Quite a long time, is the answer to that question. I found an image of me on my Instagram feed recently, seated at a table in the window of my office. In it, I’m beavering away on the draft of my next book, Saddleback Wife – Slow Food in Tasmania. The post was dated January 2021, and reported that I had the first two chapters in the bag.
In fact, I had a lot more than that. I’d been compiling material for years, blog posts and content left over from my first book, about leaving city life and moving to Tasmania. That book, Apple Island Wife – Slow Living in Tasmania, was published by Unbound in 2018 and is selling in bookshops as we speak.
Eighteen months on from that Instagram moment, I was two chapters from the end of the sequel, Saddleback Wife. Eighteen months to knock a book into shape is good going. For a moment there, I was euphoric.
Halfway through that draft, I had done a word count and found it was 150 thousand words long. That’s two books, not one! This is good news, as two books means two products. More euphoria.
The bad news is that once you’ve finished a draft and have all your chapters in order and some nice content, you’ve got to start over, and edit. Cut back, trim, pep up. Inevitably, the writing will be either too rough or too wordy, and the tone of voice will be uneven. You’ll need to make sure the themes are consistent throughout too.
Writers are often asked about their writing routine and most of us answer that you have to write every day. I try to fit in an hour or so every morning as that’s when I’m most productive, and I’m always up at least an hour earlier than the rest of my family.
We’re often asked where we write. Unlike Dalton Trumbo, I’ve never written in the bath.
But I do write in bed, like Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen, and covered by cosy rugs like Roald Dahl. I have a breakfast table which I put my laptop on, and a husband who occasionally brings me cups of sustaining tea. I’m writing in bed right now. Sometimes, I even write in my office, with my dog, like Steven King.
Back to ‘how long does it take to write a book?’ Apple Island Wife was nine years in the making, from dropping the first few words into a blog, to realising I had 135 posts which was enough for a book, to putting it in a bottom drawer for three years while I ran a gourmet farm business, to dragging it out again, sending it to publishers, crowdfunding it with Unbound, waiting for the cover design, and polishing it with a professional editor, to seeing it for sale worldwide in all the online bookstores.
Then, since Unbound are a UK publisher, I had to negotiate my own deal with a private publisher and distributor out here in Tasmania, to get paperback copies printed for the Tasmanian market and bookshops.
It’s hard yakka, writing and publishing books.
When might Saddleback Wife be finished? It’s now in four parts, and forty-something chapters. It’s 102 thousand words long, which is ten thousand too many. I’ve got to finish editing and consider getting a professional edit done. I’ll need to distribute it to Beta readers who will give me considered feedback. It will need a cover design. And then I’ll need to launch it and upload it to all the publishing and bookstore platforms worldwide. At each stage, I’ll need to decide how much I want to do myself, and how much I should pay a professional to do for me.
I reckon I’ve got six months’ work ahead of me, easily. Sitting up in bed for an hour each morning. But probably not in the bath. It may have worked for Trumbo, but I’m not happy to put my laptop in that kind of jeopardy.
Fiona Stocker is a writer based in Tasmania. Her memoir Apple Island Wife is available from bookstores online and in Tasmania. For news of Saddleback Wife, visit www.fionastocker.com and subscribe for an occasional newsletter.