Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

  • How long does it take you to write a book?
    Now I'm writing full-time, it takes me between two and five weeks. I need to take a run at it and dive in, and not come up for air until I'm done, or I lose the immersion in the characters and the intensity. Yes, it's physically hard work, and it makes me ill. But it's the only way I know.

    My maximum output is 50,000 words a week, although I've done 37,000 in two days - once. I can't type any faster, and my keyboard speed struggles to keep up with what wants to pour out of my head, even though I type fast.

    The published version of REVELATION took three weeks because I binned the first version and started again with a few chapters to go, and rewrote it from the top. CLONE WARS took two weeks, because it was a movie tie-in, and that's when the screenplay was finalised for me - two weeks before the deadline. That's quite generous time for movie tie-ins. TRIPLE ZERO took five weeks, like GEARS OF WAR: ASPHO FIELDS because I wrote all day until I was too tired, and so that's my natural optimum speed. (When needs dictate, I'll work through the fatigue barrier for up to 72 hours straight, but that's not big, and it's not clever. It's dangerous.) When I was working full time in another job, a novel took me 8 to 12 weeks because it was all done in my spare time.

    I write fast naturally. I'd never have made it as a journalist if I couldn't. And when I write fiction, I usually see the story like a full-sensory movie in my head - pictures, sound, smell, taste, sensation - so all I have to do is describe it, which is fast too.

    Anyone who says a book "must" take a certain time to be any good is, not to mince words, an idiot. Sorry, but they are. I've even heard writers who should know better trot out this twaddle. They're input-oriented folk - like governments, who think that the more money you pour into the health service, the better it works. It doesn't. You can see the lack of sense in the input argument for yourself in any bookstore, just by reading; you ought to be able to tell the books that took longest to write by their quality, right? No, of course you can't. Because it's irrelevant. (And if anyone's come up with an objective test of what makes a "good" book, let me know, because I say it it doesn't exist.)

    Outcomes, outputs and inputs are entirely different things, even in writing. A book takes as long as you need to write it, not a day more or a day less, because it's not homework or an essay. It's a very personal and individual process that is different for every writer. Some folks like to chip away at it a little at a time, others (like me) need to drown in it, and there is every degree in between.

    I would bet you your house, your trust fund and your kids (I can always sell them, you see) that if you did a blind test on a range of novels, you as a reader would not know how long it took to write each one unless the author told you. It could be anything from 20 years to a week (yes, there are folks even faster than me) but it wouldn't show in the finished product.

    Proof of the pudding and all that. I just do it fast because I can. And, as P. G. Wodehouse said, "I never want to see anyone, and I never want to go anywhere or do anything. I just want to write. "

    Amen, old chap.

    ©Karen Traviss 2008