The first draft of my novel was 36k words long (and thus not technically a novel at all). It took years of very intermittent work to get to that point. (I often only worked on it once every few months.) I finished it in October 2011. I had originally intended it to be a short story, and was chagrined that it had turned out to be too long for a novella and too short for a novel. I tended to call it a “novel-like thing.”
The second draft was 51k words long. I finished it in October 2013. I then did very little work on the book until March of 2014.
The third draft is 78k words long, a bit over double the length of the first draft. In nearly every month of 2014, I predicted that I was nearly done with it and would finish it imminently, but I didn't actually finish it until yesterday. (Well, and “finish” is a kind of arbitrary line; I'm declaring this draft to be done even though I still have a long to-do list. Mostly what I mean is that I've reached the point where it's complete enough that I'm willing to show it to more than the three people who've read it thus far.) I've worked on it every day since the beginning of September, though some days I spent only five or ten minutes on it. I've now sent it out to half a dozen beta readers.
On the one hand, it's taken a long time to get to this point, and the book isn't done yet; even aside from what beta readers may say about it, I still have that to-do list to get through. And even if my next draft is the final one, as I hope, that just means a start to the next round of work: trying to find an agent, trying to find a publisher, etc.
On the other hand, there's a lot of good things here:
- Each draft has taken me about half as long to write as the previous one. If I can continue that trend, then I should be done with the next draft later this year. (Each draft has also been about one and a half times as long as the previous one, but I really don't expect that trend to continue; I don't think it'll get much longer.)
- I've demonstrated to my own satisfaction that I can write a novel-length manuscript. I think the longest thing I ever wrote before this was about 12k words. It used to be that I couldn't hold the plot of a complete novel in my head; also, I had no interest in writing novels. I think I'm still more interested in short fiction in general, but it's nice to know this isn't beyond my capabilities.
- I've somehow learned how to write every day. Friends used to talk about how useful it was to them to write every day, but that seemed entirely beyond my grasp. At best, I would manage to host a writing day once a month for a few months in a row; but often, months at a time would go by without my doing any writing at all. I'm not sure what's shifted this past year. I know that part of it has been having a project to work on, so I didn't have to start from scratch every day. And part has been the daily-status posts that friends have been posting on FB, providing a place for people to check in with their progress; and a lot of it has just been that once I had a streak running, I didn't want to break the streak and stop being able to say I'd written every day since September. (Also, the days when I spent only five or ten minutes on it were arguably cheating. But even those days helped me feel like I had momentum.) Also, I had a goal: finishing this third draft. I'm hoping I can continue to work on fiction every day while I'm waiting for feedback on this draft, but that might be harder to maintain; we'll see.
- I gather that many or most fiction writers go through a period, when working on any given project, of thinking that what they're writing is terrible. I don't think that's ever happened to me; I have doubts about this novel's commercial viability, but I still like it. Of course, whether I should like it is another question; many years of submitting short stories to editors has taught me that my opinion of my own work is generally higher than editors' opinions of my work. It's possible I would learn more and improve faster if I were more critical of my own writing. But even so: to finish a novel-length manuscript and still like it seems to me to be, on the whole, a good thing.
I have no idea whether this book is sellable. There are plenty of reasons why it might not be. I've always hated the idea of writing a practice novel, and I'll be sad if this one turns out to be a practice novel, given the amount of time and energy that I've put into it. But even if it does, I'm glad to have gotten this far on it.