The Writing Process: How long does it take to write a book?

The Vision and Beyond - Maggie Shaw - Eregendal

This is a question often asked of me during talks I give about self-publishing. People ask it at business networking sessions too. While it usually comes from a budding author who has started writing their first novel, it can also be raised by a consultant who would like to showcase their skills to a wider public.

My reply is usually, ‘As long as it takes.’

It  took me about six years to complete the hand-written first draft of The Vision and Beyond. I wrote the first fifty pages in a month. After penning the vision that is Part 1 of the book, I had no idea how the story could then progress. The novel stub was relegated to a useful lever arch file I keep called ‘Beginning with No Ends’, to be rediscovered several years later. As I read it again, I now knew how the story should end. I finished writing it, typed the novel out, showed it to friends for guidance, and sent it to publishers and agents. When they all rejected it, the novel got filed and shelved again. Life intervened, I studied and became a dietitian. In spare moments, I wrote other novels but rarely sent them to publishers and agents because all those past rejections had discouraged me from trying.

Over thirty years later, I attended an online course run by a fellow dietitian about self-publishing, based on her own experience. Her positivity about the process inspired me to have a go too. I looked through the thirteen or more unpublished novels languishing on my shelves and chose The Vision and Beyond for my first attempt. Its compelling story about identity, faith and second sight had haunted my thoughts for many years. Now was its chance to shine.

Reading the novel again after the passage of time, helped me see why the original manuscript had been rejected. The story suffered from a lot of those embarrassing novice writer faults: too many chunks of world building, a lack of tension to make the reader want to read on, a drabness in mood unrelieved by any momentary joys or achievements, and some bizarre word choices. These were easily edited out in further drafts. And forty years after pen first touched paper, the novel was published, in August 2018.

What can we take from this? As said at the start, the length of time a book takes to be written depends on a great number of variables. These include the available amount of uninterrupted time to write, self-belief in the project, whether underpinning research is required, inspiration and your determination to finish. And once the first draft of the book is written, at least three months more will be needed before publication day, for rewriting, typing (if you write by hand), beta reader input, editing, print layout, cover design, and ARC reader input. It’s not for the faint-hearted! But it’s so rewarding when you do.

Happy writing!


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