How fast is too fast?

I have a handful of clients who write fast. This being 3-4 months to write a manuscript. Others take much, much longer and in one case 5 years from inception to finish.

I think it’s a fantastic idea to write a first draft relatively quickly to get all your ideas out and see if the narrative arc can hold. However, part of writing is editing. You should be editing for months. (First: think big picture, characters, POV. Second: flow, pace, chapter and paragraph structure. Third: detailed copy editing.)

As I’m not a writer–I leave that to the pros!–I’m fascinated by the creative process and love to ask clients and also when I offer representation: how long did it take you to write this?

However, writing too fast can lead to mistakes that are really hard, but not impossible, to fix: pace, inconsistency, weak characters, flimsy motivation. And of course these weaknesses can be evident in slowly written manuscripts too.

There are no concrete rules for the speed of writing; faster is neither better nor worse as everyone has their own patterns to get their book written.

My advice: no matter how fast you write make sure you have spent lots of time outlining the plot and getting to know the characters in your head. Write as quickly or as slowly as your schedule and the muses permit.

But tell me, how long did it take you to write your manuscript?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

27 thoughts on “How fast is too fast?

  1. My first novel took years–I wasn’t committed to writing yet. My fastest was only about three months, but I felt I was rushing through it–I spent lots of time editing. Usually it takes
    me about four to six months to write a novel, which feels right.


  2. I write fast first drafts – typically in about 6 weeks. Keep in mind that I write YA, so we’re talking about less than 80K, but yeah, it’s still quick. Once the characters and story start flowing, they won’t leave me alone until the bones are down on the page. That said, I make at least three (sometimes four) revision passes that often result in rewrites of several scenes/chunks and almost always end up reordering chapters to improve pacing.

    Also a factor to consider: I’m single with no children. :)


    1. That’s fair! I like that the characters hound you. And that makes sense if you factor the editing into the first draft stage.

      And as you said, having more free time on your hands seems to work in your favour! :)


  3. The Guitarist took me approximately three months to write and two to revise, including time spent by beta readers.


  4. I have about five manuscripts complete, all of which were finished in less than a month, with the exception of the first one, which was crap. I need to get the story to get out, so I can sit for days until it’s done (pace is usually 3k/day). Then it usually takes a couple weeks of editing and sending to betas. Overall time is probably 2ish months?


  5. This post reminded me of a contemporary genre fiction author (whose shall remain nameless) who first book I loved. So much that I rushed out to buy another of her titles, which totally let me down. It felt like it was written by an entirely different person, really unsettling. I later heard her speak on the topic of being professional and meeting your deadlines no matter what. She told a story of some kind of mix-up that involved her having to conceive of and write a contracted book in four weeks or something crazy like that. Rightly or wrongly, that made me think it explained why some books feel they were manufactured with no love at all. I want to feel the author’s care and inspiration, not their time crunch and pragmatism.


    1. That’s bizarre! Thanks for sharing that story…

      I completely agree, you want to feel the passion in the book and the motivation in the characters, not a paint-by-numbers approach.


  6. It took me about three months to finish my manuscript and another two to really dig in and edit it. Like most have said, once I get going, it’s best to keep at it before I pull too far out of the narrative. It’s much more difficult to try and get your head back into it if you’ve been gone from your characters/story for too long.


  7. For so many reasons, including having a child and other personal challenges, my first (and to date, only) manuscript took me about five and a half years to write. But while I did have to go back (and back, and back again…) and revise characters/scenes when a long stretch of time passed between writing phases, I think in the long run it’s the book it was meant to be. And the passage of time helped me get the perspective and creativity I needed to finish it right. Whether I’m successful or not with this book, I’m grateful to the process. I really wish I could finish a manuscript in 3-4 months, but I think it’s unlikely at this stage in life (I have a preschooler…enough said!).


  8. My first book took about six months from start to query, my second took about four form start to submission ready, and my current WIP is already about 3 months in and I am not done with the first draft yet. I edit while I write, so while it may take a bit longer to finish a first draft, when I am done with it, it is really more of a third or fourth draft.

    I think a lot of the time it is not so much the writer as it is the story itself.


  9. Like in many tasks, there is a learning curve in writing novels. My first one (China_America) took me 2-3 years. My current one (America-Germany) is practically complete in 2-3 months, once I have the plot and characters in my head. I agree with you, Carly, that spending lots of time on the plot and characters before starting writing is the key. You can always improve the writing with revisions, but if the main plot is weak and readers can’t connect with the main character, the novel is doomed to fail.


  10. My first novel, which I finished not too long ago, took me about 3 years to complete. I have a long-term illness and was only able to work on it for ten days at a time and then was unable to look at a computer screen for a few months due to my migraines. I was worried that the pace would be interrupted and there would be no flow because I had to write in such short chunks, but I found that this was not the case. I did, however, have to completely rewrite the novel twice before I really got into normal editing mode.

    Now I am able to endure the computer for longer stints and my second novel is coming out quite quickly, writing about ten to fifteen pages a day. I don’t do extensive plotting before I start, instead I have a general idea about the story with some key scenes already stored in my mind, and when I write it is as though the characters do what they want without much input from me! I like the spontaneity of this, which makes reading back through it more entertaining, but it also makes the manuscript require more editing to make sure everything fits and that there are no loose ends.


  11. Excluding the upcoming months of edits, my first manuscript has taken me just under one year to get to a state of near completion. I am really happy with the time it has taken. However, I do wish I could have pieced together a few more minutes a day, but family comes first.

    I am really enjoying seeing the comments of the veteran writers, though I am quite jealous of the speed at which some of them write. But with school out in two days, I will be able to extend my 5am writing sessions and thus meet my one year goal for completion.


  12. The timeline for my novel has been about 4-5 sporadic years. I tend to write in fits and starts – I get really submerged and go to that zombie writing place, which is difficult to maintain with full-time work and a busy family life. A lot at the beginning was feeling my way and trying to sort things out and just learning HOW to do this. There was a lot of vomiting stuff onto the page that didn’t make the final cut, but was necessary in so many ways.

    I do know that I CAN do a quick pace if I need to. Once I had a good sense of where my novel was going and had it really sketched out, I committed to writing at least 1,000 words per day till it was done. I finished it over the course of the summer and then moved on to editing. Now I’m trying to get the courage to get it out there!


  13. I honestly don’t know how writers can pop out a book in a few months and be done. I think it has a lot to do with how well they plotted. When you know exactly what’s going to be happening, its easier to get from scene to scene.


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