Depends on how you look at it. Anywhere from 3 months to 50 years in the case of my first novel. Here’s how it breaks down.
Fifty years: In 1972, Mr. Durand, my English teacher, gave me an A on a short story and asked me when the novel was coming out. Since my short story was loosely based on Erich Segal’s novel Love Story–and I can’t believe Mr. Durand didn’t see that–I’d say that the novel had already come out and it was written by someone else.
But that planted the seed. I kept that thought in the back of my mind, the idea that I could write a book, for the last five decades.
Thirty-six years: Somewhere in the mid-1980s, I started buying Writer’s Digest magazine and studying the articles, learning about writing markets, query letters, synopses, plot devices, etc. I had the idea that I could write a novel while my kids were sleeping. That didn’t work out. For years, I was too tired at the end of the day to think about writing and when I woke up early, when the house was quiet and the chaos of children had not yet begun, all I wanted to do was drink a cup of tea and enjoy the silence.
Twenty-nine years: In 1994, my husband introduced me to the Internet, specifically to Usenet groups. I found a group called misc.writing, which was a place to go to chat with other writers. There were published writers there and wannabes like me. Those folks were the first ones to treat me like a writer and I hadn’t even written anything, yet.
Fourteen years: I actually sat my butt down and started to write the book that would become my first finished novel. I had no idea what I was doing. I kept putting the manuscript down, sometimes for months or years, in order to read books about how to write books. At this point I was not even thinking of publishing it, just finishing it. I wanted it to be good enough to be published, but I wasn’t sure if I had the nerve to put it out there.
Five years: In 2018 or so, I started to take myself seriously as a writer. I wrote pretty regularly. I worked on the novel and I wrote short stories. I learned how to find prompts and ideas. I practiced different POVs and telling stories in different tenses. In the middle of 2019, I took about nine months off to get a teaching certificate and start teaching English, thinking that would get me out into the world where I would be exposed to more ideas. Turned out that all it did was take time away from writing. Then the pandemic happened and I crawled back into my office and continued writing. I really put my mind to it and I wrote “The End” to the first draft of the novel on 1-July-2021.
Then, I had a problem with my ulnar nerve, causing numbness in two of my fingers and making typing difficult. It took nine months to diagnose and fix the problem. Since mid-2022, I’ve been re-reading, re-writing, editing, proofreading, sending the manuscript out to beta readers, incorporating their input, editing some more.
Six months: But, honestly, if I take all the actual hours I worked on the book and put them together into days and weeks, I probably only wrote for 3 months. If I had sat down and worked on the book diligently for 6 to 8 hours a day, I’d say I did about 12 weeks worth of writing. I also had to test recipes for the book and write them up, so add about 4 more weeks. If I had diligently sat in a chair and edited 6 to 8 hours a day, then that would be another month or two.
There’s also the time involved in learning how to independently publish the book, market the book, distribute the book. But, I won’t have to learn that all again for each book. I’ll probably have to keep up with the newest stuff, though.
Let’s hope the next book is ready to publish 6 actual months from the day I start it.