Thursday, July 24, 2014

Q&A: How long does it take to write a book?

Writing in bed has a long and honorable pedigree
Before I ever sat down to actually try to write a full novel, I had written quite a bit.  From very early age, I was writing little stories.  I recall specifically stories I wrote in grade school about a boy and his friend that was a griffin, and the story of a man who could turn invisible and ended up being killed by the government.

Through the years I wrote different little stories, often little more than a sequence of short scenes and events that I expanded on as I thought about them.  I wrote and drew comics, several books worth, and have always made up stories in my head as I try to go to sleep.

When I considered writing a book, I was always intimidated by the work I imagined it would entail.  I knew writing took time, from personal experience, and I knew that to have a worthy book you had to go through multiple layers of editing and rewrites.  The whole process sounded like less fun and more misery than I cared to go through.

So I put it off for years, decades even.  I knew I could write fairly well but the prospect of all that effort didn't seem worth the end result.  I know that this is not unique to me, though.  Many people who might be willing to write are intimidated by the thought of the time and effort involved.  How long does it actually take to write a novel?

Of course the answer to this kind of question is always "it depends."  It took JRR Tolkien nearly 20 years between writing The Hobbit to publishing The Return of the KingGone With The Wind took 10 years to write.  Atlas Shrugged is considered Ayn Rand's greatest work, and it took her 6 years to finish.

On the other hand, some authors can knock off a book pretty fast.  Authors such as Steven King and Robert Parker could churn out two books a year or more.  Isaac Asimov wrote over 500 works, starting in 1934 and ending in 1992; that's just over 8 works a year, on average.  

How long it takes to finish a book depends a lot on its size, how much research is involved, your familiarity and comfort with writing, experience, motivation, distractions, and so on.  If you struggle with your health, it will take longer to finish a novel.  When Lauren Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit, it was a struggle for her as she fought her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  By the end, she was bedridden for months and it took her five years to finish.

If you're very familiar with the content, need little reasearch, and are a comfortable, quick writer or typist, you can finish a novel quite rapidly.  It took me about a month of writing to finish each of my first two books (although I can't write long each day).  I average just under 100k words a book, which is short for modern fantasy novels which can be several hundred thousand words each.  The Lord of the Rings was intended to be one gargantuan book, but the publishers wisely broke it up into a trilogy.

You can reasonably expect to be able to finish a novel in a few months, but should not feel bad if it takes longer.  A book that requires a lot of research such as my current work in progress necessarily requires more time to study and learn - while I was doing the main writing there were many days that I did 2 hours of research for every 1 hour of actual writing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Bart was cribbing off of Milhouse that moment
I think every author at least some point in their career worries that someone might steal their idea or their concept and use it.  Certainly plagiarism has been a problem in the past, and every so often you will read about a lawsuit where someone stole an idea from someone else and used it.

With the internet, the concern becomes even more real to writers.  Fair or not, legal or not, everything you post online effectively much becomes public domain.  While technically posting something on the internet makes it copyrighted to the originator, it also places the work on the world's biggest, most readily accessible research database.  You own the copyright to that picture, but you just made it free to use for everyone on earth.

So posting an idea or a story section, a chapter, a prologue etc online is laying it out there for more than six billion people to look at and use as they desire.  Which can be pretty intimidating, especially if you're just starting out.

Later, he used copyrighted work for the cover
Certainly I would tell everyone flat out to never post their entire book online somewhere that can be just grabbed and read.  In other words, don't blog your book and leave it out there for anyone with a search engine to see for free.  Its one thing to have a giveaway of your book on a pay site, but another entirely to just give it to the world in its entirety.

But if you post a story concept, or a piece of your book online, you are safe enough. Your concept on the internet is like one grain of sand on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, including the newly designated "Southern Ocean."  The internet is so vast, chances are nobody will even see it.

But more than that, even if someone does find it, you're still pretty safe.  Let me illustrate.  I have a book concept that goes like this:
A great evil has been defeated at great cost, by the forces of good and light.  Yet all is not good, as over time the forces of light begin to take away freedom and control the people more and more.  The kingdom becomes more like San Angeles in Demolition Man where well-meaning political correctness and enforced speech codes and behavior reduce liberty, creativity, strength, ambition, and purpose to ruins.  In desperation a small group of rebels reaches out to the great evil, freeing the great leader of the evil forces to save them from the heroes that have enslaved their souls, if not their bodies.
There's the book concept, the whole thing.  Some day I might get it written, but I have a good half dozen books between now and then lined up for writing.  Now look that over, its kind of a neat idea, right?