This is a question authors hear at almost every book signing or speaking engagement they attend. “How long did it take you to write that?”
Like most authors, I have trouble answering that one. Few authors write on a 9 to 5 schedule, 5 days a week, which is the standard American work week. Most authors have day jobs–they teach or work for a newspaper or manage an office or work in a hospital–so their writing occurs during lunch hour, in the evenings, or on weekends. I’ve never met a writer who tracked his or her hours!
But the toughest issue is the definition of “writing.” Is going to the library for research considered “writing?” Is reading new publications by authors who write in the same genre considered “writing?” What about sending e-mails to an agent, spending two days at a writing conference, preparing a talk for an author dinner, or traveling to a book club meeting to discuss your latest release? Is revising a manuscript to the editor’s requests considered “writing?” And does the time spent brainstorming over titles, choosing cover images, perusing the author’s Facebook page, interviewing sources, and packing books in padded envelopes and driving them to the post office count?
Hardest to measure is the inevitable down time: waiting 6 months while your agent submits the manuscript to various publishers, waiting for next month’s critique group meeting to learn how your peers reacted to your latest chapter, or waiting a year for the book to actually appear on the shelves. And what about the many manuscripts that are partially completed and set aside for a month or a year or a decade, as the author tackles something else?
Over the years, I’ve decided to interpret this question as “How long ago did you start writing this book?” So that’s how I answer. “I started in the summer of 2009 and it was published in 2015,” I might say. I amend that by relating what I’ve learned from other authors: that one year is a fairly good estimate of how long it takes most writers to complete most books. Sure, some churn our two or even three in a year, but they are balanced by the ones who take ten years to write a single one.
Fifteen years after I began the first draft of my latest novel, Stolen Memories, it celebrated its official birth on Feb. 15, 2016. I began writing Stolen Memories back in 2001 and over the years, I revised it countless times. It went through my two critique groups, my first agent, my second agent, and my editor before I felt it was something I could be proud of. During that time, I wrote and had published seven other books, but I never let go of this one. And I’m proud of it today!
A brutal attack along the banks of the Seine in 1928 leaves a young Englishwoman close to death in a Paris hospital, without a memory in her head. She soon comes up against a vengeful husband who accuses her of the theft of priceless art, the French gendarmes who have linked her to a murder on the Riviera, and a scorned lover who is trying to kill her. The husband, believing his wife’s amnesia is faked, spirits her away to an ancient chateau in the French province of Champagne, where prehistoric dolmens and standing stones dot the fields and caves hewn out of limestone are used for more than storing wine. But who is trying to poison her and bury her in an avalanche of slate? Who is laying a trap for her deep within the wine caves of Champagne?