How Long Has This Been Goin’ On?

I walk fast. I type fast. I read fast. I also have a tendency to write fast.

Maybe we tightly-wired writers simply can’t let the book go once we sit down to work. I work long hours and tweak, twiddle, change, and labor through four or five drafts before I hand it in. After I get editorial feedback, I rewrite again. (Everybody does.)

An essay in Lawrence Block’s Spider, Spin Me a Web made me look like a turtle. Block said he wrote Eight Million Ways to Die in two months, start to finish.

Block admitted he’d done some outlining and plotting in December ‘81. And in the summer of ‘81, he’d come up with a logline for his publisher. Two years before that, he’d been percolating ideas and not really writing, so that time should count toward the writing of Eight Million.

Before that:

  • Block had written 185 pages that fizzled. The germ of those pages made it into Eight Million.
  • He’d met a man who encouraged him to do a book about a pimp. That character made it into Eight Million.
  • He’d created his Eight Million protagonist, Matthew Scudder.
  • Block had moved to New York City, which, as a setting, came to be a strong character in Eight Million.

Block sums it up: “There’s as much of me as anything else in that book, and I couldn’t have written it as I did without everything in my life that preceded it. I was born on June 24, 1938. It took me 43 years and 8 months to write Eight Million Ways to Die.”

I’ve been writing novels for 24 years. I am now using skills I didn’t even possess when I started. The writer’s life is an apprenticeship, and the time it takes to achieve excellence varies greatly.

Do you feel you’re taking a long time to write your novel? Do you sometimes wonder how much more you could get done if you didn’t have to “work a real job”? Remember, each book will take a lifetime to write—and not a moment less.

Photo: Angela HuntAngela Hunt has been writing for more years than she cares to remember—and has loved almost every minute. Visit her online.

React: Does it motivate you or intimidate you to realize that it takes a lifetime to write a book? And how so?


  1. Mindy says

    Pure motivation. When I was nineteen a popular song on the radio planted a story idea in my mind that has been slowly developing over the last eight years. While I’ve written other stories since then, I know that I will be at least thirty-five before that original story idea really starts to take flight. I don’t have the skills in my arsenal at this point in my life to write it effectively. So I’m waiting to until I feel I’m prepared for the task – even if it takes a lifetime.

    • says


      Know exactly what you mean. The book I’m working on now was an experience I actually had when my mother-in-law died … and that was 30 years ago!

      No I haven’t been writing it that long, but the experience stayed with me that long. Thanks for the comment.

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