How Long Does it Take to Write a Book? | Free Calculator

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If you’re a writer or an author, you’ve probably asked yourself How long does it take to write a book? Writing a book is exciting and daunting, but one thing is for sure — it requires time and dedication. In this guide, we’ll delve into the topic of book writing timelines and explore factors that impact how long it takes to complete a book. We’ve also created this handy writing time calculator for you to use.

Five years ago, I had an idea for a novel. Well, not a novel, just an idea. I mulled it over for months before fleshing out characters, locations, and plots. Then I started writing. Then I stopped writing. Then I started writing again. Then I stopped again.

Eventually, after three years of on-and-off writing, I finished a first-draft manuscript… that sucked so badly that I printed it out and stuck it in a filing cabinet to rot.

Five months later, I started writing again. From scratch. I’m now 40,000 words deep with another 50,000 to go, which I aim to complete over the next two months.

So…

When — and I mean when — I finish this novel, and someone asks me how long it took me to write it, how should I answer? Is it five years since the original idea? Is it nine months since I restarted? Or five months since I really, really committed to finishing a manuscript?

The point I’m trying to make is there is no easy way to answer the question: How long does it take to write a book?

And I haven’t even mentioned the time it takes to revise, edit, beta test, etc., a book before it becomes, well, a book.

However, if you’re in the early stages of your book-writing journey, it’s still worth assembling a realistic timeline for the writing process ahead of you. That’s exactly what I aim to do for you in this article.

Bear in mind that every writer is different, and nothing is certain. There will always be unseen variables that affect your writing process (for me, it was a pandemic, birth of a child, buying a house, buying a second house, to name a few). Many factors will influence your writing duration. But by the end of this article, you should have a realistic and achievable timeline for writing your book.

So, sit down, tuck in, and let’s get cracking.

Factors Affecting Your Writing Timeline

You and I are different people. We probably write at two different paces. If we were to sit down in an empty room with just a computer (sans Internet) and were told to write 90,000 words, I’m confident in assuming we’d clock in at two very different times.

Sure, each of our unique slurries of bodily fluids and rigid bone material is a significant factor affecting our writing time. However, we live in an entropic universe, which means everything is out to get us, draining us of our time, focus, energy, and, for some, bodily fluids.

Therefore, disregarding genetics and the governing laws of physics, I’ve distilled all factors affecting writing time into four categories:

  • Genre and Complexity
  • Research Requirements
  • Experience
  • Schedule

Genre and Complexity

Probably the most significant factor affecting your writing timeline is what kind of book you are writing. Is it a sci-fi fantasy epic or a self-help finance guru book? Is it a novel or a novella? Fiction? Nonfiction?

There is no clear-cut number of words per book for each genre, but here are a few good rules of thumb (or is it rule of thumbs?):

Fiction books generally run between 70,000 to 100,000 words

  • Fantasy, sci-fi, or historical fiction are often longer at around 125,000 words
  • Literary fiction can be as short as 55,000 words
  • Young adult fiction falls between 55,000 and 80,000 words

Nonfiction books generally run between 50,000 to 80,000 words

  • Biography: 80,000 to 110,000 words
  • Memoir: 60,000 to 90,000 words
  • Business and Money: 40,000 to 80,000 words
  • History: 60,000 to 100,000 words
  • Self-help and how-to: 20,000 to 70,000 words
  • Big Idea (like Malcolm Gladwell’s bestsellers): 60,000 to 80,000 words

Again, these numbers aren’t set in stone. They should only be used as a guide to help you determine the length of your book project. Or, be a rebel and write however many words you need.

Research Requirements

Does research count as writing time? Some could argue that research isn’t technically writing, and I can see their point. But I, and many others online, consider research an important aspect of your writing project.

Certainly, if you are writing a nonfiction book, research will be a major component affecting your project timeline. I can’t even give you a list of rules of thumb (can we just say rules of thumbs?) because the research length depends entirely on the subject matter. You’ll have to estimate that for yourself and build that time into your project.

And fiction writers, you aren’t off the hook just because you’re making stuff up. Many fiction writers set their stories in the real world and need time to research locations, people, or subject matter.

The novel I’m writing is set in a near-future Annapolis, MD. Google Street View and Instagram could only show me so much, so I booked a trip to visit the city and take in the sights myself. It was only a two-day trip, but I was inspired by a few things I discovered during my research to include in my novel.

Writing Experience

I think I’m stating the obvious here: Your experience writing words affects how long it takes you to… write words.

I’m not talking about the nitty-gritty mechanics of typing. Yes, some writers can physically write/type faster than others. What I mean by “writing experience” is your familiarity with the writing process. Can you take an idea and present it engagingly to your readers? That’s the gist.

For context, here are some notable authors and how long it took them to complete their first novel (click the arrows to unfurl more info):

Notable Authors’ First-time Novels

Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird
  • Time to write: About 2.5 years
  • Harper Lee worked on her manuscript with her editor and faced numerous revisions before the book was published in 1960.
J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • Time to write: 5 years
  • Rowling began writing the book in 1990 and completed it in 1995, with the book being published in 1997.
Margaret MitchellGone with the Wind
  • Time to write: 10 years
  • Margaret Mitchell began writing her epic novel in 1926 and completed it in 1936.
Stephen KingCarrie
  • Time to write: About 1 year
  • Stephen King wrote Carrie while working as a teacher, completing the manuscript in a relatively short time before it was published in 1974.
Khaled HosseiniThe Kite Runner
  • Time to write: About 1.5 years
  • Khaled Hosseini wrote The Kite Runner while practicing medicine, and it was published in 2003.
Alice SeboldThe Lovely Bones
  • Time to write: About 3 years
  • Alice Sebold wrote The Lovely Bones over three years, with the book being published in 2002.

Writing Schedule

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re trying to find the answer to “How long does it take to write your first book?” because you haven’t exactly written one, yet.

It’s okay. That doesn’t make you any less of a writer.

If you haven’t written a book before, chances are you aren’t writing full-time (yet). The final contributing factor affecting your writing timeline is, of course, your available time to write.

If you’re like me, you write your book part-time for a few hours each day (I aim for 500-750 words each morning). If you’re writing full-time, say, 8 hours each day, you’re probably churning out at least 2,000 words a day.

Needless to say, a full-time writer is going to finish writing a book faster than a part-time writer.

Finally, I have a strong hunch that you’re also a human being with human responsibilities. If so — and I’m willing to gamble here — your writing time is often balanced with your other human responsibilities. Life sometimes always gets in the way of your writing.

Some things are predictable, most aren’t. Woody Allen put it better:

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

Average Timelines for Different Types of Books

I scoured the interwebs looking for the best approximations of fiction and nonfiction writing times1.

I could throw together another bulleted list of what I found, or…

I could just show you:

How Long Does it Take to Write a Book? | Free Calculator
How long does it take to write a book – fiction
a graph of writing on paper
How long does it take to write a book – nonfiction

Free Book Writing Timeline Calculator: How long does it take to write a book?

Okay, the nerdy side of me is excited about this. Instead of whipping out your TI-83, I’ve put together this handy calculator to help you better estimate how long does it take to write a book.

For reference, here are some of the genres we’ve already covered and how many words they generally run:

  • Fantasy/Sci-fi/Historical fiction – 125,000
  • Literary fiction – 55,000
  • Young adult fiction – 67,500
  • Biography – 95,000
  • Business/Money – 60,000
  • Memoir – 5,000
  • History – 80,000
  • Self-help/How-to – 45,000
  • Big idea – 70,000
  • Novella – 20,000

Using these numbers as a starting point, now estimate how many words you can realistically write a day (and how many days realistically you write per week).

Be conservative, none of these numbers are saved on our end so we won’t be impressed if you write 5,000 words 7 days a week (or unimpressed if you write 27 words 2 times a week).

Got all that? Okay, pop those into the handy dandy How Long Does it Take to Write a Book Calculator below to find your answer.

Book Writing Time Calculator

Total Time Required:

So, how’d you do? If your writing timeline is too long, consider trimming down the word count or bumping up your words per day and/or days per week. If you’re close to the average writing time bar charts above, you’re in good shape.

But, not so fast. So far we’ve talked about how long does it take to write a book. What we haven’t talked about are all the other steps in the book writing process.

Writing Process Stages and Their Durations

For this section, I enlisted the help of Kyle (the other half of Writer Gadgets, the yin to my yang) who is elbows deep in his book writing process. Since this is all fresh in his mind, I gave him the chance to break down the writing process. He gave me the following list, which I cross-checked against other sources (because you can never be too sure).

1. Planning and Outlining

  • Estimated Time: 1 week to 1 month
  • Details: Planning and outlining a book can vary greatly depending on the story’s complexity/subject matter and the method used. Some methods for fiction, like the Snowflake Method2, can take over a month but provide a detailed outline that ensures a deep understanding of the characters and plot. For more straightforward outlines, it might take just a week3.

2. Drafting

  • Estimated Time: 3 months to 1 year
  • Details: The drafting phase depends on the word count goal and daily writing habits. A 50,000-word novel might take 3-6 months with a consistent writing schedule, while a 100,000-word book could take a year or more. Writers participating in NaNoWriMo might complete a first draft in a month, but extensive revisions are usually needed afterward.

3. Revising and Editing

  • Estimated Time: 1 to 6 months
  • Details: Revisions often take several rounds, including developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading. Each round of revisions can take 1-2 months, especially if the book undergoes significant changes. The overall time will vary based on the initial draft’s quality and the amount of feedback incorporated.

4. Feedback and Beta Reading

  • Estimated Time: 1 to 3 months
  • Details: Gathering feedback from beta readers and critique partners can be a lengthy process. This stage involves waiting for readers to finish the book and then analyzing their feedback. Incorporating their suggestions might also lead to additional revisions.

The time it takes to write a book varies significantly based on individual circumstances and the specific book being written. However, this breakdown should provide you with a ballpark estimate for your project.

Strategies to Speed Up the Writing Process

First we tapped into my nerdy side with a custom calculator. Now we’re tapping into my industrial engineering past: taking a process and improving it.

As much as I want to believe in Steven Pressfield’s Muse, I just can’t. Writing is not a divine act; it’s a physical one. But Declan, writing is also a mental task! Yeah, yeah, I hear you. I’m lumping mental with physical because the former doesn’t exist without the latter.

Still follow?

My point is that it’s entirely possible to speed up your writing process because it is — and you won’t believe this — a process. But reader be warned: Speed does not equal Quality.

Once again, I’m making an assumption here. You probably want to speed up your writing time because, like me, many of your projects drag on for so long that they crash and burn (or clog up your computer). If this is the case, here are a few strategies to help you write a book faster.

Setting Realistic Goals

We’re working on a new eBook titled How to Set Writing Goals You’ll Actually Accomplish. So this strategy is fresh in our minds.

If you want to write faster, you need realistic writing goals that get you excited to write. They should be self-motivating, achievable, and something you can easily track.

For many writers, words per day is their main KPI: more words, more progress (somewhat). I have the Wordcounter app installed on my Mac, and it acts as a decent barometer for how I’m doing. But it’s not enough to keep me motivated.

That’s why I prefer completed chapters as my main goal to track. The reason I do this is chapters are complete ideas (somewhat), and ideas are what we’re trying to produce, whether you’re a fiction or nonfiction writer. Plus, chapters represent a sizable “chunk” of writing that feels significant.

For me, I aim to write at least 600 words per day for my novel. Each chapter is averaging 4,200 words which means I should be knocking out a chapter a week. In reality, I’m nowhere near this pace, so I give myself grace and aim for 3 chapters a month. That way I build in an extra week to refine my chapters before adding them to my manuscript (I draft in Ulysses and format with Apple Pages).

Time Management Techniques

Besides prioritizing writing time around other commitments (like waking a bit earlier each day to get some writing done), you can apply a few tried and true time management strategies to your writing process.

  • Pomodoro Technique:4 Work in short, focused bursts (˜25 minutes) followed by a short break (5 minutes). After four “Pomodoros,” take a longer break (15-30 minutes).
  • Time Blocking:5 Schedule specific blocks of time for different tasks or activities throughout the day, ensuring dedicated time for writing amidst other responsibilities.
  • Writing Sprints:6 Short, timed sessions (ranging from 15 minutes to an hour) where writers focus intensely on writing without editing or distractions.

Utilize Writing Tools and Resources

We’ve come to Writer Gadget’s bread and butter. Every single tool and resource mentioned below merits its own article (we’re working on it). I love tools. I use, or attempted to use, most of the tools listed below.

However, if you love tools like me, don’t get distracted by shiny new ones. Simple is better, in my opinion. Find a tool that solves a specific pain point and stick with it.

Writing software

  • Scrivener – Only attempt if you are prepared to receive a PhD on how to operate this thing.
  • Ulysses – After years of searching, I have found my favorite place to write.
  • Evernote – Used this ages ago, I left in search of something simpler.
  • Bear Notes – The “simpler” I found after leaving Evernote, turns out it was too simple.

Research tools

  • ChatGPT – Amazing at conducting research or compiling lists. The bar charts above are all from ChatGPT research. Oh, and the calculator was coded entirely by ChatGPT, too, saving me hours.
  • Roam Research – Not great for word processing, but a beast at collecting and organizing ideas.
  • Blinkist – Don’t waste time reading big books. Blinkist boils down the main points. (Blinkist Review)

Grammar checkers

  • Grammarly – The OG checker. Amazing integrations, easy to use.
  • ProWritingAid – I really want to like this one, but it doesn’t integrate with Ulysses

Productivity apps

  • Wordcounter – Simple word counter tracker for Mac users
  • Pomodoro timer – Google Pomodoro timer and there are literally hundreds to choose from.

Physical tools

  • Branch Ergonomic chairs – The best chairs for writers. (Branch Review)
  • NuPhy mechanical keyboards – These keyboards just make the writing process so much more satisfying. (NuPhy Review)

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to write a book?

The time required to write a book can vary significantly depending on various factors such as the genre, complexity of the plot, writer’s experience, and dedication. Generally, it takes anywhere from several months to several years to complete a book. It is crucial to focus on quality rather than rushing the process.

What factors can affect the duration of writing a book?

Several factors can impact the time it takes to write a book. These include the writer’s writing speed, research requirements, availability of uninterrupted writing time, outlining and planning process, editing and revising stages, and personal commitments. Writers should consider these factors while estimating the overall timeframe for their book project.

Are there any tips to enhance the speed of writing a book?

While the speed of writing should not compromise the quality, there are a few tips that can help authors enhance their productivity. Setting realistic writing goals, creating a writing schedule, eliminating distractions, breaking the writing process into smaller tasks, and seeking feedback from beta readers or writing groups can contribute to a more efficient writing experience. Remember, finding a balance between speed and quality is crucial in the writing journey.

Conclusion

Writing a book is an ordeal. It’s a complex process that varies greatly from one writer to another. Numerous factors such as genre, research, the writer’s experience, and available schedule play a role in how long it’ll take you to finish writing a book. While some might churn out a draft in a few months, others may take years, as seen with famous authors like J.K. Rowling, Harper Lee, and J.R.R. Tolkein.

Establishing a realistic timeline tailored to your writing pace and life circumstances is crucial. And don’t sacrifice quality for speed. With effective time management and careful use of writing tools, you can handle unforeseen challenges and distractions along the way.

Embrace the process, be flexible with your timelines, and, most importantly, enjoy the creative journey of bringing your book to life. Happy writing!


Footnotes:
  1. SelfPub.com“How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?”
    Selfpublished Whiz“How Long Does It Take To Write A Book On Average?”
    Reedsy“How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?”
    Self Publishing School“How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?”
    Kindlepreneur“How Long Does it Take to Write a Book? ↩︎
  2. Dabble“What is the Snowflake Method?” ↩︎
  3. Reedsy“How to Outline a Novel in 9 Easy Steps” ↩︎
  4. Todoist“The Pomodoro Technique” ↩︎
  5. Clockify“The Ultimate Time Blocking Guide” ↩︎
  6. The Write Practice“Writing Sprints: A Simple Exercise That Benefits Every Writer” ↩︎