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How Long Will It Take You to Write a Novel?

I don’t know. What’re you asking me for?

Seriously though, the answer is “it depends.” It depends on how often you’re writing. It depends on how much you write when you do write. It depends on if/how often you re-write. It even depends on the type of novel (some genres’ books are longer than others).

I can’t give you an exact length of time without knowing all those variables. Still, I suppose I could estimate based on certain assumptions.

Let’s say you’re writing an average adult novel with a goal of @ 80,000 words. If you write 1,000 words every day and never re-write, you should have a rough draft in 80 days, right? It’s simple division. 80,000 divided by 1,000 is 80.

That’s a little under 3 months.

According to math, you could write a rough draft of a full novel in just under 3 months if you write 1,000 words a day. And a lot of people claim to write 1,000 words a day. So why aren’t more people churning out new novels every 3 months?

Well, there’s a couple of other factors. Add in plotting and research, and you’re probably over 3 months. Maybe over 4. Add in re-writing, even if you only do it every couple of months, and you could easily tack on another month. Possibly 2. Or 3. (That’s why everyone tells you to avoid re-writing too much!)

Oh, and are you writing full-time? Or are you squeezing in your writing while working a full-time job?

If writing that novel isn’t your full-time job, writing 1,000 words a day gets a lot harder. You might be able to do it writing an hour a day, and you might not. Some days, you might write 1,300. Other days, you might only write 300. They tend to average out eventually, but those 300-word days are going to affect your overall time. And if you date, have friends, or have kids (etc., etc.), those daily counts are going to fluctuate even more.

So how long will it take you to write a novel?

It all depends on you. If you’re dedicated and willing to tug and shove and slice your schedule to make the time every single day, you could do it in 3 months. It may be crap – that depends on you, too.

Since it depends on you, forget how fast or slow anyone tells you it should go (you know, unless you have a deadline). Go as fast or as slow as you need to. Push yourself but know your own limitations. The biggest goal is to finish it. Make sure you’re moving forward. Writing your novel will take as long as it takes.

You won’t know for sure until you actually sit down and write it.

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Continuity, Repetition, & Keeping Track

Writing a long piece or series requires either an excellent memory, a precise organization system, or both (and that goes for novels, movies, comics, blogs, etc.). Otherwise, you’re going to have problems with continuity (but his sword hilt was black in the last book) and repetition (haven’t they had this conversation already?).

If any of you think that’s a cakewalk, think again.

When it comes to books (and movies), it’s hard enough to keep track within that one story. A fully developed novel can have hundreds of characters from major to minor and everything in between. It has different settings, costume changes, props – it’s like a really intricate play that’s mostly occurring in the author’s head (to begin with, anyway). When you add figuring out how and when to leak information to the reader, it’s a ton to think about at the same time. (As far as juggling goes, writers had better be better than good, or they’d better rig some sort of anti-gravity machine quick.)

Now, you’ve finished that book (party tiiiime!), and you’re starting the sequel (or worse, the prequel). You get to start another intricate interweaving of all those details, one that’s equally as complicated as before. There’s just one thing: it needs to match up with the details from the last book. All of them.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully doubled the number of details you need to keep track of! By the fifth book,… well, never mind. I don’t even want to think about counting all of that.

And if you think you’ll be fine because you’re really good about keeping track of that stuff in a book series you’re reading, think again. It’s totally different when you’re the creator (learned that the hard way). Never mind that you’re looking at it through totally different lenses and scales, as a writer, you’re also dealing with all kinds of information that never makes it into the books – things you had to know to write them but that the audience didn’t need to know (“What Does the Story Need to Be Told?”). So the number’s even bigger than I vaguely threatened before.

With a number that big, keeping track of all those details in your head is (how can I put this gently?) completely insane. Honestly, I have a very good memory for details and if I didn’t have files on characters, I’d be flipping through the previous book almost constantly to double-check what I’d said about something before. Either that or writing blind and hoping my memory’s accurate. The first is no way to make progress, and both make it far too easy to make mistakes. I know I’ve said it before (I think), but, really, writing is hard enough without going out of your way to make it harder!

If you value your sanity (and the quality of your work), set up a system of some kind to keep track. It could be literal files (paper), word documents, spreadsheets, 3 x 5 cards – you could even use a program for writers (like Scrivener) that lets you keep files linked directly to the text. Whatever it takes to organize the information and give you quick, easy access.

And that goes for blogs, too.

If you post every day or even a couple of times a week, your archives are going to build up before you know it (which is good, but…). You definitely want to start keeping track before it gets too far ahead of you. I’m creeping up on 250 posts on this blog, and if I don’t sharpen up my record keeping, I’m definitely gonna have more overlap than I’d like (and quite likely more than you’d like). I’ve kept track of some things, but I’ve had to do some serious checking to tell if an article has too much overlap with what I’ve already written. I even have to watch that with twytte – you’d be surprised how often you feel like writing the same poem (I certainly was).

Plus, the more that you write, the more there is in your head to remember. At the same time, the older you get, the more your memory likes to mess with you (having any bit of a life doesn’t help either). Add that together, and it becomes clear that keeping track of this stuff is only going to get harder as you get older. Would you rather set up an organization method now or wait until old age forces your hand?

Believe me, it’s easier to set up the system beforehand than to try to organize retroactively. And being organized actually makes writing easier. Why wait?

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The Genre of Romance: Popularity Versus Respect

Romance novels are like Thomas Kinkade’s paintings. They’re big hits with the general populace (the biggest genre in print – over 50% of paperback sales), but they have a bit of a bad rep in literary circles (Seriously, do not mention Thomas Kinkade to an art major unless you want to hear a long rant about selling-out related issues.).

As far as I can tell, this goes back to the Julia Quinn quote about happy endings (did I mention that she writes romance novels?). I’m afraid that people often dismiss happy endings and romance novels as predictable fluff (Ouch!).

That’s a pretty narrow label for such a vast body of work.

There’s no denying that when it comes to unpredictability, romance novels have a disadvantage. Without even opening the book, the reader knows the main characters will fall in love and that, although there may be a few rough spots on the way, there will be a happy ending. That’s pretty much defined by the genre, so criticizing a romance novel for being predictable is a bit like criticizing a fantasy novel for including magic or magical beings. Or insulting a sonnet for following a rhyme scheme.

In other words, predictability in these areas is part of successfully being a romance novel. So if someone wrote a romance novel with an unpredictable, unhappy ending, the critics might love it, but it would completely fail at being a romance novel. There’s a catch 22 for you.

Sorry, romance novelists, I guess respect will continue to be a problem until current writing trends change. You’ll just have to console yourself with higher sales and a broader audience.

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NaNoWriMo: Is The Verdict In Yet?

Well, you’ve had two days to recover from the NaNoWriMo experience. Are you awake enough to tell us how it turned out?  I have to admit that I’m curious.

Although I haven’t tried the challenge personally, I remember when I first started trying to write a couple of hours a day. It was a shock. I’d worked on different novels before, but I’d never worked on any of them so regularly. I might get in a few days in a row, but then, it might be weeks or months before I got back to it.

After a week or so of writing daily, I was addicted. So many of the biggest problems for new writers (consistency of voice, continuity and flow, finishing instead of constantly editing, etc.) are made easier by writing every single day. In a 24 hour span, your brain retains a lot more of where you were and where you want to go than it does with a few weeks in between. The more time between working on a project, the more you can change your mind on where the story’s going (and whether what you’ve written is ok or not).

Did I mention that the first novel I actually finished was the one I worked on every day?

That’s why I’m curious about how those of you who tried NaNoWriMo feel about it. Did it work? 50,000 words or not, did it get you hooked on writing every day?