Non-Blog | Channing Whitaker

How Long Did It Take You to Write?


Though my first novel has been out for only a year, I’ve already noticed there are a few questions that seem to arise over and over again from the prospective readers I meet while promoting the book. “Where’d you get the idea?” “Is it a series?” “Where is it set?” All are straightforward questions which are easy enough to answer. I believe, going forward as an author, I should expect to answer those same questions every time I step out into the world intending to push my stories onto the public. But then there’s another frequent question: “How long did it take you to write,” which isn’t quite so straightforward to answer. If you’re an author, is this one you hear often?

It’s not that I can’t remember when I first sat down and opened that new Word file which would become my manuscript, or that I can’t calculate the length of time between then and when the book came out. That’s simple. The difficulty in answering is in the implication the question gives of the asker. It is almost certain that they have an idea they’ve been harboring for their own novel, but have actually written little or nothing of it, and they’re trying to gain perspective on the work ahead of them if they move forward with it. Like a person standing at the bottom of a big hill, shouting to another who’s standing on top: “How far is it up?”

Knowing that a mountain of work lies ahead when one undertakes writing a novel, I feel obligated not to mislead a prospective writer, nor do I want to dissuade them. Writing a novel is likely to be measured in months and years, not days and weeks. On top of that, for a first time author, after they’ve finished they’ll likely spend more months, if not over a year hunting for a publisher, and should they find one, their publisher will likely spend months, if not a year, preparing the material and the book’s marketing before it is finally released.

That said, not all months are created equal. One author might spend 18 months writing their novel, but still be working a day-job at the same time, while another author might spend 6 months writing their novel, working on the book full-time. Sometimes the writing process involves waiting time. An author might finish a draft and have to put it down for a few weeks, or a few months, to return to it with fresh eyes. An author might also be using the services of an editor or a critiquing group between drafts, and be subject to weeks or a month, waiting for those notes, before digging in on the next draft.

I am personally working away on my next novel, with the intent of working on it full-time, but I find that having another book already out means organizing and traveling to personal appearances every few weeks, interviews, blogging and keeping up with social media to cultivate my audience, plus reading and reviewing fellow authors, which all take time. Thus, even full-time writing only allows for a part-time schedule of actually composing the words on the pages of my next manuscript. All of this makes telling that eager but inexperienced writer “a year,” “eighteen months,” “two years,” at best incomplete answers.

“How long did it take you to write?” Recently, I’ve stumbled on a relatively simple way to answer which fellow authors might find helpful to respond effectively, and which might truly impart accurate perspective to the asker. Measure the effort in hours.

I spent about 1,500 hours on my first novel, from page one of my first draft through the end of the polished manuscript that actually found me a publisher. (Though that is not the end of the process, mind you.)

Of course every author and every project are different, but now the prospective author can calculate a realistic approximation. If they can spend 40 hours a week on their manuscript, they might expect about 8 or 9 months for writing a novel similar in length to mine. If they can spend 50 or 60 hours a week, they might cut that down. If they work full-time elsewhere and raise a family, and can only spare 10 hours a week, they might realistically expect the project to take 3 years. In any case, hopefully the process will streamline with successive books.

To all you prospective authors, it’s a lot of work. I hope this helps. Good luck.

To all you established authors, how do you answer this question?

Originally Posted on "Marilyn's Musings" blog, March, 2015.

The Seed of a Story


It’s a none-to-uncommon question for authors, “where did you get the idea for your book?” But it’s not always an easy question to answer. I wonder if we can do a little better?
For me, I have many ideas swimming around in my head. Sometimes it’s a character, but I’m not sure where I’ll use them. Other times it’s a setting, a plot twist, or just a moment of intensity all without corresponding context. Once in a while, with a little luck, a bunch of these ideas come together and form something bigger, a foundation. Who’s to say which of that cluster was first, or even where it came from?
With my recently released novel, “Until the Sun Rises – One Night in Drake Mansion,” I similarly can’t put my figure on any single element as having spawned the rest of my tangled web. However, I can recall the very first scene from the story I began developing.
The majority of the novel is set in the present, but a portion takes place in the past. The first past section involves a mysterious, secret, and very thematically dark magic show which adds to the mystery set in the present with a parallel mystery to unfold in the past. Essentially, it’s a tangential story line, a secondary mystery that draws the reader to learn about certain characters pertaining to the primary mystery and plot. It adds character depth, intrigue, and plot layers. Of course the two plotlines intersect explosively, but it’s interesting in retrospect for the secondary plotline to have been the genesis of the main story, converse to what one might expect.
This magic show moment and its characters were first. From there, I created scenes to give readers background on the characters, to get you acquainted. Next, I developed plot that puts the characters into that moment. After that, I developed additional scenes to give that moment direct consequence, and more to show readers what those characters do after that moment, how it impacted them.  With this thread woven, I stepped back and asked, “how can I make this even deeper, even more consequential, intriguing, captivating?” The answer came with adding what eventually became the primary plotline, which underwent it’s own similar development.
Returning to the question, “where did you get the idea?” It feels like I just had that first moment in my head. Did I see a weird magic show that made it dawn on me? Not that I recall? Did I base the characters on something I saw, read, or heard? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe I invented the scene and the character specifically because I’d never seen anything like that scene before. The rest was created to give others a chance to find it as interesting as I did.
Perhaps in the future I’ll read an article and it will directly inspire a new story. Certainly that occurs with non-fiction, and I can imagine the same for fiction - where a real life story inspires a similar, but even more intriguing scenario. That just hasn’t been my experience. In the mean time, perhaps a better go-to question for authors is, “what part of your story did you explore first?” This might cut to the desired incite into the creative process even faster.
Authors, what part of your story did you explore first?
Originally Posted at the "Omni Mystery Blog,"  June, 2015.
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