HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WRITE A FIRST NOVEL?

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WRITE A FIRST NOVEL?

I imagine, much longer than subsequent ones as there is so much to learn. My short answer is – As long as it takes until it’s published.

When I posted ‘The sheer joy of writing’ I had just started writing my first novel from the germ of an idea that was planted about twenty three years ago. I didn’t even consider writing it until 2014, so during the previous twenty years it remained dormant and was only occasionally given an airing and little thought. Finally, in May of this year it woke up and demanded my undivided attention, which it has had since. It was a very long gestation period which is, apparently, not uncommon in the literary world.

 Although the story itself has changed many times, and numerous characters have emerged out of thin air, the essence remains as it was all those years ago. When I started researching, collecting more detailed material and then began the writing of the first draft I had little idea of how to construct the work. I spent more time day and night dreaming than I imagined was possible; a process which seems unlikely to end until ‘the end’. So I began by writing scenes and chapters as they emerged in my dreams and thoughts each day. They were, in effect, a series of short stories, disjointed and random, although the central theme is always running through them, as it is locked into my brain. I believe this to be unconventional but it suits me and came to me as an unplanned, gradual construction of the book, in a natural way. I make sure there is a hook at the end of each chapter and as I have pieced it together, like a giant jig-saw puzzle it has miraculously become, like the characters, alive and breathing. Now it is looking more like the book I imagined when I embarked on the project. To say it has been a challenge would be an understatement but a most joyful one nevertheless.

 My first draft has just hit 50,000 words. I understand that many authors write their first draft in very rough form and then return to do the re-writing. This seems to be standard practice but I cannot work that way. I am constantly re-writing and tinkering as I go. So my first draft, before editing, will be more or less the finished article.

 Along the way I have been learning on the hoof, so to speak. I’ve listened to many author interviews, taken copious notes and stolen many ideas as I read novels; then devoured You Tube videos, when I found ones that made sense. Fairly early on I discovered Harvey Chapman’s – Novel Writing Help, a comprehensive and succinct e-book guide to novel writing. It has become my bible and I can’t thank him enough. How good an endorsement is that?

 Back to the first question – How long……………….?

 The answer is still the same, to which I would add –

 HOW IMPORTANT ARE TIME AND DISCIPLINE?

 Time is a hindrance to the creative process but don’t use that argument as an excuse to waste it.

 Self-published authors are not put under time constraints unless they are self-imposed and that’s how, I believe, it should be. Discipline helps me but not when it stifles creativity. I set out to write between 500 and 1000 words a day but I refuse to be rigid about it and will definitely not write at all if my mood is wrong. I would say I achieve that goal about 75%. So the first draft of a 300 page novel will take about 5 months.

 WHAT SACRIFICE IS NEEDED?

 The actual writing, of course, is only a part of the whole lonely process. I say lonely because creating a novel is a project that requires aloneness and complete lack of outside interference to bring to a successful conclusion. The book can become your only friend. I don’t know how I will feel when mine is finished; maybe even lonelier. If you can create a good novel with telephones ringing all day and screaming kids in your other ear then you are a better person than I am. Good luck.

If you have a blog, like I do, then you must be prepared to let it rest quietly for a while – not abandon it entirely. I have had to cut down on my photography too.

 I am afraid sacrifices, however hard, must be made.

 WHAT IS MY FIRST NOVEL ABOUT?

 Four loners’ lives are changed forever when they get caught up in a web of intrigue spanning twenty years. By chance, Daisy, a Bristol street girl, meets Jack Kenright and opens the windows of the young man’s mind and in so doing alters his perception of the world. An avaricious and paranoid businessman Eric Baker embarks on a vengeful mission to destroy Kenright in order to save his own skin. An orphaned teenager, Alex, rescues Jack from the depths of despair. They solve a mystery that was buried for eighteen years and forge a new life in a new world.

An organized international crime syndicate is brought down and a strange murder remains unsolved. Baker’s persecution of Kenright is all in vain as Jack turns the tables on him in the most theatrical and bizarre way. The suspense builds through a maze of chicanery and draws to a surprising conclusion.

It is a compelling and often emotional story that tugs at the heart strings and is intended to keep you guessing throughout. The story delves deep into the main characters psyche looking for motivation that is not always apparent.  The novel delivers a strong moral message which I hope readers will interpret in their own way.

TRY A TINY SAMPLE

Six months after receiving Daisy’s last letter, Jack was overcome with melancholy for a whole day. In the depths of the coldest winter the hour was late. He gazed through the frosty sash-cord window panes into the black night. Lack of inspiration had mothballed his writing for many months. Now, weighed down with sadness and thoughts alone for company, he instinctively reached for his diary and a pen.

Greater discontent Richard never felt,

Than the bleakness I feel now.

The taught white face of winter longs to melt,

In the gentle arms of spring.

Long days of summer never cease,

And refuse the hour to sleep.

A twig snaps on the forest floor,

A startled deer looks up to see.

Sad is the comfort in this glass,

Which stands in front of me.

As he gently placed the last full-stop on the page, the pen dropped to the floor, and Jack drifted into a deep sleep, under the influence of far too much wine and no less sadness.

I’ll let you know when it’s published. I hope you’ll like it.

(The source of the featured image is unknown. It is a photo of Picton Street in Montpelier Bristol where part of my novel is set. )

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4 thoughts on “HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WRITE A FIRST NOVEL?”

  1. Oh James we are just alike. I write in scenes as they come to me and piece it all together later – I think this allows creativity to flow, but then at some point organization must happen. I too tinker and edit as I go, but am really trying to stem this as it is inefficient – esp. if you end up tossing a whole chapter down the line. Carry on!

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    1. Hi Cinda. It’s good to hear from you. What I found was that, doing exactly as you do, I got to a point where a more solid structure magically emerged around 40,000 words. I then had 4 distinct sections with each containing plus/minus 12 chapters. From that point I have been able to work through each section systematically from the beginning. So I imagine this is your “…..at some point organization must happen.” I haven’t experienced the inefficiency of ‘edit as you go’yet. Maybe I’ve got that to come. I still have no idea how long my First Draft will be but I don’t suppose that is too important. I hope you won’t be too alarmed when it suddenly lands in your inbox with a big sign saying HELP!!! I will ‘Carry on’ as you say. I can’t stop now because I need to find out what happens next. Keep well. James

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    1. Hi Erik. I have found writing non-fiction much easier and was quite surprised when I embarked on the novel how different it is. Non- fiction gives me nowhere near the same buzz. I agree, depending on the amount of research needed, 30,000 words in 6 months should be comfortable. It’s only 100 pages.

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