How long does it take to write a novel? The answer to that question depends on who you ask, and the answer can be anywhere from a few months to many years.
Technically speaking, most people who put in a little time most days should be able to finish at least a first draft in about a year. A page is roughly 250 words, and writing six days per week at one page per day for 50 weeks out of the year, a writer will end up with a short draft of around 75,000 words or 300 pages.
A few popular writers appear to be extremely prolific. James Patterson releases as many as half a dozen novels a year, but it’s no secret that he heavily employs ghostwriters. What about authors who write their own prose?
At one extreme is the writer Donna Tartt. Famous for her novels The Secret History, The Little Friend and The Goldfinch, Tartt has released approximately one novel every ten years since her 1992 debut. Such a schedule is generally not feasible for the working novelist who has to worry about readers with short memories in between books, but Tartt’s position as a beloved cult novelist ensures that her fans will wait as long as they have to for her next book.
Sometimes people associate taking a long time to compose a work with literary excellence, but a look at the critically-acclaimed writer Joyce Carol Oates demonstrates that this is not the case. In addition to stories and essays, Oates has written roughly one novel per year since her debut 50 years ago.
Of course, looking at publishing schedules does not always accurately tell us how much a writer is writing. Books may have been contracted and then delayed; a writer may work several years on side projects. Some writers are forthcoming about their output however. Thriller and horror novelist Dean Koontz says his books take from six months to a year to complete.
Popular writers of series come under a particular scrutiny as to the speed of their writing as both Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin can attest. Rowling spent six years writing the first book in the Harry Potter series; she wrote the remainder of the series more quickly but had to deny press reports that she had been paralysed by writer’s block. Martin fans on the other hand have waited five or six years between the most recent books in his series.
How much time have you scheduled for finishing your novel, and do you think writers of popular series have an obligation to their fans to try and work more quickly?
(Image from here)