in Writing

Writing the Great American Novel on the Calendar (How Long Does it Take to Finish a Novel?)

> Hi Everyone,
> … I’ve been working on my first story for almost two years now and almost
> finished with the rough draft (excluding re-writes, critiques, etc. to get to
> my final draft). Am I going to slow or what is the normal length of time for
> first-time authors to complete a story.

Outside of the classroom, there is no “normal” amount of time for writers to complete a story. Everyone has their own speeds and writing processes. If you’re new to writing fiction you might be better off focusing on craft versus just getting it done. The reason for this is simple: the need to write a quality story that flows well. You’re not training to run a 440 relay race. You’re striving to write good fiction.

> Also, I’ve had a real problem getting consistent friends to read portions of my
> story and give me specific, definitive feedback on the work–other than a
> nebulous thumbs up. Has anyone else experienced issues finding friends or
> people to read portions of their work and provide feedback? What are
> some options?

In my opinion, and please don’t take this wrong, you need to ask yourself whether it’s more important to write the story well or try to bask in some early praise before you get published? The reason I ask is that it’s tough to find prolific writers who also have the time to provide solid, constructive critiques. They’re either too busy writing or, quite candidly, they’re new to the game too. A hundred positive critiques is the same as a hundred negative critiques in that they are usually all very different and if you give people your manuscript and ask them to give a comment on what you’ve written they will give a comment, whether or not it is valid. Don’t waste your time using friends and family because more often than not you’ll get polite praise and accolades that are alot like eating a diet of cake icing — tasty yet full of nutritionally-useless empty calories that will ultimately slow you down when it comes to developing your story. Writing your story well shouldn’t be about feeding your ego; it’s about writing and revising your story along the way and refining your plot and characters to write the best story possible. Once you’ve got a grasp on it, you’ll have what you need to write novel after novel and know how to keep the readers happily sucked in.

There are critique group mailing lists like De Griot Space (used to be at but the link wasn’t coming up) which are great places to start. The catch to that list is the fact that there are monthly quotas that all members must meet, both when it comes to the number of submissions as well as number of critiques of other members’ works. Depending on your schedule, keeping up with such requirements may slow you down as well.

Bottom line, from my own experiences I’ve found that unless you join or put together a very small critique group (less than 8 members seems to work best), your best bet is to spend time reading books on good fiction writing techniques and occasionally set aside some time to read and analyze works of fiction by authors you like — see how those authors put the stories together. Look at the plot conflicts. Understand the various character archetypes and techniques for telling the story while sticking to word economy.

Outside of that, the only way you’ll get solid feedback from a truly dedicated manuscript reader is to find a freelance editor and PAY that person. Keep in mind that a developmental/content editor can charge as much as $5.00 or $6.00USD per page to start. To find some freelancers, check out Editorial Freelance Association.

Best of luck on your quest…