“How Long Does It Take to Write a Novel?”

I got my proof copies of Monsters All the Way Down. Because of the finality of this event, it got me thinking about one of the most common questions I get asked: “How long does it take to write a novel?” I thought I might share my own experience about how long it took from a blank page to a holy-cannoli-this-is-really-happening book.

Monsters All the Way Down proof copy

It even smells like a real book.

This is me baring my soul a bit. I know some writers can crank out a first draft in a matter of weeks, but that was not the case with me. I’ll try to keep my excuses to a minimum.

I started this book four years ago. I don’t know the exact date, but I had 11,000 words by June 24, 2010. This was a month after the birth of my son and a couple of months before I left my job for the stay-at-home dad gig. Our baby boy spent most of his time sleeping, and I could write 1,000-2,000 words on a good day. I thought I’d have the novel finished by Christmas.

Then a month passed and I only wrote 3,000 words. The next month, the word count increased by a mere 2,000. I now realized the wild optimism of my predictions. Fueled by Mountain Dew Live Wire, I wrote what I could between my son’s feedings and dirty diapers. I finished the first major section of the first draft on October 25.

As my newborn baby transformed into a bigger baby, I was writing less and less. After my wife fell asleep, I would write if I could. But as often as not, my son would wake up, so I was lying on the couch with him sleeping on my chest. We watched a lot of Cheers together during those night shifts.

I was writing in binges–this was long before I found a routine that worked for me. I finally hit the 60,000-word milestone on August 24, 2011, more than a year after I’d started. Momentum carried me to the end of my first draft on September 29. The sense of relief was overwhelming.

I starting revising and working through my supplemental file. After pulling an all-nighter, I sent out copies of my second draft to my beta reader volunteers in February, 2012. Looking back, it’s absurd I would take that step so early in the revision process. In my naiveté, I thought I was only a draft or two from a finished book. With input from my beta readers, I finished another draft by the time my daughter was born that May.

After months of wrangling a two-year-old and a newborn (and working non-stop every night on Monsters), I decided to use the summer to start another book and work on other projects. The plan was to start sending Monsters out to agents that fall, but caring for two small children is actually quite different than caring for one. I didn’t send out my first round of agent queries until February, 2013. The final product weighed in at about 86,000 words.

Without going into the details, I received exciting emails followed by disappointment. It was in March, 2014–after a four-month wait to hear that my most prospective publisher decided to pass–that I decided to self-publish my novel.

Finding a great cover artist ended up being easy, but the copy editing took longer than I expected (but the end result was worth every penny). I jumped through all the hoops, and I put a few of my short stories up for sale on Amazon and elsewhere to learn about the process. I’ll eventually blog about what I’ve learned about book layout and creating ebooks, and I’ll share some of the problems I had so that others might avoid them.

So there you have it. I expected it to take six months, but it took me three years to finish plus another year to release. There were many weeks and even a few months when I didn’t have the time or energy to work on the book at all, but finishing is worth it. If you take one thing away from this post, I want it to be: whatever your dream is, don’t give up. Even if it takes you years instead of months, don’t give up. Even if you realize the only way your work will reach your audience is if you put it out there yourself, don’t give up.

My father-in-law and I were just talking about the distance between the Want-To folks and the I-Did-It folks. I have to tell you, it feels good to sit back and say, “I did it. Guess it’s time to finish the next one.”

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9 thoughts on ““How Long Does It Take to Write a Novel?”

  1. First, love the cover. Second, congrats on finishing. It’s an awesome feeling. My first book (a suspense/thriller) took me 5 years with a lot of stops and starts in between. Its sequel took almost 3 years. In the middle, I was able to crank out the first draft to a YA novel in a 6-month time span. It’s different for everyone. I’ve now got 3 full-length books published and I’ll probably (hopefully) have two more out next year. Getting that first one out is such an accomplishment. Keep up the good work! 😀

    • Thank you. Glad to hear from someone a bit further down the road–that’s a respectable body of work. I’m hoping to have my next one finished by the end of the year so I can raise funds for illustrations. Best of luck to you in your endeavors.

    • Thank you! The first novel I tried to write was a bit shorter, probably would have clocked in at about 60k when finished. I’ve got a few shorter works on the back burner while I work on the novels.

  2. Pingback: The Influece of Sequential Art on My Novel or: How I Shoved Comics Into A Book Without Pictures | Longbox Graveyard

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