How Long Is Too Long

Heller and Wolfe took 10 years to get their novels done, but, as I pointed out in chapter 1, Nabokov wrote Lolita in 3 months. A famous novel of some years ago, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, was written in 4 days. It was a slim little novel, but if they had been written at the same rate, Heller and Wolfe's novels would have been finished in months instead of years. A number of full-length novels have been written in a couple of months. So, the question is: how long should it take? Well, that's going to vary. Four-day, 2-month, or 6-month novels are rare. A novel a year is very prolific. One to 2 years is respectable. Serious novelists often take 3 to 5 years. Philip Roth says he writes for 6 months to produce one hundred pages, from which he then pieces together one decent page. If he's lucky, he says, that page is the start of his next novel. Six months for one page—does it have to be?

The 10-year novel, the four-day novel—what's the difference? I'm sure that Heller and Wolfe didn't bang away, writing every day, full-time for 10 years to write their novels. Their novels took 10 years, but a lot of time had to be spent stricken, disabled, spinning their wheels. But, as I keep saying, it doesn't have to be that way. What makes the difference is not how much time you spend writing, but how much time you waste trying to write. Most writers waste enormous amounts of time and energy trying to make it happen.

And then there's another issue that squeezes in here somewhere.

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