Books written during the pandemic are appearing on library shelves. It seems almost inconceivable that it could happen so quickly. It’s only 2022! And these are traditionally published books, ones that have had to make their way through many steps following that first draft.
I guess this shows us that it does not take a long time to write a book, or it doesn’t have to. Some books take a while, others don’t. Every year at least 200 people write a novella in three days. Thousands of people write a novel in one month. But an actual complete draft, revised to a point of being sellable can take a while. Or it can just, you know, take a few months. Writer Colson Whitehead, in his keynote speech at AWP in 2019, said he writes 8 pages a week. To see how that adds up, check out this list of Colson Whitehead’s books. He also works and writes articles and goes to writing festivals.
It’s not just the writing, OF COURSE
After you write the book, the next step can be another whole learning curve, if you’ve never been published before. For self-publishers, it takes resources and time and sweat equity to put a book out yourself. New writers aiming for traditional publishing have even more barriers to getting their work out, which can be an onerous and demoralizing process that often stops at the first stage: figuring out who to send it to among the thousands of agents and hundreds of publishers and their imprints in the world.
Yet first books come out regularly.
So we have what seems to be a dichotomy. Books are complex and not that easy to write. But they can be written in a fairly short timeframe, and they can be published within a couple of years of that (or less, if you publish yourself). Even if it’s your first published book, and even if you go the time-consuming traditional route.
How do we explain that? I think it’s because books are art. And because people need books. Not every person, but enough of us that we keep the whole industry afloat and new books coming out.
As a writer, what do you do with this information?
Thinking about all the steps after writing that first draft could light a fire under you to get started. Or paradoxically, it could have you putting off until tomorrow the page you might have written today. Writing, in my experience, can involve a process of self-management that I think really relies on letting go of managing yourself and just committing to doing this thing you want to do.
Zen priest Katagiri Roshi said:
Human beings have an idea that they are very fond of: that we die in old age. This is just an idea. We don’t know when our death will come.quoted by Natalie Goldberg in Long Quiet Highway
[Natalie Goldberg writes about Katagiri Roshi in two memoirs: Long Quiet Highway (1993) and The Great Failure (2004)–about which she is interviewed here.]
Personally, I don’t write because I’m not sure when I’m going to die. I write because it makes me feel better in a whole bunch of different ways. Whether I’m writing fiction, nonfiction, my so-called diary, an editorial letter–it doesn’t matter. There’s something in the act of writing that moves my soul.
So yes, writing your book now might mean it can get out into the world in a couple of years or less.
But more importantly, writing it now means you can explore yourself now, the way you are. And that exploration can add a whole new level of insight into how you live your life. Plus, it’s fun.
Since now is all we ever have, let’s write!