A year? Two years? Five? A lifetime?
I wish I knew. It's taken me about two years to get to where I am now; beginning a third draft and preparing to make some big changes. My biggest problem? Having to write part-time; snatching a couple of hours in the evening, getting up early at the week-end, making notes on the KLM city hopper as I chase around the endless white corridors of food factories. I find it difficult to maintain consistency in ideas. Far too often I will cook up something that I really like and try and make int fit into the story. Or I forget a character's motivation in a particular chapter and end up making them do something meaningless, or completely out of character.
Concentrate on character and make notes as you go along, even if its' just a brief synopsis of each chapter that you can glance at every time you sit down to write. With this third draft I am really scrutinising the previous day's work, making corrections, checking that my characters are being true to themselves, thinking about the plot and how events early on will shape the rest of the story. I think I may have found my style of writing. Hey, I'm a beginner after all!
So how long does it take to write a novel? Flicking through this morning's Telegraph 'Review' supplement I came across a critique of Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. The author set himself the challenge of writing a novel in a year. That meant he had two weeks to draft and revise each of the book's twenty-six chapters, whilst holding down a day job as a Financier. Supposedly he received an advance from his publisher in the region of £100,000. The stuff of dreams.
Is Rules of Civility any good? I haven't read it so I can't pass comment. The reviewer gave it three stars and accused it of feeling 'a bit second hand...' Still £100,000 for a year's work - you've just bought yourself the time to write something even better.
I think to write a novel in a year you have to believe in your characters from the get go. For me that suggests that you've spent some time thinking about them, shaping them in your head, not to mention having done some considerable research in the background. Perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe I'm a little envious. I'll keep pushing on until my novel is ready.