This question comes up quite often in one form or another. I can’t tell you how many times at a writers conference someone has asked me how long it takes me to write a book, or finish a first draft, or how many words I write each day.
I know that part of it is natural curiosity, but there’s also that practical side of things—If he can write 2,000 words a day, how many should I be able to write?
I have friends who actually write precisely a thousand words a day. They can tell you that their book will be done in 100 days and will be 100,000 words long, just like that. Boom. It’s crazy.
Honestly, I just don’t understand that. First of all, I’m not sure how you would even know the length of the book until it’s finished. Secondly, that’s not at all how I’m wired.
Ideas don’t start on a certain date and they don’t have an expiration date. Making a career as a novelist means that, in the real world, you’ll be working on a new project while one of your previous works is being edited, proofread, etc.
So, in essence there are always two or more pots on the stove and your life is often made up of moving them around to keep the most important one at the moment boiling.
I’m always coming up with ideas that don’t quite fit into the current project I’m working on. I set them aside, let them percolate, and then pull them out when I’m ready to move on to another book.
Obviously, novels vary greatly in length, complexity, number of point-of-view characters, and so on, so the amount of time it takes to write one will vary as well. Most of my Patrick Bowers novels are between 105,000 and 140,000 words. My young adult thrillers, Blur and Fury, are both less than 80,000 words.
I’ve managed to write some of my novels in less than six months, others have taken nearly a year and a half—but remember, that’s writing nearly every day of the year. It’s my day job. It’s what I do to pay the bills.
Recently, there have been several self-published books about writing extraordinarily fast (for example: 2,000 to 10,000, in which the author purports to be able to write 10,000 words in a day. No. I’m not kidding. Nor am I endorsing the book by mentioning it. Quite the opposite, frankly.)
It’s simply not possible for the vast majority of authors to write that fast and write well, and it does a serious disservice to people to imply that they can learn to do it.
Yes, there will always be prodigies who can pull off amazing feats, but on my best, most productive days of writing, I average maybe 120 words an hour, and that’s after doing this for more than a decade, utilizing every trick and time-saving secret I can think of.
Can some people pull off amazing quality and breathtaking quantity? Yes. But most of us have to choose between the two. Even though it ends up taking me about a month of work for every hour it takes a reader to go through my books, it’s just who I am. I’ll never be able to pump out books every couple months.
And I guess, now that I think about it, I’m glad I don’t even try.