How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?

How Long Did it Take to Write Famous Novels?

This graph reveals a range of time from 2.5 days to decades.

It makes me recall some of my students in the past who have felt frustrated or anxious, convinced they’re falling behind or they’ll never succeed if they can’t turn a book out quickly.

Some stories need years to percolate and actualize. My unpublished novel, “Two Spoons of Bitter” (95,000 words) began in 1996 – as a hand-written diary I kept when I worked managing AIDS grants for services for People Living with AIDS who were also addicts. True to my journalism training, I was determined to honor the tragic stories of people I encountered who suffered discrimination and horrific disease as well as expose hypocrisy and a corrupt system. I turned it into a non-fiction piece entitled “Myths From the Underbelly.” In 1998, my desire to write the story more effectively motivated me to apply for a MA in Creative Non-fiction. I used my manuscript as my portfolio.

Later, during a subsequent MFA program in 2004, I became frustrated with the limitations of creative non-fiction for this particular story. I turned it into a short story called “It Works Like That.” But it was just non-fiction disguised as fiction. I couldn’t let go my devotion to journalistic truth based on facts. Still, my professor encouraged me to expand it into a novella.

By the time I graduated, I had to make a living teaching, so there the manuscript sat in a cardboard box for almost ten years. I worked on it intermittently but nothing significant evolved. I was too stuck on facts, the unresolved emotions of the story, and myself as the protagonist. I needed a new heroine! I almost gave up, convinced it would never be written and even if it did it would be too late for readers to even relate to.

In 2014, I finally had time to sit down and write. The story literally took over my life. It even grew a life of its own in fiction because I was finally able to let go enough to allow it to reveal its own truth. Not facts. Truth.

This year, 2016, I finally sent my manuscript to an agent. That adds up to 20 years. I’m on the path to publishing either formally or indie. Maybe by next year?

The graph reinforces and normalizes my own experience. No two writers or stories are the same. Have faith in that.


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