How long should it take to write a novel?

Writing a novel is a very personal process—and one that, for the bravest aspiring novelists among us, becomes very public when the decision is made to publish. It cannot be rushed. But there has to be a middleground between cranking it out too quickly and sitting on it for years without doing anything, right?

The ultimate question: How long should it take to complete that novel?

Unfortunately, this isn’t so cut and dry. The answer: it varies for each and every novel.

Just like the writers putting pens to paper, each novel is unique in its own right. To provide a formula for timing the crafting process would be about as useful as creating a formula for writing the novel in the first place. (Sure, I know many writers use formulas for brainstorming purposes, but we want to think outside the box here!)


For my first novel, the entire process took about one year—and that includes the writing and revising. That said, I know people who have taken three or four years on one book, and I know people who can write four or five books in one year—and usually pretty well.

One of the English courses I took at the University of Michigan was taught by a brilliant professor named Peter Ho Davies. Each week as we would start interrogating a new novel, he would list all of the books by the author, along with their publication years. Part of trying to understand a novel is also trying to understand the writer, and this activity helped us gain a better understanding for each author’s writing process. Many times, we would be able to find a loose pattern.

One example was Ian McEwan as we started reading Atonement. McEwan wrote his 14 novels in a 38-year span—averaging one novel every two or three years. Sure, he once published books in back-to-back years, and he once also took six years to publish a new novel, but taking the overall picture helps you to understand his general writing process.


But even that exercise is not a science. Look at Cormac McCarthy, for example. You could take the number of novels he wrote and calculate the average amount of time he works on a book, but it would be a little misleading. He took seven years between Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses, as well as between Cities of the Plain and No Country for Old Men. But he also followed up that book with The Road one year later (and has yet to publish another novel since 2006).

So here’s the best piece of advice I can offer: do not rush the process. It’s okay if you’ve started several novels but cannot seem to complete one. We’ve all been there. It’ll come. Just stick with it. Let the process dictate itself.

I’m curious about other writers’ takes on this. How long is your process for writing a novel?

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  1. Something I’ve learned the hard way, “Great works of art are never finished. They’re simply abandoned.” Not to say I’ll walk away from it, but you have to reach a point where you’re willing to say it’s finished. Otherwise you start playing with different scenarios, and so on.

    As some of you know, I’m finishing up the Lawman. I was really tempted to play with the ending. It might certainly have introduced one character as a continuing villain, Kind of give Will Diaz, and the rest of the “The Regulators”, their own Lex Luthor of sort.

    But I decided to leave it alone. If I did that, then I’d have to write more back story, and the downside of it all would be I’d start tinkering with the book and it really didn’t need tinkering with. In short, it would be so much fun exploring what could happen, the book would never get done.

    Like it or not, we are in a business. And if we don’t produce a product, we don’t make money.

    Liked by 2 people

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