I’m always in awe when I finish reading a good book. Even more so when it’s a debut novel written by a brand new author. It’s not just because their characters have managed to enchant me, or because the writer has reduced me to tears at some point throughout the book, or because their novel has generally moved me in ways only a great story can. (Although, yes, all of that is certainly part of it.)
I’m also in awe because the author has actually done it. They finished their book! They sat down one day with the seed of a story in mind, and actually saw the whole thing through to the end—however long it took them. That alone is hella impressive and deserves major kudos.
As an author, I know very well the kind of energy, dedication, courage and TIME it takes to write a good manuscript. I’m living it now as we speak.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO WRITE A NOVEL?
It’s a big question a lot of writers face when starting their first manuscript.
The answer: However long it takes! It really all comes down to Quality vs. Quantity.
Quantity writing is useful for plotting out your story. Outlining, first drafts, second drafts, and by God, sometimes even third drafts. It’s trying to get as many words down on paper without concerning yourself too much about grammar, style, rhythm or syntax.
But Quality writing is for the true thing. The real deal. It’s for that enticing, memorable, polished manuscript that will have agents and publishers calling you back. It’s the time and effort you put into crafting the perfect sentence—thousands of them—sentences that makes you scream out, “YES! NAILED IT!” It’s the secret ingredient that will elevate your writing to a whole new level, making all the difference between an okay manuscript and an exceptional one.
QUALITY TAKES TIME
I started writing my novel almost nine years ago. Yes. Nine. And I’m not finished yet. In fact, I still have a ways to go before it’s ready for publishing. Honest to God, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “How’s the book coming along?”, I’d be filthy rich and wouldn’t need to ever finish writing it.
I’ll admit, there was a time when that question made me feel incredibly insecure as a writer. It used to paralyze me with enough fear and doubt that it nearly halted my project altogether. Was I a fraud? Was I a terrible writer? One, two, three years in and what did I have to show for my efforts? What was so wrong with me that I couldn’t seem to finish one measly fricking manuscript?
Well, it took some major, deep-down digging to finally find my answer to that. And here it is:
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH ME. It just turns out that I have very serious aspirations for my book. I have a distinct vision for it. I know exactly how I want the story to look, sound, and feel. I have standards. High ones. And until my novel meets my expectations, it will never see the light of day.
If I had submitted my manuscript three or four years ago when I could have, it would’ve probably been a disaster. Instead of rushing it to publishers like most people would have, I took the time to honestly evaluate my work, and it wasn’t ready. There were some troubling plot holes. Some characters still needed development, and a few needed to be killed off.
But above all, my writing just wasn’t there yet.
I strive for Quality Writing. Once I realized this, I was able to stop looking at my novel as something that needed to be finished before I could be proud of it. I let go of this idea in my head that being a successful writer means pounding out new books every year. Instead, I’ve dedicated myself to refining my writing skills, finding my “voice” as an author, and perfecting the crap out of it.
All of that takes time.
Time which I think a lot of budding writers often make the mistake of ignoring. It can be really tempting to rush through those first few manuscripts. You have so many brilliant ideas, you’re excited to get them all down on paper, and hey, you just read an article on How To Write 5000 Words Per Day. It can’t be that hard!
And partly, you’re right. It’s totally possible to write that many words in a day. I’ve done it. I’ve seen others do it.
But is it quality writing? Chances are, it’s not. Sure, you may have come up with a few fabulous sentences, but in the end you know most of it will need to be scraped into the editing bin.
Just because you’ve reached 120,000 words doesn’t mean your work is finished.
Don’t forget Quality. Stop feeling like you have something to prove by rushing through your work. Nurture that story of yours. Make that baby something you can be proud of. Give it all the time it needs—however long it takes—to truly meet your vision, expectation and standards, because at the end of the day, that’s what really matters.
I wrote this post as part of the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. To continue hopping through to other great blogs (and I highly recommend you do) or to join as a fellow writer, click here.