Drafting the Novel: How long did that take you to write?

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?

top view of notebooks for Drakemaster (epic fantasy) and thriller novel, about half as long. Both printed double-sided.

top view of notebooks for Drakemaster (epic fantasy) and thriller novel, about half as long. Both printed double-sided.

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. . .





About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
This entry was posted in books, essays, fiction, The Dark Apostle, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Drafting the Novel: How long did that take you to write?

  1. Pingback: Looking Ahead | E. C. Ambrose

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