Saturday, July 16, 2011

Are We There Yet?

When I was a kid (fourth of five), we used to take these long road trips for vacation. Dad would pack us in the car at O-Dark-Thirty in the morning and head on out. And let me tell you, driving to South Dakota from Indiana is a long, long road.
So anyway, we'd get an hour out of the driveway, and the questions would start (everything takes longer when you're a kid, let's admit it): "Are we almost there yet? How much longer? When do we stop? I have to go!" And after Mom got tired, us kids would start in.

The reason I'm sharing this is because the most often question I get, from writers and potential fans alike, is, "How long did it take you to write your novel?" That, and its brother variant "How long should it take to write my novel?" It's the literary equivalent of "Are we there yet?"

I think the biggest mistake young writers make (and I'm certainly no exception) is impatience. They get an idea in their head that a novel should only take three weeks to write, and then get frustrated when the rough takes several months. They get it in their head that they're running out of steam, and next thing they know their novel is gathering e-dust in their hard drive, or moldering in a notebook under their bed, untouched for months or maybe years. What an injustice to one's talent, leaving a project unfinished like that.

I've only published two novels, and I'm working on my fifth manuscript right now. The first MS took four years to write. I confess, the second one remains unfinished in its infancy. The third MS turned out to be my first published work. The rough draft took fifty-five days to write, and the edits took about another year and a half, if it was worked continuously. As it was, I'd edit it, then submit it to a few places. After every five or so rejections, I'd edit it one more time, weed out more adverbs, correct more errors, change some of the prose, find a better line here, flesh out that concept there, and so on. As it was, the editing/marketing stage took another three years. That was Becoming NADIA.

The next project took about a year and a half to write the rough and edit, using tools I'd picked up from the critique process. These times I'm giving you do not take into account the final editing stages, working with my team of professional editors. This is just the blank-page to ready-to-submit process.

What you want to do as a writer is slow down and take your time. You're taking my mind (as a reader) on a journey, whether it's a journey of three blocks or a thousand miles. If you make each scene a revelation, show me something new, make me open my eyes just a little wider, and look at a situation from a different angle, all on the route to South Dakota, you'll keep me from asking, "Are we there yet?" And I can tell you one thing for certain: If you're asking it to yourself, you can bet I'm asking it when I read it.

Plan where you're ending your story, then, whether you’re a Planner or a Pantser. At least know where you're going. Then you'll know for sure when you get there, and the trip won't have felt like it was dragging on.
'Cause, brother or sister, the trip takes as long as the trip takes.

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