Answers! (Part Seven: TIMELINE)

Today, a question from fellow North Carolinian writer (YAY!), Beth Revis:

How long does it take you to write, from idea to published novel? What happens at each stage of the process?

Oh dear. A looooong time.

Let's see . . .

Anna and the English French American Boy Masterpiece started out as a NaNoWriMo project. I'd pooh-poohed NaNo for years — "How could anyone write a NOVEL in a MONTH? [obnoxious, snotty laughter]" — until I finally realized:

(A) NaNo isn't about writing a good novel. It's about starting and finishing a draft.

(B) I'd been working on the same project for four years and had yet to finish a single draft.

(C) What harm could come from only one month away from my precious novel?

If you're familiar with National Novel Writing Month, you'll know participants are encouraged to work on something new. The reason is simple: the stakes are lower. Your brain hasn't had time to build The Idea into something perfect and, therefore, unattainable.

So that meant my four-year-old project was out. And as NaNo's starting date was only two weeks away, I needed a new project SOON.

Here's what happened:

It starts here.

Late October 2007 — I have a dream. (Honestly.) I dream about a beautiful boy sitting on the steps of a semi-famous Parisian monument. I am in love with him. The Idea has arrived . . . and with a bang. NaNo allows you one week of preparation, so I spend the last week of October reading about Paris. By the end of the week, I still know absolutely nothing about Paris.

November 2007
— I write a really, really terrible rough draft. But it's a COMPLETE rough draft. MY FIRST. I am overjoyed. Beyond overjoyed! This is pretty much one of the greatest moments of my life. I become gloaty and unbearable for approximately one week.

December 2007
— I decide to start the next draft immediately. I work hard for THREE WHOLE DAYS . . . and then quit. A little distance is healthy, right?

January 2008
— I think I opened the document at some point, but can't swear to it. BUT I read an obscene amount about France (and will continue to do so for the next year). I also begin a friendship with a wonderful, wonderful writer named Paula, who becomes my savior.

February 2008
— I get serious about the new draft. Sort of. I work hard on the first three chapters. I write them, re-write them, and re-write them again. In other words . . . I get stuck. But I show them to Paula, and in a moment I'll be eternally grateful for, she asks for more. "More?" This concept is new to me.

March 2008 — I write more. Paula asks for more again, so I give her even more. I probably have, like, eight decent chapters now. For me, this is nothing short of a miracle. Paula convinces me that these are GOOD chapters, and that I'm ready to attend an SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. I say, "Really? Like, really really? For reals, really?" Paula remains patient with me.

April 2008 — I attend a regional conference . . . in Western Washington. No. I don't live in or near Washington state. But the lineup of speakers is irresistible. I nervously introduce myself to two Important People: my longtime dream agent Kate Schafer Testerman and fantasy writer extraordinaire Laini Taylor. They are both unbelievably cool. I pray they remember me. I tell Kate that I'm interested in querying her, and that my manuscript should be ready in early autumn. Hey! Look at that! I just gave myself a deadline.

May — July 2008 — Laini remembers me! With her endless advice and guidance via email, I work HARD. I finish my "Skeleton Draft." This is my term for a draft that's complete enough to stand on its own two legs and be recognized as a novel, though just barely. It's riddled with holes (actual, literal holes — entire chapters missing and summarized in a few sentences) and still needs all of its muscle. And a pretty face.

July — September 2008
— I finish my first official, complete draft. HUZZAH! But it's still way too embarrassing to show anyone. So I write another one.

October 2008
— I show the latest draft to Paula, Laini, and another friend (and super-reader) Sumner. They give me amazing and honest advice. I take it. Laini writes this post . . . and my entire life changes. Kate — my longtime dream agent — reads Laini's blog and emails me. SHE REMEMBERS ME. SHE REQUESTS A PARTIAL. The world explodes. I spend a frantic week (or two?) doing a quick round of revisions. I send Anna to Kate.

November 2008
— I'm a nervous wreck. Kate requests a full. OMG, MY DREAM AGENT REQUESTED A FULL. My nerves go into overdrive. I do NaNoWriMo again, because, well, it worked out pretty good for me last year. I write another terrible rough draft. This is Second Novel. Second Novel's rough draft is SO MUCH WORSE than Anna's rough draft. I'm more relieved than happy to finish it.

December 2008
— That whole nervous wreck thing? That's nothing compared to how I feel now. I'm so petrified that I'm unable to write. I take the month off. I realize I have way too much invested in Kate (even though I've tried not to feel this way, it happens anyway), so I query seven other agents in the meantime. I get a few requests for partials and several rejections. I'm no longer petrified, I am flat-out panicking. It's a Christmas miracle that my friends are still talking to me. I cry nonstop.

Early January 2009
— KATE WANTS TO REPRESENT ME! My dream agent is my real agent! I cry a lot this month too, but from pure happiness. I also call everyone I've ever met to say, "Heyguesswhat? I HAVE AN AGENT."

Mid-January — February 2009
The partying continues. I write another draft. Once again, I call on the help of Paula, Laini, and Sumner. Often several times a day. Oh, and I quit my job at the library (!!!).

March 2009
— Kate sends Anna to two editors. I ask, "Who?" and she says one of them is Julie Strauss-Gabel, John Green's editor. I call my husband in hysterics. Never in a million years did I think JULIE would read my book. Both editors express interest. I try not to get my hopes up, which is stupid and impossible. I resume work on Second Novel, but the whole time I'm writing, I'm thinking, Holy crap. Two editors like my book.

April 2009
— I get offers from both editors. Oh. My. #$%^(*&. God. I accept a two-book deal with Dutton. I AM GOING TO WORK WITH JULIE STRAUSS-GABEL! JULIE! This is actually happening! My novel will be REAL! It'll have pages and that book-y smell and everything!


Late April — June 2009
— I sink into one of the darkest, scariest holes of my entire life. I have to write a book. Two of them. People will read them. And I am a horrible, horrible writer. I try to work on Second Novel, but have little success. I have NO IDEA what I do during this two and a half month period. Seriously. No clue.

July 2009
— With the help of my husband and Kiersten White, I'm pulled out of the abyss. My new motto is, "Okay. You can do this. Okay. It's okay." Second Novel quadruples in size. Hallelujah chorus. A skeleton draft emerges.

August 2009
— Hi! Welcome to the present. I'm doing research right now for Second Novel, and I'm about to dig into one more serious writing session before . . .


September 2009
— I receive my very first editorial letter, for Anna.

Late September 2009
— Panic.

October 2009
— Tear Anna apart. Begin rebuilding.

November 2009
Anna during the day, NaNoWriMo Third Novel at night.

December 2009
— Finish a new draft of Anna.

January 2010
— Go to Paris for research. And pastries.

February 2010 — Spring/Summer 2010
— Work on Anna. Turn in (I hope, I hope) final draft.

Summer 2010 — Summer/Fall 2011
— Work on Second Novel. Work on Third Novel. Do all of those last minute things that publishing requires. I have no idea what these things are. When I learn, I'll let you know.

Summer/Fall 2011
Anna and the English French American Boy Masterpiece is published. My book is a BOOK. Everyone reading this blog buys a copy. Or two. And then tells all of their friends and family that they should read/purchase it.

Four years.

One final note, the one thing behind every single entry: My husband, Jarrod. Who has taken care of me this entire time and never once complained. Who cooks and cleans the house and takes care of our pets. Who makes coffee and pours it down my throat. Who has pulled countless all-nighters to read countless drafts before countless deadlines.

Who never complains — and always answers seriously — when I ask if the boy is hot enough.

Books don't write themselves. They take time. And they take help.

(Still) more answers, coming soon . . .


  1. You need to print this out and tack it to your wall. It takes TIME, and sometimes you aren't giving yourself the time you need to allow the great stuff to happen.

    I've been in that hole, too. Nothing can thrust you there more quickly than success......and the feeling that you are a fraud and it's only a matter of time before everyone else figures that out.

    But Steph, you are not a fraud. You are a writer. This is what you do, the good, the bad and the ugly parts. This is what we do. We write. Because we can't not write.

    The honesty of your post is enlightening and, well, quite wonderful.

    Take care!


    P.S. Fergus? Roger and I would be BFF's, and Jamie, well.....enough said. I'd even put Ian above Fergus......too moody.

  2. I need to print this out and tack it to my wall.
    Seriously, or maybe I just need a Paula. I think I'm somewhere around July or August of 2008. I remember that is about when I started reading your blog regularly. I loved your writing advice and your sense of humor. I still do. Thank you.

  3. Stephanie, I love you. I absolutely and completely love you and am constantly in awe of you.

    When I say that someday I hope to be as good a writer as you are, I am very, VERY earnest. Your books are worth the wait. Especially since I am doing none of the work and agonizing : )

    I plan on buying at least three copies, and talking about it SO MUCH to EVERYONE I EVER MEET that they will all do the same.

  4. Holy $#%^ What a story Stephanie. I didn't know all this stuff. This is amazing. I won't tell you that I've been working on my own four year novel project... like before you did NaNoWriMo, which I've poo-pooed many times. Dangit, if you can do it, so can I.

    This is awesome. Laini is a saint. Just awesome. So is you husband. Whew.

    Thank you for sharing this Stephanie. This made my night.

  5. Ohmigoodness...i am working on a book miself and i thought it would take much less time. Ahaha, hard work.

  6. Anonymous7:48 AM GMT-5

    This was super helpful, Steph! Oh, blessings upon you young Jedi Knight! Not that I have any liking towards Star Wars at all, I haven't even seen the movies. 0.0 Okay, I saw one.
    And it sucked.
    But 'Jedi Knight' sounds cool....
    I'm glad to know I'm not alone with my inability to produce a draft! In two years--three?--I have produced four half-drafts. Which, I suppose, is kind of like two full-drafts? Isn't it? Garsh. I suppose I should get working, shouldn't I?

  7. This is inspirational. I'm going into the emotional slump of the month. LOL! Where I sit there and ask myself why, oh why did I decide to do THIS? *smiling snort*

    But I've also gotta say, you should count yourself very lucky...for Jarrod. That right there? Probably the most saving grace.

  8. You. Are. Amazing. There's not much else I can say. I'm just going to take my small little self to the corner now.

  9. Wow. That sounds like one heck of a writing roller coaster :) And you rocked it.

    Thanks for sharing it!

  10. And when Anna's finally all printed and prettily packaged, you can bet I'm going to recommend it to everyone I know.

  11. Wow, Steph! Very cool to read the inside scoop of how it all went down. Thanks so much for sharing it!

    And I remember exactly which day you accepted representation in January. :-D

  12. Shelley — Thank you. THANK YOU. "Nothing can thrust you there more quickly than success......and the feeling that you are a fraud and it's only a matter of time before everyone else figures that out." That was by far the hardest, most startling revelation of this entire process. Also:

    1. Fergus (I know, I know)
    2. Jamie
    3. Roger
    4. Ian

    Myrna — You're welcome, and thank YOU. I always love finding you here in my comments.

    Kiersten — You are an incredible writer. (And now the WHOLE WORLD will know it!!!)

    Ben — Thank you, that means a lot to me. And if I can try Scrivener, you can try NaNo! And YES. I've nominated Jarrod and Laini for sainthood, I'm just waiting for the Vatican's reply...

    bumble — Good things always take longer than you think! But, having said that, I know people who've gone through the whole process in under two years. I'm just a sloooow writer!

    Jehsyka — Hey, that's four half-drafts more than I had when I was in high school. You're ROCKING it, girl. Also, which Star Wars did you see? Was it a new one? The new ones DO suck, but the old ones are faaaaabulous.

    SM — It honestly scares me sometimes to think where I'd be without him. I am VERY lucky. And this: "Where I sit there and ask myself why, oh why did I decide to do THIS?" Oh goodness, yes. That goes through my head nearly every day. I wish you good luck!

    Natalie — Right back at you. Your blog has inspired me again and again and again over the last few months. (So get out of the corner ;)

    Sarah — Thank you! Though a lot of that roller coaster-ness was completely self-inflicted. Writers are masochists. (And thank you for wanting to buy Anna!!)

    Mindi — That was one of the best, most joyous days of my life. I'm thrilled we got to share it! And I can't WAIT to share the rest of the ride with you. Huh. That came out way more Greeting Card than I intended. You know what I mean! :)

  13. Wow. This was so helpful! So so encouraging and helpful! One question: Feel free to email me at writekatieanderson@gmail.com

    Do you outline first? Did you know where the story was going during NANO? Or did you just start writing crazy stuff?

  14. Hi Steph,

    I've been reading your blog all morning - and all the magnificent links [I never knew that about elves in Iceland but if you visit Ireland you will often see hawthorn trees in the middle of fields with fences around them because fairies are supposed to live under them and farmers are afraid to p**s them off. Obviously coming from a country that starts with the letter 'I' gives you a deep respect for short people (that's why I automatically loved Kiersten even before I knew her)] - but I just gotta thank you especially for this particular post.

    I am stuck - stuckier than a stuck person from Stuckland. I am aimless, lazy and unfocussed but I really, really don't want to be. This weekend I have started to get organised. Not just in terms of my writing - we're talking biblical, life-changing (I'm even doing weekly menus before I go shopping), actually opening bank statements kindof organised. I have decided to schedule in writing (thanks Scalzi - you confirmed my own conclusions) - which will entail going cold turkey on my Facebook addiction. I got myself a big-ass diary so I will not forget anything (assuming that I remember to open it). The wooly-headedness that has been blightling me daily is disappearing slowly and painfully as my brain is starting to work again.

    Anyhoo - just wanted to say thanks. This has given me a massive boost.

  15. The book I've been working on has already taken me two years.

    This post has encouraged me even more to finish!

  16. i found your blog when i read that post on laini's blog. she rocks. and congrads to you girlie! i did not see - have a prty, toast to oneself or celebrate on your list - add them. :)

  17. Just found your blog - first off, congrats! I'm an aspiring novelist and love to hear success stories :) I also love to see timelines of debut novels from idea to shelf, so thanks :) Good luck with the editorial letter!

    Question (sorry if it's been answered already and I missed it): how many novels did you write before Anna?

  18. Katie — Thank you so much! I'll answer your question in a future post!

    Janey — WOW, thank you for your wonderful reply. It's so nice to see you here again! I'm sorry your in Stuckland, but how awesome that you have a plan to get out! I wish you the most sincere good luck. (And yeah, I've had to work on my Facebook & Twitter addictions, too.)

    Mariah — Go Mariah, go! I KNOW you can do it.

    Shelli — Thanks for the reminder ;)

    Lynn — Yay, welcome! Thanks for commenting! I added your question to my list of to-be-answered :)

  19. Oops! I forgot to comment on this earlier! But I just wanted to say that I *loved* reading this--thanks so much for answering my question! It was so cool to see...but I agree with Shelli--I think your future holds much more party time!