The Time It Took to Write Famous Books

How long did it take to write my books?

That’s hard to say. The first one took at least a few years. It was an on-again-off-again process. The second book took a little less than two years. That’s from start to turning in the manuscript, with idle time in between.

I’m always interested in the writing processes of other writers and authors. An infographic by printerinks titled “How Long Did It Take to Write the World’s Most Famous Books?” caught my attention.

In some cases, classic literature and bestsellers were written in very little time. All I can do is bow to these master storytellers.

Here are many of the books listed:

Fitzgerald’s classic took 2.5 years to write.

2.5 days: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

6 days: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

3 weeks: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

3 weeks: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

6 weeks: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

2 months: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

3 months: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

8 months: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

9 months: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

1 year: 1984 by George Orwell

1 year: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

1 year: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

1.5 years: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

1.5 years: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

2 years: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

2.5 years: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2.5 years: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

3 years: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

4 years: The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

5 years: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

5 years: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

6 years: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

10 years: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

10 years: A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

12 years: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

16 years: Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tokien

That was fun. Now we better get back to work.


Writers Gather for 10th Regional Conference

Yours truly and Kim Leigh Martin on the blogging panel on opening night.

This past weekend was the 10th edition of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University. I have been to most of them. Dan Smith is stepping down as director, but, as he told me in an email, he will still be on the scene when we gather at future conferences. That is good news.

Dan Smith.
Dan Smith.

Dan was honored on opening night for his vision and leadership. There wouldn’t be a Roanoke Regional Writers Conference without Dan. He felt the love. It even brought a tear to his eye.

“Dammit,” he said. The words got stuck in his throat.

The highly capable and affable Liz Long will take the reins from Dan.

Following are some of my notes and highlights from the conference.

In her class about how to make editors happy, Carol Alexander, editor of Shenandoah Living, encouraged careful listening in 2017–listening to clients (editors), to readers and to sources. She said, “Be a servant, not a diva.” She also said to expect corrections and make them cheerfully.

Author Rod Belcher had great anecdotes and tips during his session on science fiction and fantasy. “The biggest career skill is tenacity,” Rod said.

Cara Ellen Modisett led a class on travel writing and essays. “Chattanooga is travel for Chicago,” Cara said. She encouraged us to write about our hometowns. Personal writing (memoir and essay) is reporting on yourself. It’s a document of the individual mind at work and play.

Roland Lazenby had a slew of personal stories and observations during his session about not violating the trust of sources. “The deeper you dig,” Roland said, “the more you get to a truly human story.”

I also enjoyed sessions with Terry Maggert and Diane Fanning, and was sorry to miss others. Finally, I always love the conversations in the lobby and the hallways and at lunch, renewing acquaintances and making new ones.

I can’t wait until next year.

‘Getting to Zero’: David Brooks on Ernest Hemingway

In April, while in Havana, New York Times columnist David Brooks visited Ernest Hemingway’s house. Brooks filed a column that focused on Hemingway’s later years, which he characterized as a sad and prolonged decline.

And yet despite his flaws Hemingway still managed to produce some of the same magic prose that made him a world-famous novelist.

Brooks wrote:

When you see how he did it, three things leap out. The first is the most mundane — the daily disciplines of the job. In the house, there is a small bed where he laid out his notes and a narrow shelf where he stood, stared at a blank wall and churned out his daily word count. Sometimes it seems to have been the structure of concrete behavior — the professional routines — that served as a lifeline when all else was crumbling.

Second, there seem to have been moments of self-forgetting. Dorothy Sayers has an essay in which she notes it’s fashionable to say you do your work to serve the community. But if you do any line of work for the community, she argues, you’ll end up falsifying your work, because you’ll be angling it for applause. You’ll feel people owe you something for your work. But if you just try to serve the work — focusing on each concrete task and doing it the way it’s supposed to be done — then you’ll end up, obliquely, serving the community more. Sometimes the only way to be good at a job is to lose the self-consciousness embedded in the question, “How’m I doing?”

Finally, there was the act of cutting out. When Hemingway was successful, he cut out his mannerisms and self-pity.

Read the entire column.

January 23: Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

roland lazenby and me
Conference director Dan Smith (left) and author and biographer Roland Lazenby.

UPDATE: The conference has been rescheduled for Saturday, January 30, due to an expected snowstorm.

The 2016 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference is on Saturday, January 23, at Hollins University. (For details, schedule and to register, go here.)

Twenty or so writers, authors, journalists and publishing professionals will speak and teach classes on a range of topics, including yours truly. This is the ninth edition of the popular writers conference.

More from conference director Dan Smith:

The conference, which has been held over two days for the past eight years and has featured 24 classes each year, has slimmed down in every respect for the coming year. The entire conference will be contained on Saturday and the number of classes will be trimmed to a more manageable 18. The cost of the conference has also been reduced to $65, including lunch on Saturday in the Hollins dining room.

This year’s featured topic is blogging and there will be three classes held for those interested in beginning a blog or improving the one they have (including increasing the following). Other classes will deal with storytelling, fiction, biography, memoir, converting a manuscript to the stage, editing, publishing (traditional and self-publishing), and poetry.



Saturday, January 23, 2016 [snow date January 30]

All classes will be held in the Dana Science Building.

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Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Begins January 23 at Hollins University

The 2015 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference kicks off a week from today at Hollins University. More than two dozen Virginia writers, authors, journalists and publishing professionals will speak and teach classes on a range of topics. This is the eighth edition of the popular writers conference.

This will be my fourth consecutive trip to the conference, a little more than an hour from my home in Floyd. In 2013 I taught on writing and refining book proposals aimed at major publishers. Last year I was a student, soaking up the teaching, the inspiration and the networking. This year I will teach a class on researching nonfiction.

Following are the schedule and lineup of classes.

Friday January 23, 2015 from 6 to 10 p.m.:

Reception (Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center)

6 p.m. Networking
7 p.m. Welcome, Hollins President Nancy Oliver Gray
7:10 p.m. Presentation of scholarship award
7:20 p.m. Introduction of teaching staff
7:35 p.m. Greg Trafidlo, A song for our conference
7:45 p.m. Anne Adams: “Truth Is Always Stranger Than Fiction in My Neck of the Woods”
8 p.m. Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell: “The Future of the Book”

Saturday January 24, 2015 from 830 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

Classes (Dana Science Building)

8:30-9:30 a.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Roundtable Discussion “Getting Into Print” (Dan Smith moderator)

9:45-10:45 a.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Lindsey Narmour “So I’m Writing a Love Scene: A Look at Sex in Writing”

Room 102, Alice de Sturler “True Crime Reporting: Blog to Business”
Room 114, Betsy Ashton “Writers and Their Communities: A Fusion”
Room 142, Liz Long “Social Media Marketing for Writers”

11 a.m.-Noon
Babcock Auditorium, Sarah Beth Jones “Kicking Fear in the Pants: Clearing the Path to Your Authentic Writing Voice”

Room 114, Anita Firebaugh “The Writers’ Journal: Fleshing Out the Details”
Room 102, Diane Fanning “Interview Techniques for Fact or Fiction”
Room 142, Rod Belcher “Dreaming Big: Avoiding the SF/Fantasy Slush Pile”
Noon, Lunch in Hollins Dining Hall, Moody Center (Remember your lunch ticket)

1-2 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Ed Falco “True Crime Fiction: Isn’t That an Oxymoron?”

Room 102, Brad Kelley “Critical Thinking to Improve Writing”
Room 114, Greg Trafidlo “Breaking Writers Block: Some Effective Techniques”
Room 142, Todd Ristau “An Introduction to Adaptation: How to Turn Your Novel or Poem into a Stage Play”
2:15-3:15 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Saundra Kelly “Storytelling: Using the Story-Arc Format from the Ancient Oral Tradition”

Room 102, Andrea Brunais “Creating Greater Clarity in Your Work” (Students encouraged to bring writing examples to class)
Room 114, Dan Casey “Storytelling on LSD”
Room 142, Carol Alexander “Writing a Query Letter that Sells”

3:30-4:30 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium, Karen Chase “Building a Publishing Resume and Network”

Room 102, Terri Leidich “The Latest and Greatest Tools for Marketing Your Books”
Room 114, Margo Oxendine “Your Life is a Column—Write It”
Room 142, Keith Ferrell “Being Taken Seriously in a World That Undervalues Writers”

4:45-5:45 p.m.
Babcock Auditorium: Tim Thornton “Getting the Last Word: Writing a Great Obituary for Yourself or Somebody Else”

Room 102, Neil Sagebiel “Researching Nonfiction”
Room 114, Sharon Rappaport “Channeling Voices: Ghostwriting, Copywriting and Other Not-So-Scary Gigs”
Room 142, Dan Radmacher “Opinions Are Like Noses: Everyone Has One; How To Make Yours Count With Solid Research”

Media Connect Q&A With Rob Kirkpatrick (My Editor)

Rob Kirkpatrick.

My editor, Rob Kirkpatrick of Thomas Dunne Books (a part of St. Martin’s Press), was interviewed by MEDIA CONNECT in November. It was interesting to read his thoughts on being an editor and the publishing industry.

Following are a couple of takeaways from that Q&A.

MC: As an acquiring editor do you look at the author’s work or platform first?
RK: Absolutely, especially as I acquire primarily nonfiction. I remember a proposal I received several years ago for a book from an author whose most recent book had sold quite modestly. I would have needed a way to position the author and his next book more effectively. The proposal neglected to mention what the author did for a living, so I inquired. The agent, an experienced one, asked me, “Why do you need to know?” That response floored me and still does. An author’s profession and platform are always relevant when trying to plan how to publish his or her book.

MC: What advice do you have for young writers today?
RK: Write because you are passionate about something and feel you have a compelling story to tell and a unique voice with which to tell it. That is all. If you want to become a writer because you think it sounds glamorous or because you’ve heard about the millions of copies this or that bestselling authors has sold, you will most likely be disappointed.

Rob is a great editor. He is low key and encouraging, two attributes that are beneficial to any writer tasked with birthing and promoting a book. I was extremely fortunate he acquired and edited my first book, as well as my second book.