Writing a Novel: It Takes as Long as it Takes

by Beth Burgmeyer

I was talking to one of our newer critique group members about the novel she’s writing (it’s her first novel). She told me she has about 70,000 words written, but as the novel evolves, and as she gets feedback, she has to go back and change/rewrite things. I got the feeling she’d like to be farther along than she is, so I told her there’s no magic timeframe in which you’re supposed to finish a novel. I told her, “It takes as long as it takes.” She later told me how much she appreciated that comment.

Most writers who’ve finished a novel usually get the question, “So when will it be published?” Many people don’t realize that finishing a rough draft is just the first step in a lengthy process. But the pressure we put on ourselves is often greater than any outside pressure. As writers, we often set high expectations and lofty goals when it comes to finishing a novel or getting published. There’s nothing wrong with that, we just need to set realistic goals.

We can also run into trouble if we start comparing our writing speed and output to other writers. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sprinter or a long distance runner, you have to find what works for you. One of our group members, who’s an indie author, published multiple novels both last year and this year. She’s found a writing rhythm and method that work for well for her. She’s a fantastic storyteller who manages to put out quality work at a pretty fast pace.

I’m more of a tortoise when it comes to writing. I can often finish a first draft of a novel in four to six months, but it’s the editing and polishing and rewriting that take a long time. I finished my first manuscript four years ago, and have since written four and a half more manuscripts. I’m sure my friends and family are wondering why in the world I’m not published yet.

There are several reasons I’m not published yet. After writing my first novel, I fell in love with writing. I had so many ideas, I couldn’t stop writing. Now, I’m finally taking the time to polish my manuscripts. Taking my time is what’s key for me. I’m trying the traditional publishing route, which is also a very long process. But before I ever query an agent, my manuscript usually goes through at least a year of editing and rewriting. I also make sure my critique group and beta readers give me their valuable feedback.

So, four years after finishing my first manuscript, I’m finally ready to start seriously submitting one of my novels to literary agents. The manuscript I’m submitting is actually my most recent one. It might seem strange that it was ready before my earlier manuscripts, but I give members of The Des Moines Writers Workshop credit for my evolution as a writer. Each manuscript I write is cleaner and easier to polish thanks to everything I’ve learned from this great group of writers. Even though this was my cleanest manuscript, it still took me well over a year to get it ready to submit.

As writers, we all have to find our own rhythm, to find what works for us. I’m still figuring it out. Just know that there’s not some magic timeline, no looming deadline you have to meet. If it takes you two years to write your novel, it takes two years. One of my long distance writing friends has been working on her manuscript for almost five years.

Most importantly, enjoy the process. If you’re a long distance runner in a group of sprinters, it’s okay. You’ll all cross the finish line, just at different times. And if your family and friends keep asking when your book is going to be published, just tell them “It takes as long as it takes.”

Beth Burgmeyer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *