How Long is a Piece of String?

Evelyn Waugh said something along the lines of how, with six uninterrupted weeks, anyone can write a novel. Apparently that’s how long he took for Brideshead Revisited. If I recall correctly, I think he was being invalided from WWII at the time, but don’t quote me on that. I once read an article by a chick-lit author who said that writing novels was easy work: ten months of dossing, followed by a quick six weeks of writing as the deadline loomed. Having read some of her novels, it showed. My guess is she didn’t have a lot of time for redrafts.

The people at NaNoWriMo reckon it can be done in a month. Well, 50K words, which is technically a novella, which anyone reading the publicity surrounding the latest Ian McEwan novel will know. But then, equally, NaNoWriMo do only want it to be a first draft. I think that argument came to the conclusion that a novel is at least 55K words. McEwan’s novel is just over that. It’s important to know the distinction, though, for competitions.

There is an insistence with self-published Kindle-writers to publish at an astounding rate of knots – for fear the public will forget them. Short term memories, the public. But, one suspects, this might be the reason that self-published books, particularly ones on Kindle, get such a bad press. Writing a full length novel, say 60-70K words, in six weeks, and expecting it to be a decent book is probably aiming for the moon. Not to say that it can’t be done. Just don’t expect it to happen.

So how long is the piece of string? It’s as long as it is. And it takes as long as it takes to write a good novel.

Besides, how many of us in the real world actually have six consecutive, uninterrupted weeks in which to do nothing but write? But there’s still time to prepare for a first draft for this year’s NaNoWriMo. You might be surprised by what you write, and then at least you have something to edit.

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