The Pace of Writing a Novel

One of the most common writing questions people ask me goes something like this... "How long does it take to write a novel?"

The answer to this question isn't simple.

In terms of chronological time, it generally takes me 2-3 years from concept to publication.  Of course, during that time I might have 4-5 other projects running in parallel at any given point in time.

A more precise estimate comes from looking at the various stages of a project:

Basic design: 3-4 weeks.

First Draft: 6 weeks.

Subsequent drafts (typically 1-3 of these, depending on how quickly and efficiently things come together.  Early novels took quite a few more):  4 weeks per draft.

Editor's review:  4-12 weeks, depending on the editor's workload.

Adding in the editor's notes:  1-2 weeks.

Proofreader's review:  3-8 weeks, again depending on the proofreader's workload.

Adding the proofreader's notes:  1-2 weeks

Final formatting and submission: 1 week.

Total sequential time (as if I could just go from one step to the next without a pause, which isn't how I write) is about 35 weeks.  About 8 weeks of the total represents time when I can work on other things (editor or proofreader time).  My personal work time is around 27 weeks on each novel, or roughly half a year.  I don't work this way, however.  I need the breaks between various drafts to mull over elements of the  novel's plot and the development of the characters.  So in reality, I need more than half a year to get the project completed, even if I don't have any other projects competing for my attention.

I know some authors are able to publish 4 or more novels in a year.  To complete four  novels, I would have to spend 100% of my available work time on writing.  Right now, I spend about 60%.  Even with 100% time utilization, I'd still need some significant efficiency improvements to get to a total of 4 novels in a year.

I don't plan on doing that.  Part of what appeals to me with writing is the flexibility I have to work when I want, and do other things when they become a priority.  I wouldn't give that up to increase production.

My current pace will have me releasing about two novels a year.  Some years (like 2013), I'll only manage one title.  Some years, I'll get three out.  There are plenty of projects in the pipeline to sustain this release rate for 2-3 years ahead.