How Long Does It Take to Write A Book?
Learn how to better determine the amount of time you'll need to complete your novel in progress.
Most journeys have a timeline. We map vacations out in days or weeks. Building a house or having a baby takes months or years. But unlike these events, the amount of time to write a first draft of your book might require a little more flexibility with your expectations.
Google how long does it take to write a book and you get a variety of answers, which all basically drill down to: it depends. Anthony Burgess churned out A Clockwork Orange in only three weeks, and John Boyne spun the best selling tale of The Boy in The Striped Pajamas in a stunning two and a half days. Meanwhile, Margaret Mitchell penned Gone with the Wind over ten years and J. R. R. Tolkien took twelve years to complete The Lord of The Rings. George R. R. Martin still hasn’t finished his Song of Ice and Fire series, which started with Game of Thrones in 1996, and hasn’t seen a new volume since 2011.
The point is, there is not a right or wrong amount of writing time in which to complete a book. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the factors you might consider when determining what length of time to plan on for writing a book.
The largest single factor impacting the average time needed to complete a book is its word count. After all, a 100,000 word novel should take more time to write than a 50,000 word novel, considering it’s twice as long.
Why Does Word Count Matter?
In a nutshell, it is about marketability. Agents and publishers know what sells and they have specific word counts in mind. Too short, and they fear there isn’t enough of a story to sell. Too long, and the concern shifts to printing and shipping costs, even with Amazon. Bestselling authors like Stephen King (whose novel Under the Dome clocked in at 1,074 pages) tend to be afforded much more leeway on this than first time writers.
Even if you’re self-publishing, word count matters. If your book sits on a shelf in a bookstore among others, you don’t want to potentially turn off prospective readers with a spine that is too slim or too large. Value for money is an issue along with the perceived worth of the book in terms of a reader’s time. Word count signals to people what type of book they are getting themselves into.
Counting The Words
There are two defining factors to consider before blocking off dates in your calendar:
1. Type of Story
Type of Story
While your book should be as long as the story needs to be to tell it, there are some standards out there that agents, publishers and readers depend on:
Flash fiction: 1-1,000 words
Short story: 1,000-10,000 words
Novelette: 7,500-20,000 words
Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
Novel: 40,000+ words
Pro-Tip: While 40,000 words counts as a full-length novel, at least 50,000 is required for a book to be considered marketable.
Another important element to factor in is the genre of your story. Different genres have generally acceptable word lengths. For example, Fantasy and Sci-Fi stories can be up to a third longer than Romance or Young Adult books. A children’s book or middle grade novel won’t be as long as something intended for adults.
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on novel length as it is the standard. With this in mind, here are some common word counts:
Science Fiction: 93,000
Literary Novel: 86,000
Young Adult: 80,000
Pro-Tip: Chapter length may differ as well. Again, depending on genre, a chapter averages between 3,000 and 5,000 words. If chapters are too long, and lack clear points where a reader can take a break, they may get reader’s fatigue and just put your book down.
Time To Write
A recent Reedsy survey concluded that, on average, it takes most authors anywhere from six months to one year of writing time to complete a novel. Of course, there are many factors in play here. As stated above, type of book and genre play a key factor. Getting the first draft down is only the beginning.
Research is essential in any writing process, for fiction and nonfiction books alike. Even if writing a non-contemporary story such as science fiction and fantasy, it is essential to construct the world your characters exist in and carefully document the world-building laws. Historical fiction demands careful investigation, or readers will call you out on your mistakes. Even a contemporary tale requires realistic factors to base the story in or readers will not connect with your book.
Another task necessary to set time aside for is editing. Simple responsibilities, such as spelling and grammar checks, are only the beginning. No book is published based on a first draft, and every best seller on bookshelves has gone through numerous revisions and drafts. Beta readers will have feedback that requires rewrites or repositioning. Editing is essential because readers are investing their time in your book, and you want to provide the most polished product you can, so readers will want to buy your next novel too.
7 Tips to Increase Your Speed
1. Plotting and researching
At first glance, this may seem like more tasks to add to your timeline. Why not just sit down and write?
Planning out your book before you begin to write might in the long run give you the freedom to sit at your computer or notebook and let your fingers fly. With the outline of your book set, you don’t waste time figuring out what happens in each chapter.
Research can be a distraction to getting those words down on a page. How many of us have opened up a browser to confirm a fact and fell down the internet rabbit hole? Documenting as much as possible upfront removes these temptations. By having character traits and arcs detailed, you can focus on telling the story with these notes to reference whenever needed.
Pro-tip: If you’ve mapped out each chapter, including plot points to reveal, pivotal scenes, etc, you can write any chapter at any time. Should you hit a bout of writer’s block, you can move to a different part of the story and come back at a later date to the spot where you got stuck.
2. Stay the course.
Maintaining a consistent writing frequency is key to finishing your book. Finding your most productive writing time is an important factor. If you aren’t a night owl, don’t expect your best writing to be done at 11pm after a full day of work and family. If the kids need your attention first thing in the morning to get up and get to school, not much writing is bound to get done.
Those of you writing between full-time jobs will have to carve out dedicated hours to sit and write. Maybe it’s before you start work, during your lunch break, after hours, or on your days off. Writing full time doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t need to stick to a daily ritual. Routine is the way to win the game.
Experiment with different amounts of time writing and times of the day to find the zone that works for you. Once you’ve found that sweet spot, make it work for you and ensure you get your words in every planned day. The words will add up over time.
3. Simple Math.
If you aim to write 500 words a day, you need 100 days to meet a 50,000 word count target. That’s thirty-three weeks, assuming you give yourself two days a week for a life, meaning it may take almost eight months to complete your first draft.
Doubling your word count goal gets you there faster. 1000 words per day cuts the time down to four months.
Another option is to plan a writing week or weekend. Just like binge watching a show on Netflix or reading a series in a sitting, focusing on nothing but writing for a few days can really amp up the word count. With no distractions and a set plan of action or outline, you might find you can fly through chapters.
4. Write Drunk, Edit Sober
This concept is credited to Ernest Hemingway, though it’s not proven that he said this or wrote this way himself. It is rare that the perfect version of a novel is achieved with the first draft. Or even the second. Trying to get each word, phrase, or sentence right the first time will only bog you down. Ignore perfection. Editing on the go is time-consuming and may be ineffective. The paragraph you’re obsessing over might not live to the final draft.
Instead, tell yourself the story without fear of spelling and grammar mistakes. Don’t second guess yourself. Write with the passion of your characters, the events and the drama, letting the perfectionist in you take a snooze. There will be plenty of time to edit after you have a completed novel.
Pro-Tip: Free-writing, a writing strategy where you throw all the conventions of writing, grammar, sentence structure, style and form out the window. Instead, you jot down your thoughts in one stream of consciousness during short writing sessions.
5. Start Small
Diving into an epic eight book fantasy tale covering decades and multiple characters might not be the best way to start writing your first book. Instead, carve out one of the main characters’ stories or an action sequence that might work as a stand-alone book and write a short story. The advantage of completing a short story first is the experience you will gain from the writing process of completing a beginning, middle, and end. Plus, you’ll have the confidence of knowing you can complete a story.
“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.” – Les Brown
6. Get Inspired
There are plenty of online communities that work to help writers complete their novels in record time. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual book writing challenge that takes place every November. The goal of the group is to get all participants to write 50,000 words in one month.
While this may seem daunting, the pros at NaNoWriMo know what they are doing. Accountability is key and online for all to see, using gamification techniques like badges for hitting specific progress milestones. These visual representations of your mounting word count create a competitive-yet-friendly space. With daily word count check-ins, community resources, buddy groups, advice from experienced authors and much more, the online circle of writers support each other.
7. External Pressure
This tip is only for those that work best under pressure. There are websites you can join that promise to help you stick to your goals, such as Way of Life or Stickk. These programs help you set tasks and keep you on track with reminders or commitment contracts.
Setting consequences of not finishing your book might be one avenue to get words onto the page. Money is one of the greatest motivators, so line up an editor and pre-pay them. Good editors can be booked a year in advance, giving you breathing space but also drawing a line in the sand. Miss the date to get a book to the editor and there is rarely leeway to get back into the queue.
Bonus Tip: Talk To Me
Dictation apps have come a long way in recent years. Your phone probably has the ability to record your spoken thoughts. Why not dictate your story while you work out, clean the kitchen or any other task where your mind is free to create?
Beginning to End Timeline
So how long does it take to write a book? With the information above in mind, here is an at a glance rough timeline.
Research and Outlining—3 weeks.
First Draft Writing—33 weeks for a 50,000-word book at 500 words a day.
Editing, Proofing, Cover Design, Interior Formatting —6 weeks.
Total: 48 weeks
Take Your Time
Writing your book is a personal journey. First drafts are messy but an achievement many writers never achieve. Be consistent. Be determined. Be creative.
For many published authors, the time frame needed to complete a book may gradually shrink over time. As your writing skills improve, and you gain more experience with the publishing process, editing and book production will take less time. If your first novel takes longer to finish than you’d like, that’s OK! Yes, there are authors out there cranking out a 300-page book faster than you or I might write up a synopsis for our works in progress. Everyone’s process of writing is different. Just focus on your own craft, and improvement will come with practice and time.