Posts Tagged commercial publishing

Why literary novels take so long to write

literary fictionLiterary novels are famously slow to write. Three years seems the average gestation from first committed day to final sign-off. And some writers refine on and on for much longer.

In these days of empowered authors dashing off novel after novel, this tortoise speed must seem self-indulgent, even lazy. And in commercial publishing, you might be given just a year to deliver a book.

So just what makes some literary novelists take so much longer? What are we doing with all that time? If we know how to write, why can’t we just slap it out?

Everyone’s different of course. I can only tell you why I can’t – but I suspect my reasons aren’t unique. So here it is: why it takes me so long to write my kind of novel.

1 Striving to not repeat myself

I want my new novel to be its own entity. There will be enough similarities with other books I’ve written – themes, style, quirks and concerns will put my fingerprints all over the book regardless. But I don’t want to make a set of table mats. I want to ask different questions. Stretch what I can do with stories. Explore different characters.

When I have a gut reaction idea, I try my best to shift into a different groove. Is it too like something I did in My Memories of a Future Life or Life Form Three? Should I search for another answer?

Heaven help me when I also have to check for similarities to The Mountains Novel. (Which in fact does have a proper title. But I’m wary of revealing it until the fragments are joined.)

2 Patience and perspiration

At first, an idea seems full of glow and potential. Then perspiration begins. After a while the idea looks graceless, incoherent and ordinary. Perspire some more and it becomes a pupating mass of stuff that could turn into absolutely anything. It may go and live under the bed for a while, as might I.

Developing an idea is like learning a language. For a long, frustrating time, all I can hear is syllables and squawks. But persistence tunes my ear. I start to understand what I’m making. I know what I need and what I can discard. It doesn’t happen in a hurry, though.

3 No rules 

If I wrote genre fiction, it would be clear how to develop an idea. I’d line up the tropes, check I’d ticked all the boxes, add a twist of me and voila. Instead, I have to invent the novel’s framework, context and references. Tropes and conventions might suggest possibilities, but I’m out on my own – and not even sure what I’m looking for.

4 Perversity

I freely admit I make life difficult for myself. In fact, many of my ideas would make perfectly respectable genre novels. My Memories of a Future Life could have been a thriller, a romance, a murder mystery, science fiction (in fact, I had mainstream publishers pressing me to alter it in those various directions). Life Form Three was more of a challenge (see point 1 about not repeating previous books…)

So why don’t I take the road well travelled? My novels would be ready much faster. They’d be a cinch to sell, relatively speaking, and they’d probably be valued by at least as many people. But if I did that, I feel I’d be wasting a deeper truth. That’s just me: the stories I most cherish are individual and unusual. If I’m not striving for that, it doesn’t seem worthwhile.

What do you write? How long does it take you to finish? Why do you write the way you do?

nyn1 2013 ebook j halfresGIVEAWAYS! Over on the Red Blog, Bryan Furuness is giving away 2 paperback copies of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson … follow the steps to enter

Also, don’t forget that there’s a giveaway here as well… to celebrate the new cover of Nail Your Novel.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

80 Comments