Interested in writing for a living? How long does it take to write a novel? Like so many aspects of writing craft, there’s not a clear-cut answer to this question. What I can tell you, though, is that impatience is a writer’s worst enemy. To all those who are rushing rushing rushing to get your manuscript out the gate and into my hot little hands, think of it this way real quick: you’ve spent… what? A year of your life on this manuscript? Why not give it the best chance possible and spend as much hard work revising as it — honestly — needs?
There is a finite number of agents and editors. Once you query your project around to every agent who represents your genre or age group (or every smaller publisher that still accepts unsolicited submissions) and once they reject you, you can’t do anything else with that project other than a) self publishing (a whole other bucket of fish — follow the link to learn more) or b) revise the hell out of it and submit again to people who might be open to seeing a drastically different version (your pool this time around will be much smaller– check out tips for a revise and resubmit letter). So…How long does it take to write a novel? A while, if you want to do it right and start writing for a living. Take the time, revise the hell out of it from the get-go, and skip that whole nasty getting-rejected-first bit! In other words: be patient.
Writing For a Living: Sad Truth Alert
Not every manuscript you write will go somewhere, publication-wise. Far from it. Every manuscript you write is a step towards writing for a living, though. I think every time you sit down at the keys, you should be striving to improve. Everything you write this week should be better and more exciting to you than what you wrote last week. You hear people talking about starter cars and houses, maybe even starter spouses. Well, I think that almost every currently published writer has written at least one starter (or drawer) novel. MG and YA superstar Lauren Myracle wrote something like five books, she said once, before getting her first published. Some have many more than that. So when we consider “How long does it take to write a novel?”, we need to acknowledge that not all the novels you write will even be published. In fact, I think it should be a good and healthy thing to look at some of your starter novels and be horrified by the quality of the writing. That means you’ve come a long way since.
Don’t Rely on Luck or Talent
Everyone knows the story of the person who never once sat down at a computer before, wrote a first draft manuscript inspired by a dream they had, and was immediately writing for a living. You know why everyone knows the story of “the exception to the rule”? Because it’s news. It’s so rare to blast through the process of writing and publishing a novel that everyone talks about it and raises it to mythical status. The other 99.999999% of us mere mortals have to write plenty of dreary starter novels (and don’t forget about the Million Bad Words) before we can figure out how to draft a living character, create a compelling plot, achieve story tension and humor and literary magic. That sort of stuff takes practice. And practice takes… patience.
For a lot of writers, or anyone working in the creative arts, our ego often compels us to think we’re “special.” What teen girl hasn’t heard stories of some chick at the mall getting discovered by a modeling scout and then immediately dressed up really cute and gone to the mall in hopes of scoring her one-in-a-million chance at stardom? It’s worse for writers, because they don’t actually have to get dressed and leave the house to indulge in such fantasies. Who among you hasn’t started in on a hot idea and thought, “This is a brilliant, undiscovered masterpiece that everyone will love the second they read it”? Who hasn’t let themselves boast, “Let all the other writers slog around in the trenches because I’m special“?
It All Comes Down to Hard Work and Patience
Well, talent is a huge piece of the puzzle, naturally. But when we’re considering writing for a living, I’d argue that hard work is a bigger piece. Because naturally talented people — especially the people who know they’re naturally talented — often get an entitled attitude and wait for the success to come to them. It’s the people who think “I might not be special enough yet but, damn it, I will be successful” who usually end up towering over their smug counterparts. Because the ordinary writers have to work hard towards writing for a living. They have to put in the hours to see improvement, to witness the talent start to shine. They learn to work hard and never give up. And those are the people who make it, while some of the naturally talented people sit around on their couches, waiting for that model scout to come knocking.
In the writing game — and I’ll say it is one, on many levels — the qualities of patience, hard-work, humility and the eagerness to learn will get you much farther than striving to be the exception to the rule. The former you can control, the latter you can’t. Wouldn’t you rather be in control of your success and your career? So how long does it take to write a novel? Don’t worry about it. Focus on honing your craft, not on the race to publication.
My clients have a variety of publishing goals. I can help you prepare your manuscript for a traditional publishing route, or I’ll work with you as a self publishing editor to help you arrive at the strongest possible project for any market.