Why Writing a Book Takes So Damn Long
Writing a book can be a lonely and demanding endeavor, requiring many months (and often years) of hard work, filled with people continually asking you one question…
When will you be done?
I suppose that’s because writing a book seems like a project that should go pretty quickly. You just write and write until you get to the end, right?
Sadly, it’s a bit more complicated than that. For me, the process goes more like this…
You get inspired to write a book, so you open a blank Word doc and start typing furiously. Even if the words seem dumb, you don’t stop typing, because you know if you stop you’ll have a hard time starting again. You just write and write for weeks on end until you can’t think of anything else to write.
Then, the day comes when you have typed that final period. This is likely when you say, “Whoo!” and congratulate yourself. Then you scroll through the draft in front of you and think, “OMG. This is awful. Like hundreds of pages of awful. WHAT HAVE I DONE?”
When you’re done with this step, you have a book. A crappy book.
You go back through your crappy book from the very beginning, rewriting it so it makes sense. You rework parts that feel clunky or dull and add description where needed. You expand passages with dialogue so they sound smooth and natural. If you’re writing non-fiction, and on your first pass you put notes like [find research to back this up], now is the time to find that research. If your first draft just isn’t working, this may be the point when you abandon your manuscript entirely or start over.
Sadly, this second step often takes as long as the first. So, this is also the point when the patience of the person who is helping pay your bills while you’re writing a book, (or the employer who is letting you have some time off to work on this project) begins to run thin.
When you’re done with this step, you have a better book. A coherent book.
You go back through your coherent book from the beginning and start to improve it, (because having all the content drafted doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all good content.) Maybe you have/pay a developmental editor to help you with this part or maybe you do it yourself.
This is the point where you fix any structural problems. You cut secondary characters that are not fully realized and flesh out ones who remain. You make sure each section flows into the next and each chapter does the same. Where you once took four paragraphs to explain something, you now try to do it in two. You look for continuity issues (If he had a gun in the beginning of the chapter, where did he stick it during the chase scene at the end?) and clarify anything that needs extra explanation.
By now everyone is probably thinking you’re never going to finish this book. You are also kind of over it and are feeling like it might have been the worst mistake of your career. But you keep plugging away regardless, because by now you’ve sunk some serious time, (and, if you’re self-publishing, some serious money) in this project.
When you’re done with this step, you have a decent book. A cohesive book.
You go back through your cohesive book from the beginning and edit it, line by line. Maybe you have/pay a copy editor to help you with this part or maybe you do it yourself.
This is the point where you tighten your sentences and prune anything unnecessary. You proofread your manuscript and make sure your punctuation is correct. You swear a lot and ask yourself why you didn’t pay more attention in English class back in high school. If you’re writing non-fiction, this is when you make sure your footnotes are correct and your sources all check out.
By now you also need to write lots of marketing copy and blog posts to promote your book in advance of its release. Things are ramping up and you might be waking up in the middle of the night thinking things like, “I just worked for two years for no money with the assumption that people will pay me someday to read this thing I wrote. AM I A CRAZY PERSON?”
You realize the answer is, “yes,” you ARE a crazy person–a crazy person with a book that’s about to come out.
When you’re done with this step, you likely have something worth publishing. A copyedited book.
For many people this STILL isn’t the final step (you may want to recruit a crew of beta readers to give you feedback on your book and proofread it again after it’s been formatted.) But you get the point I’m making here. The road to publishing a book is a long one.
So, be patient with your author friends. They will be done with their books someday.
It just may not be someday soon.