I wrote a full draft of my my most successful novel in three weeks. However, every novel is its own puzzle to solve, and it’s usually a mistake to hark back to the previous book (in this case, Memory Boy) when writing a new one.
There are two very general approaches to writing a novel: work on it daily, stopping and starting to attend to real life, much as one goes about a job. That can take a long time. As in years. Let’s call this the Tolkien approach. After The Hobbit he took twelve years to write Lord of the Rings.
Conversely, there’s the Jack Kerouac method: full tilt, full focus, writing fast and hard and continuously, real life be damned. A modified version of this might be the NaNoWriMo program. Participants must write an average of approximately 1,667 words per day (69 per hour, 1.2 per minute) in the month of November to reach the goal of 50,000 words written toward a novel. No pressure. But hey, pressure is good! Or not?
Memory Boy was written with modified Jack Kerouac approach. I tried to “write” (visualize) a good deal of MB inside my head before anything else. Once it began to seem real in my imagination, I made notes and set chapter headings in place. Soon I pretty much knew the whole arc of the novel (with most of my novels I know only half or even a third of the story before I write the first word.) My notes weren’t copious, such as I imagine a mystery writer might need, and of them the chapter headings were the most useful. Knowing all of–and only– what each chapter had to cover greatly sped up the writing process.
Then, with Memory Boy fully in my head, I holed up at a writing retreat for three weeks of isolation, and wrote. Just wrote. No distractions other than to surface for food and a breath of fresh air. The result was an organically whole narrative that, as I see now, has a tightness about it–an intensity, an urgency––that most of my YA novels do not have. They are each good in their own ways, but not as tight as Memory Boy. In short, I think the Kerouac method has much to say for itself as an artistic process.
Can I duplicate it? I hope so. Some day. But right now I’m four years (FOUR YEARS!) deep in a big multi-generation, adult saga of the Midwest. I know better to bite off so much time (100 years or more), but the novel called for it, and called me to write it as such. So I’m just following orders (laughs maniacally here). Point being? Every novel is different. Try to listen to what it wants, give in, and go with it.