This is actually the perfect time for me to be writing this post, given that I’ve just finished writing a book at the beginning of the month. And, before we get into the meat of this, I’d like to make one thing very clear: There is no set time to writing a book. Everything that you read here is all personal, and it’s constantly changing, and it is not an end all be all. No author writes the same way, and none of us draft a full book in quite the same way, and while some may have similar lengths from start to finish, the actual act of it is different every time and for each person.
Part of me also wants to point out that I’ve been told, by several people, that the speed at which I draft is insane, but also? It’s the way I write, and whether that’s insane or not doesn’t really matter because it works for me.
What’s this? A new aesthetic for a brand new novel idea? YEAH IT IS! I thought about featuring the researcher & the librarian here since that’s what I just finished, but I’ve been dumping so much of their aesthetic throughout all of my writing posts lately that, although I will be talking about it, you’re getting the aesthetic that’s building for my new baby idea. (Yes, it has plague doctors, and yes, I am very excited about the Goth potential.)
We’re going to take it back a few years because the way I drafted in 2016 is wildly different from the way I draft now, in 2020, and it’s worth looking at both.
From about age 13 to–oh, I don’t know, it was a long time–24 (??), I was working on two different books, and had done for the last twelve years. Truthfully, I can’t remember how long it used to take me to write a book from start to finish in those twelve years because they were shorter than a normal book is supposed to be, they were horrible, and I wrote so many drafts of the same book, over and over, that it’s just a mess. I’ll probably never return to either of those books, but they got me to where I am today, and they were the jumping point for a truly chaotic eighteen days in December 2016. Sim, you read that right, eighteen days. I’m still baffled by it.
After twelve years working on the same idea, I finally decided to give up on it, pray that it wasn’t a mistake, and waited for something new to come to me. It was like letting go of that idea of my teenage years had released a tidal wave, and ideas started to pour in. I grabbed the first one that came to me–an angry elemental faery that would one day be king–and dove straight in.
Over the course of probably the most exhausting eighteen days of my life, I wrote somewhere around 70-80k words for a fairly poorly written novel that would continue to haunt me for the next four years of my life before I finally started to figure out how to tell it the right way. I’ve never written a book that fast again, or even before that, and I never want to again because no matter how insanely fast I do draft novels, that was not fun. No matter who you are, writing does take time, and novels need more than eighteen days to unfold.
After Mason’s novel poured out of me, another one rose up again. It was not the series of fantasy books that I’d been writing for the last twelve years, but another story that I’d written, back when I was 13. The original draft of that novel was just way too much, but I loved that character so much that I wanted to tell his story properly. And though I did write his story in early 2017, I’ll never look at publishing it because writing it was enough for me, and I’d like to keep it held close to my heart. But that, finally, was something that took a bit of time. Most of the story was already there, so it wasn’t a lot of time, but it was a far cry from eighteen days. I was beginning to discover how quickly I could write a novel from start to finish, which was about four months.
At the time, and for the next few years, my drafting stayed pretty consistent. It would take about four months to write a book at around 120k words, which ended up being about 30k a month. Sometimes, it dropped down to three months, and, looking back, it makes me want to hide a bit. Because though I now draft in a shorter amount of time, I was not drafting in a healthy way from 2017-2019.
I often liked to call myself a seasonal writer. I only wrote books when it was cold out, with the exception of the summer of 2017 when I had some huge personal demons to begin exorcising, and the sheer chaos that was 180k words of the Pen boys was–well, it was fun, but it was also exhausting and painful. Because the way that I drafted novels for those two years was an exercise in fatigue and obsessively wanting to be productive. And I get it. After twelve years of working on the same idea and finally getting to pull out new ideas, I was excited. I wanted to get everything out. I wanted to go, go, go at all times so that I wouldn’t lose any of the new ideas clamoring for attention. I wanted to wave my manuscripts around like LOOK AT WHAT I DID!
I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been hearing it for years now. Mary, writing 30k a month is nuts. Writing a book in three months is nuts! Again, I hear you, and I respect that, but this is also just how writing works for me. And, trust me, it’s going to get so much worse, so save your shouting for a few paragraphs.
For those two years, my 30k would happen like this–Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday would pass with me kind of floundering about, maybe going on Tumblr to waste a couple hours, maybe scrolling endlessly through Pinterest to add new images to my growing boards for my books, maybe reading a bit. 2017 was also the year that I started actually reading, which sounds crazy, I know, but, for most of my life, I just bought a lot of books and put them on my shelves without reading them. Sure, I read sometimes, but I was at 30 or less books a year until 2017 when I decided enough was enough and read 82 books. All said, I had a lot going on in those two years! I was writing new books for the first time in over a decade, I was reading a lot for the first time in over two decades, and I was really excited about life.
But, eventually, Thursday would roll around, and I’d decide that I should probably do some writing, and the next two days would just be madness. I’d start writing Thursday midmorning, and I wouldn’t stop until late Friday night. I’d end up getting about 15k words by the end of it, but the weekend would also find me bleary-eyed and exhausted, and the following week, I wouldn’t want to write for a bit. It was this vicious cycle of going way too hard for a few days and then not at all for more days.
It was–a lot. And though four months seems like a short time to write 120k words, the way that I was doing it meant that it felt like entire years were passing. I hated it. I didn’t want to feel like that when it came to writing, but I didn’t know any other way to write a book, and so I kept on. In the summer of 2017, I wrote 180k words for the Pen boys. On a random Sunday in the autumn of 2017, I went to bed with something stirring in my heart, and I woke up the next morning with the name Landon Ash in my mouth. For the rest of the year, I worked steadily on the first duology of the Saintsverse. Throughout 2018, I finished up that duology and began a second one in the universe. I barely wrote for the entire summer, and then, in autumn, sister witches began. And it continued–the sister witches trilogy was written over the course of a full two years. I finished the third book this year in June, and it would be the last one that I would write like that.
Between the beginning of the madness in 2016 with Mason until the sister witches finale in 2020, I’ve written:
- Mason @ 77k (December 2016)
- Alex the Destroyer @ 99k (January-August 2017)
- the Pen boys @ 188k (May-August 2017)
- Saints @ 134k (October-December 2017)
- Saints 2 @ 152k (January-April 2018)
- Saints at sea @ 102k (May-August 2018)
- bookstore boys @ 87k (August 2018-April 2019)
- sister witches @ 112k (September 2018-May 2019)
- sister witches 2 @ 104k (November 2019-February 2020)
- sister witches 3 @ 113k (March-June 2020)
There are some outliers there. Like some kind of bewildering ghost that wanted to haunt me for nearly an entire year, I decided to only write half of both bookstore boys and the first sister witches at the end of 2018, take a few months break while I worked on Saints at sea 2, which I didn’t finish, didn’t even get halfway, thus why it’s not on here, and then write the second half? It was weird, and I never want to do it again. I am very much a linear writer, and I like to go beginning, middle, end all in a row.
I won’t lie. I’m definitely proud of the last four years. I didn’t have consistency in how I was writing, but I did mostly manage to maintain consistency in what I was writing. It was chaotic, and I’m glad it’s over, but I also managed to write books in a pretty consistent stretch of time, even if the actual writing of it was all over the place.
This year, in 2020, I finally wrote in the summer without it feeling like I was pulling teeth, too. Some of those look like they were written in the summer, and while they did have a handful of words here or there, they were mostly written on the tail ends of their respective months because I was still working through those personal demons. But, this summer, when I finished writing the third sister witches, I’d come to a bit of a realization, and everything was about to change.
For twelve years, I kind of did whatever I wanted in terms of writing. For four years after that, I started to find my groove and figure out what the standard length of my books would be and how long that would take to write. But I was still doing it an utterly exhausting way that definitely wasn’t going to be viable for much longer, and so, I decided to shake things up this year.
In July, I started working on a novella for one of my books that, I’ve since discovered, is really just going to be part of the actual story, and once I get around to unraveling the whole thing, I’ll work that novella into the larger project. Unlike the last four years, though, in which I wrote a lot, but in short periods of time, I started setting myself a schedule. I was very strict, too, and though this is an entirely different post, writing on a schedule, it works for me, and we’re going to leave it at that for now. I was allowed to write between the hours of 9AM and 1PM, and though I would get a little lenient occasionally and let myself write at night, it was very rare. I’d usually write a chapter in those hours, somewhere around 3500 words. And then I would spend the rest of the day thinking about nothing else until night fell, and I would dream about what I was going to write the next day. When I woke, I wasn’t tired, but excited to get back to writing.
And, just like that, my writing world shifted.
The last half of 2020 has been interesting, to say the least. And since I showed you how the four years prior went, I think it’s only fair that we talk about the second half of 2020, but I should warn you, this is where it gets worse.
- vampire novella @ 32k (July 2020)
- researcher & librarian @ 123k (August-September 2020)
- researcher & librarian 2 @ 121k (October-December 2020)
Look, I know. The math here is absolutely batshit, but something has utterly flipped for me, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The last five months have been absolute magic, and I never want to leave this new schedule behind. Writing for a specific set of time is working so well for me, and though I know that I’m not always going to have these hours free (thank you, pandemic), I also know that I’ll find a way to work this schedule in somehow, even if I have to switch from morning to night. This has been instrumental in the success of my writing, and not just in production. Sim, I’m writing way more than I was before, and I’m so curious to see what 2021 is going to look like, but I’m also writing in a healthy way that doesn’t feel like slowly falling apart over the course of a novel, and that’s beautiful.
Freddie’s story was written in four months, two for each book, at about 70k per month. You can’t tell me that a schedule isn’t working for me because my word count went up by 40k each month, and that’s after four years of a consistent monthly word count. And who knows, maybe it’s just a fluke with Freddie, maybe the weirdness that is his character just fit so well with my own weirdness that I was able to write that much, but I think it’s more than that. I think, truly, that I’ve finally figured out how I’m supposed to draft novels. Not even supposed to because that feels like I have to do this thing, but it’s more that this is how it works best for me, and I feel so damn good about it.
Really, if we just want to step back from this whole post and look at the basic details of it, it’s this–drafting a novel takes however long it needs to. The way that I’ve written has changed in hugely drastic ways over the years, and though I’m sure it’ll change again in a few years, I’m entering a new chapter right now, and it looks different from the last one. It took me eighteen days to write a book once, sure, but it took me twelve years to write another one, and well. That says it all. I know the title of this post is misleading, and maybe you were hoping to find an answer in here, but I don’t have a specific one for you. Instead, as usual, I’ve got a story that somehow worked its way into a moral. I draft novels in a few months, which means that I write a few novels a year. If I have a series, I have to write the whole series through before I even consider working on revision for the first one. I don’t know how to do it any other way that makes sense for me. I’ve written the opening chapters for Mason’s novel three separate times now since 2016, so you could say it’s taking me over four years to actually write his book again. And yes, I do sit down and plan to write a book in four months now, usually an act per month with some leeway in between, but I’m not angry with myself if it doesn’t happen. If it takes longer, great. If it takes shorter, great. I haven’t actually accomplished all of my writing goals in a year for a long time because I always end up going off the rails and doing things I hadn’t planned. But I’m always writing now, always drafting, always finishing at least one book a year, and that’s what matters to me.
I’m in a chapter of my life where writing a book in four months works for me. And maybe you’ll never get to that point because that’s just not how you draft because the important thing here to remember is that however long it takes you to draft a book is exactly right for you where you are right now. That’s probably going to change as life changes around you, but, for now, don’t stress about how long it’s taking you to write your book. Just get writing.
Who else is hella excited about this
Goth plague doctor story I’m cooking up?
- exhausted & reluctant annoyances to lovers
- plague doctors who also text and scream about their favorite TV shows
- cool tattoo lore
I haven’t started writing it yet, and don’t plan on it for a few months more, but 2021? Maybe?