I just finished reading a book called Write a Western in 3o Days: With Plenty of Bullet Points (love the subtitle) by Nik Morton. I didn’t buy and read the book to determine whether I could write a Western in thirty days–I’ve already done that. Instead, I bought it to find out what pointers the author might offer for writing a better Western. Meanwhile, in the process of reading the book, I’ve been prompted to sit down to answer a few questions that people often ask me about writing and publishing novels in general and Westerns in particular.
How Long Does It Take to Write a Novel?
Great question! It warrants a little clarification, though. When Nik Morton offers to help readers write a Western in 30 days, he isn’t talking about a polished, publisher-ready novel. And he’s not talking about 30 calendar days. He’s talking about writing a first draft in 30 eight-hour days. And a first draft is almost always a long way from being publisher-ready.
Now a highly disciplined author with few conflicting responsibilities may be able to write for eight hours per day. Most authors can’t sustain effective concentration for that length of time, however. Oh, there may be the rare day or string of days when an author can plug away for ten or twelve hours per day. But typically, the quality of the ideas and of the writing itself both begin to tail off after about six hours. Then it’s time for the author to shift to something else like answering correspondence or posting on social media.
Another factor that enters into the equation when calculating how long it takes to write a novel is the length of the book. Nik Morton is talking about composing a novel of about 45,000 words (approximately 150 print pages) in 30 work days. That’s a fairly short novel. So what about writing a 90,000-word initial draft in 30 days?
I wrote the first draft of Strong Convictions: An Emmett Strong Western (over 85,000 words) in about one calendar month. I was on a roll. In the zone. And having a blast. What I wrote that month needed polishing and refinement, but I didn’t have to completely rewrite or reconstruct any substantial sections of the book. So yes, obviously, someone with a reasonable plot outline can craft a first draft in 30 eight-hour days.
Perhaps under the right circumstances, I could have repeated the success I enjoyed while writing the first draft of Strong Convictions when I moved on to composing the first draft of the next book in the series, Strong Suspicions. But, for me, life in 2015 has been different from life in 2014. And I’ve spent a good three calendar months developing the first draft of my second Western.
There are authors who can turn out two or even three or more novels in a year. Some, such as the late Isaac Asimov, have proven themselves to be prodigious writers. Others are established writers of great talent who enjoy the support of the industry’s best editors and support staff. Most, however, who try to publish three and four novels in a year are generating works that–truth be told–would benefit greatly from more polishing and editing.
Generally speaking, if an author can take a novel from inception to publication in nine or ten months, he or she has done very well in terms of time invested.
Westerns vs Other Genres
Does it take any longer to write novels of one genre versus those of another? That too depends on the author. The old adage, “write what you know,” doesn’t so much mean that authors should write about where they grew up or what they’ve personally experienced so much as that they write about things that match their personality and passion, things they’ve invested time in pondering and studying. When an author is working in his or her best genre, it shouldn’t necessarily take any more time or less time to write a novel than it would take for someone else to craft a book in the genre that best suits them.
Tom Clancy had to have done extensive research to write his techno-thrillers. He might have floundered trying to write a string of Westerns. I can’t say. It just depends on whether he found Westerns to his liking, fitting his interests.
Having written both a thriller and a Western, I can say from experience that trying to write a good Western is no easier than trying to write a good thriller.
All of this having been said, I’m delighted to find myself working in the Western genre. For me, it’s of tremendous interest and appeal. And apart from the fact that I’m anxious to get the next installment of the series out to those who have already enjoyed Strong Convictions, it would be of little consequence to me whether it took eight months or eighteen months to write my next Western.
So hang in there, folks–I’m working on it as diligently as I can. And the next book is coming along very well.