One of the things I say most often to my clients as they’re revising is, “The book takes as long as the book takes.”
What I’m looking for, as their agent, is a polished manuscript that’s been taken as far as they possibly can. It’s been revised, it’s been workshopped by their critique partners, and it’s been revised again. All of that takes time. I also know that sometimes, a lot of writing/revising time is thinking time.
You might know what the problem is, but you don’t know how to fix it.
Or maybe you know the fix, but you don’t know how to unravel the other threads of the manuscript to fit it in naturally.
Or sometimes – particularly in the case of picture books – you might find after several rounds of revisions with your critique partner or several attempts at getting that first draft on paper that the problem is the concept itself. And in that case, maybe it’s not a matter of revising but perhaps re-conceptualizing. Or maybe shelving that one altogether and trying again with a more marketable, workable concept.
And sometimes – knowing the problem but not knowing the fix – is as far as one of my authors can take it, and then we brainstorm solutions together or they run their fix by me for feedback before they dig in. Or sometimes it’s a concept that’s talked out before it’s written to see if there’s legs there.
But ultimately, if you’re trying to make the best book possible, the book is going to take as long as the book takes. (Though of course, in the case of a requested revision from an editor, we do want to prioritize that revision and resubmit while there is still interest!)
There’s no use beating yourself up over how long a manuscript takes from that spark of an idea, to your first few drafts, to polished final manuscript. Sometimes it’s months, sometimes it’s years.
And as your craft grows with each book, or maybe you decide to try going from a pantser to a plotter (or vice versa), you might find that you can at some point put out a quality book quicker than you could in the beginning. And so (depending, of course, on what else is going on in your life) maybe that goal of writing a marketable, publishable novel a year is possible once you’ve gotten through the kinks of those first few attempts.
But as we all think about our goals for the coming year, I would encourage everybody to be kind to themselves. Be ambitious, but be realistic. Work hard, but also give yourself that thinking/creative space. You can’t draw water from an empty well.