Saturday 4 June 2011

How long is a piece of string? - Josh Lacey

Someone recently asked me how long it takes to write a book.

I wasn’t sure how to answer: I could have said a few months, a year, seven years or ten years.

All those answers would have been true for the same book.

I’ve got a new book coming out in July: The Island of Thieves, an adventure story about a boy and his uncle on the trail of a hidden treasure.

The book itself is out of my hands, but not yet in my hands. Every word has been tweaked, every sentence has been polished, and I can’t touch them again, but I haven’t yet seen a copy of the physical object, the book itself.

I started writing this book seven years ago. When I say writing, I mean sitting down at my computer and typing a few hundred words every day.

I can’t remember when I had the original idea for this book - the initial spark that set the whole story into motion - but it must have been three or four years before that.

Let’s say a decade from inspiration to completion. A decade from the moment that an idea first arrived in my head to the moment that I can hold an actual book in my hands.

Of course, I haven’t really been writing this book for ten years. The book itself lay dormant for much of that time, gathering dust in the darkest regions of my imagination. But not just dust. All sorts of ideas float in the goo at the back of my mind, neglected and almost forgotten, but some of them refuse to sink. A few insist of bobbing up again and again, demanding to be remembered. They’re the good ones.

I had an idea about ten years ago. Three years later, I tried to turn it into a book. I wrote a few thousand words. I threw them away. I wrote another few thousand words. I threw them away too.

Over the past seven years, I’ve returned to the book again and again, writing a bit, reading around the subject, thinking about the characters.

Last year, I finally sat down and tried to write it again. This time, for some reason, I found the story that I wanted to tell. A few months later, the first draft was done. After a year and much rewriting, the final draft was on its way to my editor.

A few months, a year, seven years or ten years: how long did it take me to write The Island of Thieves?


Lynda Waterhouse said...

I loved your description of the creative process. Stories that have evolved over time in primordial swamps are usually the most satisfying to read. I think the cover looks great - like a movie poster

Stroppy Author said...

I quite agree - it's impossible to say how long a book takes if it has been spread over many years. I have a similar one, that started in 2003 and has had several dormant years along the way. It's not quite off to the agent yet, but will be soon.

As Linda says, the cover looks great!

Leila Rasheed said...

Yes, same here - it can be weeks or years depending on how you look at it!

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

As someone unpublished who's reworking a novel at the moment, it was very good to read this. And I do sometimes tire of trying to explain to non-writers how published authors write and how long it can often take them to 'finish' a book.

Julie P said...

It's amazing what leaving a book to stew for years can do. I bet it's a better book for being a decade in the making.

Well done!


Eden E said...

I'm not sure if I should feel encouraged by your story or not, but at least it had a happy ending!!

Miriam Halahmy said...

And my piece of string is definitely a moveable length - more like elastic I suppose!

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

The best books have simmered gently in the writer's imagination until fully coooked, I think. If it stays in the brain, it is begging to be written eventually...