. Sure, a first-time novelist who writes 60,000 words for NaNoWriMo and immediately tries to publish it probably doesn’t have a great book yet. But a lot of great books have been written in very little time. Just as many have been written over the course of many months or years.
Know your process.
Writing speed all comes down to process. Some writers can do significant plot work and rework in their heads. Others need to work everything out on the page. While you may like to get feedback on each section of a new book as you write it, a friend may hide the manuscript away until they complete the first draft. These preferences will impact how quickly you can produce a finished book.
Likewise, you may find that each project takes a different amount of time based on its unique demands. Some books require a lot of research or complex plot work, while others are character-focused ruminations that come together quickly. Later books in a series might come more easily because you’ve already gotten to know the characters and the world. Each book is different, and will probably take you a different amount of time to write.
Grow with your books.
Nine years passed between the first draft of my first novel and the final product. I didn’t work on it for all of those years, but I also spent a lot of time backtracking, rewriting, and making significant changes to the structure of the story. I can’t imagine spending nine years on that story now, even with significant breaks.
However, I also finished that first draft days before turning 25. I think I needed to grow up a bit before I could tell the story the way it needed to be told. Likewise, the story I’m writing now would never have come to me in my 20s. Sometimes we need to mature along with our story drafts.
If you’re wondering how long you should be taking to finish that novel, the answer is as long as you need to. Ideally not any longer — you want to work as hard as you can, obviously — but not any shorter, either. You need to end up with a book that makes you proud of what’s on the page, not just the time it took you to get it there.