A couple weeks ago I answered a question about inspiration. This question is a bit more practical, and I’m asked it at every single school visit.
How long does it take to write a book?
It’s a fair question. When you’ve never written a book, the task seems insurmountable. Hundreds and hundreds of pages of words, all telling a single story, sentences strung together in a way that will hopefully engage a reader for days or weeks, even months? How does it work?
In practical terms, I can tell you that my first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, took roughly five years. The learning curve was steep. I’ve never taken a single writing class (though I’ve taught one, which is hilarious to me), so I truly had no idea how to begin, or worse, how to finish. I bought lots of How to Be an Author in Five Easy Steps sorts of books, I read and read, made little notes, drew maps, and asked authors for advice. Finally one of those authors told me I was wasting my time reading all those books on writing, that the only way to learn to write is to write. It’s not fun advice, but it couldn’t be more true. Write, write, write. And it doesn’t mean you have to bang out a book in a month and let the rest of your life go to seed. It just means you need to write a little every day. I recently read a great interview with historian David McCullough, who’s written many books, and he said that he writes two pages a day. TWO PAGES A DAY. That’s it. But if you think about it, that’s 700 pages a year, give or take. Seriously, folks, if you have time to manage a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and an Instagram account (and I sheepishly admit that I do), then there’s no reason you can’t carve out enough time to write two measly pages.
The only thing keeping you from it is you.
So how long does it take to write a first draft of a 284 page book? Well, it comes down to math. If I wrote two pages a day, it would take a little less than five months. That should be encouraging. It means you could have your first draft finished by this February, and the fun thing is that once you get into a groove you end up writing much more than just two pages a day. I bet you’ll finish even sooner.
One important thing to remember, though, is that your first draft will stink. It will stink to high heaven, as my dad used to say. It will stink like maggotloaf, like Fang sweat. However, the good news is that the first draft, for me, at least, is by far the most difficult part. Once you can write the words, “The End,” you can look at your story from a bird’s-eye-view and see what needs to be revised–and revision is the fun part. But before you revise a single word, you should throw yourself a party because writing two measly pages a day for several months is incredibly difficult. (I know I made it sound easy in the last paragraph, but I was just trying to pump you up.)
So why did it take me five years? Well, I’m counting from the night I drew my first map of Aerwiar till the day I went to Barnes and Noble and saw the Wingfeather Saga on the shelf (right next to Terry Pratchett and Phillip Pullman, which was crazy). Not long after I started writing the actual book I realized I needed to write histories, backstories, and character descriptions. Then, after my first draft was finished I had to revise every single page, and when I finished that I had to do it all over again. And that was before I sent the book to my editor, who tore it to shreds. The book went through about five revisions before it got to its published form–and even now when I flip through that first book I wish I could revise it a few more times.
There you have it. In the words of Shank Po, “Get thee busy.”
This week, Madame Sidler will be reading chapters 7-13 of The Warden and the Wolf King. Check back on Friday for an excerpt, and to share one of your own!
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