Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 29, 2016

Writing a book takes HOW LONG NOW?

Kelly Harms

Small harms photo“But Kelly, why did you wait three years between books?”

Three. Long. Years.

That’s how long I went between publishing my first book, THE GOOD LUCK GIRLS OF SHIPWRECK LANE, and the one coming out now, THE MATCHMAKERS OF MINNOW BAY.

Not because my publisher jerked me around—they’ve been wonderful. Not because of an agent switch—do not be crazy. Not because I wasn’t writing. I was writing. Because three years is how long it took to bring my absolute best to press. And I’m here to tell you, no amount of self-flagellation was going to change that. Trust me, I tried.
In that time I wrote two really really crappy first drafts of other books. The ideas had no legs, the characters had no eyes, and the settings had no heart. I was writing, and I was learning, but I wasn’t making a book.

In that time I got divorced from a very sad marriage. I cried a lot; I tried to put on a brave face. I gave myself pep talks about being better off on my own that I didn’t quite believe. I was surviving, but I wasn’t making a book.

I took care of a beautiful baby who became a beautiful toddler and then a beautiful kid. I showed him enough love for seven parents. I fed him organic quinoa which was probably unnecessary. I was a making a great human, but I wasn’t making a book.

I said goodbye to my father, who died of liver cancer. I cried a lot and didn’t even try for a brave face. I kept my mom close and hurt when she hurt, and then over time started to feel better. But I wasn’t making a book.

But these events, and there were a lot of events, are not the real reason this book took so long. The reason this book took so long is because the whole time I was doing all these things, I was also yelling at myself. “Write more! Write faster! Write better!” And my self looked back at me and rolled its eyes and simply said, No. I fought and I fought and I fought but nothing good came out. I couldn’t fake it. I couldn’t push through. I gave myself lots of strong talks about how other writers COULD push through, but this did not actually help, it turns out.

FullSizeRenderFinally, at some point, a friend told me to write something on a post-it and put it by my bed. It said, “It takes as long as it takes.” I made lots of protesting noises about tautologies. But of course she was right. When I gave myself permission to take as long as I needed—not to quit, not to slack, not to go work at the Home Depot as I often fantasize about—but to just to settle in for the long haul, a book came along. And as I wrote, the book got better and better and better, until one day, I was proud enough to share it with my amazing agent, and my wonderful publisher and my incredible readers.

And when will my next book come out after all this?

I guess it will take as long as it takes.

Hopefully it takes fewer than three years.

What's your default self-talk when your life and your writing stop getting along? Do you have any useful mantras for these moments?

About Kelly

matchmakers coverKelly Harms is celebrating the $2.99 promotion of her first book, is halfway through a new book she’s thrilled about, and is proud mother of a little boy who swims like a fish and fishes like a bassmaster. Her new novel, THE MATCHMAKERS OF MINNOW BAY, comes out August 9th and is available for preorder now.

Find Kelly online at ...

Facebook @authorkellyharms
Twitter @harmsbooks
Instagram @kelly.harms

34 comments on “Writing a book takes HOW LONG NOW?”

  1. Excellent, helpful, and encouraging post, Kelly. Thank you. Life does affect a writer's life, but the self-talk and self-criticism does more than anything else to mess up one's ability to write.

    I love your mantra--It takes as long as it takes. I need that right now. After two years of working on my current WIP, I had planned (determinedly) to have it completed by this summer. Reluctantly (and with considerable devastation) I have realized that the opening--first sentence, first page, first chapter--really need an intensive ramp up. And that will have a ripple effect on the rest of what I had hoped was my final draft (before the editors get to it). Your article and mantra have given me some peace about that. Thanks!

    1. Good! When something gives you peace grab on to it. I have a blog post coming up on how I had to rewrite part of this new book after I got new info on my characters from... the characters. I'll post it on twitter and FB when it comes live!

  2. Yes! I think I will post that on my computer as well. I wrote a crappy first draft, set it aside, wrote another novel that got published, got 30,000 words into another story, put that aside to pick up the crappy first draft, which I'm currently revising. Time lapse? About 6 years. it takes as long as it takes! Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Ah, Kelly, I can relate all too well to this post. We write our best books, and we live our lives, and sometimes those two things are in conflict with one another. I think your friend was VERY wise to give you that saying--it's one all writers should live by, especially those who are feeling frantic because they think it's "better for the marketplace" if they publish books by quantity rather than quality. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. I posted a long tirade from Chuck Wending's blog so I could see it everywhere I sat, including the bathroom. "I'm a writer and I'm going to finish the shit I started" worked beautifully. I sent him a thank you note when I was published

  5. Kelly... Your words are so truly meaningful and absolutely resonate. Thank you for sharing. My last book came out in 2010. Although I've been writing, I've also felt like a real chump and beating myself up for allowing the years to slip by without getting that 4th title "out there." I look forward to reading your new release. Congratulations. 🙂

  6. Kelly...That mantra applies to all worthwhile things in life. Too often we listen to the noise in our heads rather than the truth in our hearts. Good luck in all your endeavors, including your writing. 🙂

    1. "Too often we listen to the noise in our heads rather than the truth in our hearts."
      Oh my god, Beverly!!! I didn't think I could love this post any more until I saw your comment. Yes!!!!!

  7. I hear you, sister! So much so that I think you were remarkably productive in those three years. Should I be so lucky as to get my current manuscript sold, it will be three years for me, too, and all I turned in were proposals (which I swear take almost as long to write) plus all the real-world stuff. I have to believe that giving the real world stuff its due makes us better writers. Best wishes for the new book!

  8. Thank you for this post, Kelly! I think we all need reminders sometimes that it's okay to not be perfect. Sometimes it's okay not to fight the upstream current. It's okay as long as you keep your head above water and keep dog-paddling though! 🙂

  9. It's been said the only thing that goes with the flow is a dead fish. As writers, we have to find a way to go with life's flow AND somehow hover above it like a drone to tell our stories. Thank you for this post. As others have said before me, getting the book done--the one you set out to do in light of the challenges you faced--is an amazing accomplishment. And I suspect you're a better storyteller because of it. Be proud. Feel satisfaction. Go write some more. Quick!

  10. Such a beautiful post. My third book is all set for June 2017 publication, but I haven't been able to start another. Every time I sit down, I just churn out blah. I want to try something different, but I think - I don't write that, I write women's fiction. I've begun working on something in another genre so doubt is plaguing me. I too, have a post-it inspiring me now. It's stuck on the window frame above my desk and it says, "nothing to lose." I don't have anything to lose by trying something different. So, when I'm sick of me doubting myself, I look at my note and I keep writing. It might turn out to be mish-mash that no one will ever want to publish, but really, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Maybe I need to add your words beneath it - And it will take as long as it takes. thanks for the shot in the arm - much needed today.

  11. I thought this a wonderful way to describe our writing process. Each of us has our own of course. I know oh so well that writing the book takes as long as it needs to take. Quality is so much better than quantity always.

  12. Thanks for this, Kelly. It is amazing what we can do when we take off the chains of a false belief. I've gone through long stretches when I didn't try to write because my heart couldn't sing. Yet, when my wonderful heart switches on again, I can see that desolation was of my own making. Then I live again, and let joy back into my life. And write.

  13. Hi Kelly,

    I've had a similar three year bout with my writing. It wasn't due to anything personal. But it started when a Film/TV Agent I signed with. She demanded five scripts from her screenwriters. IT WAS TOO MUCH! Nothing got off the ground and the agency closed within a year. We all had a small success with our own works (including my books). Wanted something bigger and it failed.

    Took a friend's advice to ''go slow to go fast''. After a year of plowing through Kindle books and avoid screenwriting...I reduced my output 8-12 short reads a year to 4-6 mid-length reads. Expanded into audiobooks and got paid for a script reader job. Also wrote and marketed a book outside my typical audience...and made SEVEN TIMES my usual royalties. Also started writing scripts based on my books as an exercise. For another year...they made money...

    ...until this year. I both realized and others taught me that I needed to reboot my life. I do 10 sit ups after waking. Also have taken more interest in Poetry and Photography. Learning to diversify different things on different days. Still write on Mon-Wed-Fri. Poetry on Tues. Photography on Thurs. Wrote my first original screenplay in three years. Wrote the first draft in longhand. Something I typically only did with books. Revised in screenwriting software. Also have been doing article tryouts. Receiving feedback from hands on editors. Came close to publication three times. Entered a few novel and screenwriting contests...quarterfinaled in one. Last year...I also wrote a roster of poems and adapted them into a short story collection entitled Sunshine and Ocean Waves. Got a 4 Star Review on Amazon. Now working on a follow up after not having released a book in almost a year.


    Justin Murphy

  14. Thank you for sharing your inspiring example, and kudos to you for your perseverance through much sadness. My guess is that writing helped you find purpose and, consequently, to heal.

  15. Thank you Kelly for sharing your personal struggle. "It takes as long as it takes!" Yes! But look what it takes to finally except that? While you watch others pump out 1, 2, sometimes 3 books in a year. That is not me and it's never going to be me. Although I have found that if you're going through a stressful time, whatever it may be, it can have a profound affect on our writing. And others have kindly shared their experience with that issue which really helped to make me feeling...normal! My mother used to say, "You cannot push a rope." Wow, how true that statement is. I am so happy for you because you sound very please with your work and that is so important. We need to feel satisfied with our efforts and endeavors. So bravo to you for hanging in there. 🙂

  16. Wow. What a tumultuous three years you had! It's no wonder it was a struggle to write, every ounce of energy was busy on your journey, without creating journey's for fictional characters.

    I try to remind myself that sometimes life intervenes. There's nothing you can do but let it play out and then, when it does, you can get back to writing. A tautology that helps me? "It is what it is."

  17. Love, love, love. From a tired workhorse, who is writing crap, and fears she has no more in her. And is at least 3 years from a new book as of today.

  18. Thanks for sharing your mother's comment, Karen McFarland....."You cannot push a rope" describes so accurately my three year long struggle since my husband's death to get down in writing a memoir of the joy of our family's life together for our children to have as a keepsake. The memories and the happiness are abundant and overflowing. The writing comes easily and provides peace and comfort. The title Lifetimes of Laughter leaves me gathering stories left and right from our family's supply of adventures so there's no lack of material. But the work load of organizing the lives of seven people into some kind of coherent order over an extended time with a cohesive theme while grieving and wanting to wave a magic writing wand and make the past the current present IS a definitive wriggling rope resisting any push at all....even as I love seeing the chapters grow, and then set my inner editor to work to set things to a tighter focus ! I feel like an embattled lion tamer, ever hyper vigilant about what should or shouldn't remain in the book! Your mother's words are calming, and steady me on my writing/revising/editing journey. Thanks for the lift.... to all of you who aren't treating three years like the eternity it feels like!

  19. Sympathy for your losses, As a 24/7 caregiver I empathize for the struggle life can through our ways. I'm copying the mantra onto a post-it now.

    Helen Henderson
    Stories of romance and adventure in worlds of imagination
    Windmaster – chose between the sea, magic... or love.

  20. I enjoyed both the post and all the comments. Someday, I wish to be in the same position -- trying to get another book published! I have yet to publish a first one.

  21. Thank you for this post. It's a great reminder that not everyone can pump out a book every few months and that's okay. It's all about what works best for you. I can relate to your point that it wasn't so much life that pushing the book to the side, but your inner voice. I think I listen too much to "Hurry up and work faster" even though I've always been more slow and deliberate. It doesn't help that our culture expects more quicker and faster regardless of quality.

    Congrats on getting both books out and good luck on future projects!

  22. Thank you all for such wonderful, personal and insightful comments. Time after time the world reminds me: when it comes to what matters, we are all in this together!

  23. Look at all the comments you got! Now you see how many of us struggle with the same problem. How I envy the writers who can just churn out copy, but I ain't one of them and never shall be. The second book I published was awful--virtually a first draft that the editor pushed through because the deadline was moved up. I shouldn't have let them do that. I subsequently got the rights back to that dreadful jumble, rewrote, rewrote and rewrote, and will soon republish a book I'm now proud of.
    I've also decided that readers can and will wait. If you give them something awesome to read, they'll come back for more whether it's 3, 5 or 10 years later.

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