How long does it take to write a novel? It’s a fair question and, on the face of it, a simple one to answer. I recently finished a first draft that took nine months, which isn’t bad going. Where things get tricky is when you factor in the extra weeks it took me then to turn it into a second draft, not to mention the year it took for the ideas in my head to gel enough for me to pour them on to the page in the first place. (Can you pour a gel? Hmm …)
The notion of writing a novel in nine months has a comforting ring to it. It is the average human gestation period after all. But it’s just a number. My first novel, Dragoncharm, took two and half years to write. Then another year to rewrite. Some of the novels I’ve ghost-written have required me to turn out a first draft in just twelve weeks. There’s no rule. The words – not to mention that intrusive thing called real life – dictate the pace.
I raise this topic because I’ve just started work on a new novel. I don’t want to say a lot about it because unwritten stories are like unhatched eggs: if you handle them too much they’re liable to slip through your fingers and smash on the floor. I don’t want that to happen to this story, because I’ve been living with it for a long time. Even mentioning the title feels risky. But hey, life’s a risk, so I’m going to do it anyway. It’s called The House on Memory Street.
It’s an idea that came to me around twelve years ago. In its first incarnation, the story got no further than a rather detailed synopsis. Since then, I’ve tried to write it three or four different ways. One of the attempts ran to 30,000 words before it broke.
For a long time the idea lay sleeping. Then, this year, it woke up again. A brand new outline fell into place with indecent speed and now, suddenly, the damn thing’s screaming to be written. The outline’s sketchy – barely a page – and there’s about a million things I still don’t know about the story. I wrote my most recent MS – The Dragons of Bloodrock – to my own very detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. Memory is going to be very different. The writing’s going to be scary and seat-of-the-pants. And that’s just fine.
Which brings us right back to the question I asked at the start. I’m currently looking at a few hundred words of prose – the first couple of pages of the new book – in the sure knowledge that it’s already taken me twelve years to get to this point. How long does it take to write a novel? Ask me again when this one’s done. I’ll have a new answer for you, different to the last and just as true.