The Challenge of Writing a Novel Over Time

There are countless challenges in writing a novel. This is no surprise to people who have written a book. One of the biggest obstacles for me is a book that takes many years to write.

I have written short stories in less than a day and I have written first drafts of novels in a year. Some people can write faster, probably because they put more time into the process on a daily basis. For me, writing an hour or two a day, especially with a day job, is my limit.

Then, we must consider second, third, and fourth drafts. Again, a fourth draft is usually my limit. Some writers write a lot more. I’m impressed by that.

When I take a long time to write and revise, and anticipate that the project will eventually be published, I, like all writers, must acknowledge that things change in life over the years. Political figures die, technology evolves within months, the names of countries become altered.

The novel that I will publish this fall began as a seed back in 2003. It was inspired by the personal travails and medical history of my best friend. He told me not to publish anything about him until he was dead. Ironically, he died in 2004 which makes my book all the more poignant.

Of course, even in 10 years, the world has changed drastically.

There were references in my novel to cell phones and iPods and peoples’ persistent use of technology. Now, in 2013, the persistence has not changed; however, devices such as smartphones, iPads, tablets, and twitter were either rare or unheard of in 2003.

When I began my novel, George W. Bush was still the American president. There is a section in my book in which the two main characters discuss the U.S. presidency with some Republicans. I kept references to Bush intact in my novel, but had to change the fact that he was president. Then, during one revision, I mentioned Obama in his first term as president. And now, of course, I have to refer to him in his second term.

So if I have to give any advice to emerging novelists, it would be: Be prepared to keep the events of your novel consistent with world events.

Unless one is writing fantasy or science fiction. And that’s a whole other story.


About randycoates

Randy Coates graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor of arts degree and went on to acquire his teacher’s certificate at the University of Western Ontario. He is currently an elementary teacher in the Toronto District Board of Education.
This entry was posted in Editing, Publishing, Writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Challenge of Writing a Novel Over Time

  1. Huw Thomas says:

    On the other hand, you can leave your novel set in its own time frame so it becomes a kind of ‘period piece’. Some well-known writers have produced novels set in the 1970s/80s/90s etc – David Mitchell’s ‘Black Swan Green’ and ‘Starter For 10’ by David Nicholls, for example.
    What’s frightening is how antiquated the settings now seem!
    I’ve had the same dilemma, though. I wrote the 1st draft of my adventure novel ‘Pagan’s Sphinx’ in the mid-90s. When I came to rewrite it a year ago, I was amazed by how dated it all seemed – no emails, no mobile phones, no Google mapping….
    And, yes, I did update it to 2013!

    • randycoates says:

      Good points. I also watch movies that I first saw in the ’80’s and notice how dated they are. But, at least, they agreed to when they were made. Directors, of course, make them up-to-date in re-makes.

  2. Arphaxad says:

    Good advice. I think this is one of the things that scares me most about writing a story in the “real” world.

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