On Friday, I finished the first draft of my first international thriller novel. It’s always an exciting moment to finish a project, especially one that you’ve been planning for a long time. One of the things that readers often ask about a book is, how long did that take you to write?
It’s a bit of a tricky question to answer. Do you mean, when did I first conceive of the notion, how long did it take to develop the concept into a plot and characters, or how long did the literal first draft take from beginning to end? And even that can be a complicated statistic. For instance, the thriller has been in the back of my mind for years. I did a lot of research and story development before I ever made a new file on the computer and wrote the first sentence.
But for those looking for statistics, here are some. I started the draft on June 3, by writing 2304 words. I finished on October 23 (that’s 141 days). This feels like a long time to me, but I also was leading camps and taking care of many other things over the summer–so I wasn’t actually writing every day (it’s nice when I can do that, but it doesn’t always work out, especially during camp season). I actually wrote on 51 of those days, with a low day of a measly 92 words, and a high of 4633 (on the last day) for an average of 2107.82 words per day. I aim for 2000 words a day, so that’s pretty good. I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of each day that I write and my word count for the day, plus the total for the book.
The draft of book 5 in the Dark Apostle series, which I wrote in the spring, took 36 days, between March 27, and June 13, with an average of 2519 words per day. That’s a pretty big difference–why so? In part, I know Elisha very well. I don’t have to do a lot of thinking or outside writing to figure out who he is, where he is, and what might happen next. With the thriller, I had an all-new cast, with three point of view characters to choose from. I had to ask who would narrate the next scene and when and where it would take place.
Interestingly, those two novels overlapped by a few days–I had felt inspired about the first scene of the thriller, so I went ahead and wrote it, while I was considering the climax of the final volume of the Dark Apostle. Climaxes always take a little time to work out. Sometimes, I take a day or two off, ideally doing something active (hiking is good!) and play with the various possibilities in my head until I find the A-HA! moment when I can see a really great ending. Then the last bit of writing, as it did with the thriller, comes in a rush–and I hate to be distracted by anything.
The first Dark Apostle novel, Elisha Barber, took 35 days, writing every day, for the first draft. I wrote it as a chapter-a-day challenge, my answer to NANOWRIMO, and found that that pace felt very comfortable, hence my 2K a day word goal. Drakemaster, my Chinese historical epic, was 47 days of writing, with an average of 3171 words per day–which is pretty high. I think I was able to do that mainly because of the amount of pre-writing I did: brainstorming about plot and characters, developing a storyline for each character separately, making it easy to develop their individual scenes.
I find that, once I start drafting, writing every day makes it much easier to maintain my energy and momentum–and just keep writing. So the question is, what shall I write next? Hmmm. . .