How long does it take to write a novel? I get asked that all the time. The answer to that question is “It depends.” In my case, every novel has taken a different length of time, and for different reasons.
Before I wrote my first novel that was published, I produced three others—four if you count totally reworking one of them—and these books garnered a total of forty rejections. I wasn’t particularly thankful for what seemed at the time like wasted effort, but I came to realize later that I was learning the craft while under no pressures of time to do so. It proved to be a valuable experience.
I took my time writing my first novel, the book that was to become Code Blue. It started out as a cozy mystery before morphing into medical romantic suspense. All told I produced at least three versions of that book, each one revised numerous times, before I received a contract for its publication, a year and a half after I first had the idea. But there was no hurry. I had no obligations to fulfill. There were no deadlines to meet. I had all the time in the world. And with each revision I was learning a bit more about writing.
After I completed that novel I started planning the next one. That was something a number of authors told me: always have the next book in the works. I decided to pursue one of my “what if?” scenarios. What if a doctor’s life was turned upside down by identity theft? Could there be medical implications as well as personal ones? It wasn’t long before I’d completed the outline and begun to write the book. This time there were fewer revisions between first draft and final product. I wasn’t under time pressure, so the writing went smoothly, and I finished that novel in about eight months. Abingdon bought that book as well, and it’s just been published as Medical Error.
Medical Error was part of a two-book contract, and the manuscript for the other novel in that deal was due less than six months after the contract was signed. Now I had a deadline. Now there was time pressure. Now things were different. I had an idea in the back of my mind, and I hurried to flesh it out, populate the story with characters, and start writing. As I wrote I alternated between feelings of “this isn’t bad” and “there’s no way they’ll accept this.” I finished Diagnosis Death within the allotted time, and it’s due for publication next spring. Writing under the pressure of a deadline was tough, but one of the things that saved me was the experience of writing those two previous novels (and the four unpublished ones before them). This time the writing was cleaner, and there were even fewer revisions.
So how long does it take to write a novel? It depends on whether it’s the first or a subsequent one. I depends on whether you have a contractual deadline. It depends… Well, you get the idea. It’s sort of like the question asked of Abraham Lincoln: How long should a man’s legs be? His answer was a classic: Long enough to reach the ground.
How long does it take to write a novel? Long enough to finish it, revise it, polish it, and send it off. Any other questions?