How long does it take to write a novel?

In June of 2018, when I was awarded the Austin SCBWI’s Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award for my finished novel draft, my draft was not finished.

The back story includes a completely fabricated synopsis and no concern about deception because these pages would surely go no further than my private one-on-one critique with Elana K. Arnold. Right?



So. Later that month, when I was theoretically supposed to give my finished draft to my new mentor, I had written…30 pages. Of scenes. In no particular order.

You can imagine my first mentorship meeting. I sat across from Jennifer Ziegler and sheepishly begged forgiveness. She displayed remarkable equanimity, patience, generosity and kindness. And a fantastic sense of humor.

We made a plan. We would do a new kind of mentorship. She would mentor me through writing my first draft. It worked. I finished the draft on February 28, 2019, in a wild end-of-month push that included writing 30 pages on the last day.

When I look back at my process, the short version is that it took me nine months. But my files tell a different story. I actually began playing with scenes and characters in 2015, four years ago:

The Timeline


February, 2015

I begin writing scenes inspired by real life.

March, 2015

I write more scenes inspired by real life. Children of Wrath is the working title. (Catchy.) Anya is the main character.

April, 2015

I write more scenes. I draft a Table of Contents to try to give structure to the scenes. Anya becomes Maura – I begin working with the characters of Maura, Mose and Chris.


August 27, 2016

I attend an SCBWI Full Novel Workshop in Round Top to try to figure out what I’m doing. At the conference, I discuss my concept with Anne Bustard. She provides critical guidance.

I try to fill in a Save the Cat Beat Sheet. I realize I’m not a good plotter. I write new scenes.

September, 2016

I work on characters.


I spend an entire year working on a picture book concept that attracts interest but no deal.


February, 2018

I go to a church retreat to re-submerse myself into a Christian camp experience. I dive back into the novel and revisit the scenes, then step back to tell the story I’m trying to tell to myself.

March, 2018

I clean up 10 pages of scenes, fabricate a synopsis and submit my pages to the SCBWI Conference for a critique with Elana K. Arnold. 

April, 2018

I meet with Elana. I love Elana. She enters my pages in the conference’s writing contest. I am so delighted that she thought the project had merit that I don’t even think to worry about it actually winning. In my mind, I’ve already won.

I attend a Texas Writer’s League event: The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction with Michael Noll to acquire skills to help me polish my book. (I’m so far from needing to polish my book.)

May, 2018

I work on more scenes.

June, 2018

I find out I’ve won the mentorship. I move from “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! to ?!?!?!?!?!?! to OMG what have I done” in three seconds.

July, 2018

I try to attend a Dreaming the Novel to Life with Sheila O’Connor. I get a flat tire on the way to San Antonio. I miss the workshop.

August, 2018

I send my first batch of pages – 96 total including TOC and a page of questions – to Jennifer.

September, 2018

I get pneumonia. I lose two full weeks of writing time and a lot of momentum. 

November/December, 2018

I send my second batch of pages – 208 total including TOC and two pages of questions – to Jennifer.

I take myself on a wildly successful writing retreat. I submit 43 more pages to Jennifer.

February, 2019

I make a leap of faith and attend the same church retreat I attended last year the weekend before my manuscript is due. It pays off incredibly.

I write 75 pages in my last week. 30 pages on the last DAY.

I submit my completed first draft – 374 total pages, including TOC – to Jennifer.

Just the beginning

All this to get to the first draft.

There’s a reason “writing a book, running a marathon” yields more than 44,000,000 Google results. But since I only run when chased, I asked runner/writer Sean Petrie for his take on first drafts - what mile marker is the first draft?

For him, the first draft is actually more like the first week of training for a marathon. It’s the hardest part. But it also means I still have miles (and a whole lot of time) to go.

To be continued…look for a soon-to-come post on the hard costs of writing a novel.

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