How long should it take to write a novel? Well, that's a silly question, really, isn't it? Because everyone knows there is no 'should' in it. It takes as long as it takes. But despite all of that, I have recently had cause to consider this question.
What as writers do we generally expect? Is the equation always 'time spent equals quality of book.' Is it ever possible to work on a book for too long? Does a writer spend the same time on each book?
Ten years ago, I certainly thought that I had an answer to that last question. I had written three novels by then and each had taken about four years. So I thought - ok, so that's my process and probably that won't change much now. It would be better if I could work quicker but I can't. (One book had missed a publisher's deadline by two years).
But then the next novel took eight years - or maybe even more. I'm too embarrassed really to put an exact figure on it. Then came a memoir which probably took eighteen months but I don't really include that because (let's face it) writing a memoir is a doddle compared to writing a novel. You just write down what happened next in your life. So how complicated can that be?
Now I am writing a new novel and it is coming together at terrifying speed. Of course, I should just be pleased about this. But as a writer, I always need to have something to worry about. So now I am worrying about the fact that, given how quickly this book seems to be happening, it can't be any good.
Uuuum? I think it does happen sometimes that a novelist finds that a book just drops off the end of the pen with no real difficulty at all. And if that is currently what is happening to me, then I really must not complain.
But as a general rule - and I'm sure others will vehemently disagree - I do think that 'time spent equals quality of book.' I read far too many novels at the moment which are not much more than first drafts. And I also know that most of the books I really love took the writer years to write. Even if I don't know that as a fact, I can feel it in the writing.
Finally, as writers we ask a great deal of readers. We want them to pay a fair sum for the book and then we expect them to spend two or three days of their lives dedicated to our work.
Personally, if I am going to make this commitment, then I expect the writer to have spent many long hours making that book absolutely as good as it can be. Because, after all, I could have used that time to read a better book. I can't get those hours back again.