How long does it take to write a book?
One of the most-frequently asked questions at school visits is, How long does it take to write a book? Or, How long does it take you to write a book?
My standard answer is that it depends on the book and the circumstances.
When kids ask this they probably imagine that the time taken means the time from when you write the first word until you write the last word – they don’t think about editing, the time taken between edits, the time spent planning and thinking and working out character and story problems. And of course, the time when you don’t seem to be writing but are actually very much involved in the making of your book.
Then of course there is the time spent post-submission – kids wouldn’t really understand the to-ing and fro-ing with editors, etc. Even an adult friend recently said that she didn’t see why editing should take me much time, as ‘your spelling and grammar must be pretty perfect by now, surely?’
So – the answer can get quite complicated and I usually cheat and say about a year. In fact none of my books has taken exactly a year, but kids like concrete answers.
And for once, next time I’m asked, I can give a very concrete answer. Here is a timeline for you.
Thurs 5 Feb; 12.00 – my usual publisher emails me: they want a book which involves the Easter Rising of 1916. By the end of April. (A short book will do.)
Thurs 5 Feb; 12.01 – I think, Gosh! That’s impossible. That's crazy.
Thurs 5 Feb; 12.02 – I think, Gosh! I could do that.
Thurs 5 Feb; 12.03 – I email back. Yes.
Rest of February – I do a great deal of research about the Easter Rising. Luckily I know a good bit about the period and about the First World War, which is very much its context, but I hadn’t studied the Rising itself since O level history in 1985. I swither between excitement – historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, and so far I’ve only written historical short stories – and terror. The Easter Rising remains a very emotive and divisive issue in the Irish psyche, and my approach, from a Northern point of view, is unusual.
Saturday 11 April – I have a first draft. It is Very Bad. It doesn’t have a proper ending, and there is a great big hole in the story.
I have a belated half-term/Easter holiday/ recuperation period. I am very negative about what I have written. I am so tired I have lost my critical faculties.
Monday 20 April – I start the second draft. I realise the story was better than I thought. (Either that or the critical faculty loss is more serious than I thought.)
Thursday 30 April – ON TIME – I submit the MS. The fourth draft.
|one story; three months; many drafts|
Friday 1 May – I collapse.
Monday 4 May – I get some notes back. (If I had to work VERY hard for this book, my editors both deserve praise too; no bank holidays for them either!) They love it – hooray! But of course it needs another revision. As always their comments are helpful and illuminating. (Even though we always SAY we’d like our editors to say, ‘It’s amazing; don’t change a syllable!’, I know my books have all benefited from fresh, wise eyes at this stage.)
Thursday 7 May – I send in the new draft. They love it. By now I love it too.
Saturday 9 May – I get my copy edits.
Monday 11 May – I send in my copy edits.
That’s it. Three months, more or less, from crazy suggestion to copy-edit. That’s how long it took to write this book.
Would I recommend it? Not necessarily. These weren’t the easiest three months of my life. But I accepted the challenge to create something I never would have considered off my own bat. And now that the crazy time is over – bar the proofing, cover decisions, etc, and I can look forward to publication in September, giving me, for the first time ever, two books out in one year, I am so very glad I was crazy enough to say YES.