If I say that writing a novel takes a long time, I doubt any of you would be surprised. Some however, if they did the maths, might question just how long the process takes. Of course, the amount of time available in life should be taken into consideration, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that a writer could come up with a thousand words a day – that’s only about four pages of an average paperback.
So if you take my first novel, at a stonking 190,000 words, I could have written it in 190 days. It took me eight years. My second novel, a less extreme 130,000 words took six years, not 130 days. What on Earth was I doing all that time? Well, apart from running a jewellery business and working on the homestead, the answer is editing and redrafting. Writers among you will understand this. In my case, getting the first draft down is a free-wheeling spree of everything I can think of, which is often derailed and redirected by interference from the outer limits of my monkey-mind, complicated by meddlesome, headstrong characters jostling for position in the limited space at the forefront of my brain. Both novels went through six redrafts before beta readers got a look in. Then there was their feedback to consider, and finally, proofreading. Finally, self-published books have to be jiggled about into the right format for printing.
Does that sound like a drag to you? How can anyone have the stamina for this? Having a love of the craft certainly helps, but it must also be fuelled by determination, staying power and resolve; a commitment to being in for the long haul.
Some might say this involves a great deal of patience, but I wouldn’t consider myself a very patient person. People see me working on my jewellery and say they admire my patience. I aspire to the serenity of Valentine Michael Smith, whose phrase “Waiting Is” is immortalized in Robert Heinlein’s celebrated sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land.
But no; dream on, Geoff. If I have nothing to do, I become bored very quickly, twiddling my thumbs within five minutes, tapping my foot in ten, pacing the room by fifteen minutes and after half-an-hour I’d be gnawing my arm off. Does that sound like a patient person to you? Any situation in which I anticipate having to wait, I prepare myself with a book or a magazine to read, or a notebook to scribble in. In a busy location, I can content myself with people-watching for a short while as this can fuel character descriptions, and exercise my imagination by wondering what they are doing or what is going through their minds.
My monkey-mind is both a curse and a blessing. Whilst I am carving or on my morning walk, it can swing through the dendrites of my brain and feed upon neglected or emerging thought patterns or ideas that come in useful. This is one advantage of taking so long to write a novel – there is plenty of time to fill plot holes or find exciting new threads that lift the narrative to the next level.
My current work in progress, a novel aimed at mid to late-teens, has so far taken 2½ years. I am about 80% through the first draft. Bearing in mind that most of that time I have been a full-time degree student, I think that’s not bad going, considering my attempts at keeping the business active and building a cabin in the garden. Although it will be a lot shorter than my first two books, at around 80,000 words, I anticipate it will be at least two more years before it is ready to release into the wilds. Until then, I hope you have the patience to wait that long and you can join me in being in for the long haul.