One common question I hear from fellow writers and non-writers alike is this: How long does it take to write a book?
It’s a good question, and the answer can vary widely. I’ve met authors who write four books a year, and I’ve heard Donna Tart took ten years to write The Goldfinch. Personally, I always answer, “I’ll let you know. So far, fourteen years.” Because I don’t have a book out yet. But when asked how long it takes to write a book-length manuscript, I say it typically takes me somewhere around six to eight months.
Whether you’re in the couple-months camp, the ten-year camp, or anywhere in between, the most important thing isn’t how long it takes to finish, but simply that you do finish. Far too many writers don’t. They start their “book” with grand ideas and lots of energy, only to see that energy fizzle and the book remain incomplete. And if there’s one thing I know about getting a novel sold, it’s that you must have a novel to sell. It’s kind of step number one.
But how do you do that when you hit a wall? What happens when writer’s block rears its ugly head and won’t go away?
The answer is to finish. At all costs. Just finish.
Maybe that means you rush through the ending. You don’t milk the drama at the end. You don’t tie up all the loose ends. You write what you know full-well is a dissatisfying ending. Maybe you’re so frozen by writer’s block, so debilitated and lost and frustrated, that you can’t imagine writing another line.
Fine. That’s all fine. Write “The End” after your last words and consider your novel finished.
Because when you finish a novel, you can finally start to work on it.
And that’s what writers need to understand. I’ve never met someone whose first draft hasn’t needed any editing, or whose ideas come out perfectly articulated on the very first attempt. I’ve never met anyone who’s met anyone like that. If such a person exists, they’re comparable to an insanely talented Big Foot—I’d love to meet one but probably never will.
Finishing a first draft simply book-ends a story. Now you have a beginning, middle, and an end. It might not be any good, but that doesn’t matter. You can make it good because now it’s manageable. Now you can see the story in its entirety, which allows you to see where it’s strong, where it’s weak, and what just needs to be rewritten. You get some distance from it, which could spark some creativity. Suddenly you know just what should happen at the end because you’re able to see the story differently.
So if you’re struggling with your book, if you feel like it’s never going to be complete, just finish it.
Then you can start working on it.