My first novel took over ten years to finish. Now I really do believe that it’s possible a book needs to take ten years, or twenty- five or whatever, only the writer can decide that. Books may seem static on the outside but they are living things and as the author, maybe you need to go through some stuff to finish it. That is totally legit. But what I can say for sure is that between my two experiences the second one, the 30 day draft, started off better than its predecessor and is a stronger story.
It doesn’t have to be a month. Give yourself up to six months but anything longer than that and you’re going to run into issues. The biggest of which is continuity. I know for sure I absorb everything I see and hear and after ten years that stuff is leaking out onto the page. I changed characters sex, country of origin, and most certainly their personalities. Now I had to go back and fix all of that, not so bad, but once you make one change you have to follow that ripple to the end to make sure none of the old version remains.
The other continuity issue is plot. After that long I had forgotten what I had written. Similar to the absorbing and assimilating characters to add to your own, was forgetting why I was going in a certain direction. And a person changes a lot in ten years and so had my syntax, sentence structure, vocabulary, and even style. Your narrator voice will change over a long period of time. So by the time I had a completed story is was much more of mess. I was a different person from the one who had started the story. All well and good for my inner life, bad news for my editor who had to slosh through all of that to create the consistency.
Ray Bradbury said that quantity leads to quality. Another reason why I believe that Book Two is the better book, I had had way more practice by that time. I don’t know if I’ve gotten to my 10,000 hours in yet or not, but all writing is practice. I’m a big believer in RE- writing, mostly because I don’t do outlines, but seriously, re- writing is where you get to dig deeper into this thing you’ve discovered in the first draft. Re- writing is opportunity to enrich your world and characters. Which is what also makes that lightning fast first draft so awesome. Perfection not required. Just let her rip. No holds barred, get as crazy as you want. Use the first draft to explore the characters and their space. Have things happen that you as the rational god of that world would never allow otherwise and just see what happens. You can have loose ends, dead ends, and Inception like loops, it doesn’t matter. What does matters is that the draft exists which means you can now hone into the story it really wants or needs to be.
So whether you do NaNo or not, or even make it to 50k or not, being a writer doesn’t end on Dec 1st. If you’re ever going to finish that draft there is only one way to do it and it’s best to get it done sooner rather than later.
Whatever you decide to do and however long it takes, happy writing!