How Long Does it Take?
Not to get published, but to do the writing
I went to France last week! I know! I got go with Alix Harrow—a NEWLY MINTED NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!!!—to attend the Les Imaginales SFF conference and it was amazing. Alix was wonderful on all her panels and I got complimented by actual French people on my French and accent, so basically is was a dream trip. We saw a castle! I ate so much butter!
Anyway, I am a little foggy this week so I went to Twitter to ask what I should write about and friend of the newsletter Jaime Green (who’s writing a book about aliens and I can’t WAIT to read it) posed a question about figuring out how long writing and editing are going to take YOU, not publishing. We’ve talked before about how publishing is slow and takes a long time, but we haven’t talked about how long it can/should/might take YOU to write or edit something.
First things first, and yes I know it is SO helpful, but there’s no single answer for this. Everyone is going to work at their own pace, has their own shit to deal with re: home, work, family, brains, etc., and every book is different. Sorry, this is also one of those times where I know you want An Answer and there just isn’t one.
BUT you can work to figure out how long it will take YOU to write or edit something. Here’s how:
Let go of should
How long should a novel take to write? Six months? A year? Ten years? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. There is no should. Everyone writes or edits a book at a different rate. Some people write 3 books a year. Some books take ten years. THERE IS NO RIGHT ANSWER HERE. It should take what it takes for you to write or edit a book.
Learn Writer’s Math
I write fast. Theoretically, if I do nothing else, I could write a novel in about six weeks, and that’s taking weekends off. But that means everything else has to go perfectly and no one needs me for anything else and my brain functions flawlessly the whole time and someone brings me lunch and I have the whole plot sorted out. LOL. When I look at how many words I can get down in a single session, it’s SO beguiling to do Writer’s Math and say if I wrote 2500 words 5 days a week I could have <calculator noise> 50k in a month!!!!! That will literally never happen and I need to stop doing math like that. (Unfortunately I find doing math like that very soothing and it gives me a sense of control over the world. Lol again.) Real Writer’s Math is calculating your output for a typical writing session (or whatever time period) and cutting that number in half. If you can usually write 1000 words at a clip, pretend you can only do 500, because it will probably take you twice as long as you expect, when life gets in the way.
Remember you actually do have to do it to get it done
That’s the real kicker. You actually have to DO the writing/editing to get it done. If you have six weeks to do something (for whatever reason) you have to sit down and do it to get it done in that six weeks! You have to write more days than you do not write! Ummm, mods?????
What about editing and stuff?
When you’re editing, you probably aren’t measuring your output in words per session or whatever. You might be able to measure that in pages or chapters, but some pages/chapters will require more work than others, so your progress will be uneven. If someone is asking you how long you need/want to complete an edit, it’s ok to say let me get back to you on that. It’s ok to get the edits and work on it for a week and see how far you get and extrapolate from there. Double the time you think you need, if you can.
If you can determine your deadline don’t rush it. Don’t think what deadline would make them think I am smart and capable and better than all their other writers? That is not how this works!!! Doing things faster usually has the OPPOSITE effect! Rushing an edit usually just means you have to go back and do another round. Bottom line: ask for what you need, not what you think the other party wants to hear.
If no one is waiting for your revision but yourself and your query letter, go back to number 3 above. You have to do it to get it done. Edit more days than not. If you wait, it just won’t get done. Ask a friend to give you a deadline, and stick to it!
Take care my loves. Happy writing. Or whatever makes you happy these days. We all need it.