How long does it take to write a book? The short answer is: It depends.
Professional writers can author polished books in as little as a few weeks, while first-time writers may take decades to finish their debut manuscript… or never finish at all. In fact, according to The Synergy Whisperer, ninety-seven percent of people who begin to write a book do not finish it.
So what sets those who complete their books apart from those who don’t? Like most successful endeavors, it's all about having a gameplan. While starting a book can feel like sailing into the open ocean without a compass, there are strategies, procedures, and good habits that will help you write a book in a predictable amount of time.
At Write It Great, we’ve helped dozens of authors complete their books under specific deadlines. In the process, we’ve learned a thing or two about book writing. Every writer is different, but anyone can complete a book in less than a year. In this article we’ll let you know the factors that affect your writing timeline, as well as the best strategies to achieve your literary goals.
What Is The Average Amount Of Time It Takes To Write A Book?
While the general consensus for first-time authors completing a book is about six to twelve months, we want to be more specific. It’s time to turn art into a mathematical equation.
Here’s an example of an ambitious writing schedule for a 50,000 word business book:
Begin with 2 weeks of outlining/planning/researching
50,000 word book ≠ 500 words per day = 100 days
100 days ≠ 5 days per week = 20 weeks
End with 2 weeks of editing and revision
2 week outline + 20 weeks writing + 2 weeks editing = 6 months total
So, if you followed this schedule to the day, you would complete your book in exactly six months. See, that’s not so bad! Now let’s try the equation at three days per week
100 days ≠ 3 days per week = 33 weeks
2 week outline + 33 weeks writing + 2 weeks editing = just over 9 months
Even at a schedule of only 1,500 words a week, dedicated authors can complete a book in under ten months.
Professional authors can often write more than 500 words a day. For example, Stephen King writes at least 2,000 words per day. However, most new authors don’t have hours of uninterrupted writing time and a writing ability that can best be described as supernatural.
How Long Does It Take For Our Favorite Authors To Write A Book?
Most writers love to read, and when we do, we take inspiration from our favorite authors. Here’s a list of how long these popular authors took to write their books.
Cormac McCarthy wrote The Road in only six weeks. But Blood Meridian took him a decade to complete.
Mary Shelly took a year to finish Frankenstein.
F. Scott Fitzgerald spent two years writing The Great Gatsby.
It took three years for Gillian Flynn to write Gone Girl.
J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in six years.
J.R.R. Tolkien penned The Lord of The Rings trilogy in sixteen years.
George R.R. Martin took five years to write A Game of Thrones, the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
There’s a wide variance even among the world’s greatest writers. To get to the bottom of why this is, we’ll break down the factors that affect writing time.
Top Five Factors Affecting Time To Complete A Book
In order to calculate how long your book will take to complete, you need to know the factors that affect your timeline. There are five main elements that you must consider before you begin writing.
Obviously, writing a fifty page short story is vastly different from penning a five hundred page novel. The longer the book you plan to write, the more time you’ll need to spend writing it. Moving on…
Genre will influence your writing time in more ways than just page count. For example, children’s books have far fewer words than books for adults, but because children’s books use very few words, each and every word must be precisely chosen. Writing a ten page kid’s book will therefore take longer than writing a ten page chunk of a business book.
Similarly, some genres require more research, planning, or editing than others. If you’re writing historical non-fiction, you may be researching for months before you actually begin to write. If you’re writing a murder-mystery, you may want to spend lots of time outlining each twist and turn in the story. If you’re working on a project with a publisher, they may come back after each draft with pages full of notes and edits.
If you’re a slow writer, don’t be discouraged! Even the greatest artists work at different speeds. While Van Gogh finished a painting every four days on average, the Mona Lisa took Da Vinci four years to complete.
When it comes to writing speed, consistency is more important than writing really fast. A disciplined writer knocking out 500 words a day is going to complete a book faster than someone who can write 2000 words in a day, but lacks the patience to grind through the trickier parts of their manuscript.
As much as we’d all love to write all-day every-day, the real world tends to get in the way. Whether it’s your career, your family, or some much-needed relaxation time that prevents you from putting pen to paper, your writing schedule will drastically affect your timeline. The more time you can dedicate to writing, the better.
It’s vital to get to know yourself as a writer, identifying your strengths and weaknesses so you can create a schedule that maximizes your time. For example, if it takes you a while after sitting down to “get in the groove”, you may want to schedule longer writing sessions with less frequency. But, if you burn out quickly, it may be advantageous to schedule many short sessions into your week.
Number of Drafts
There is no standard number of drafts for a book to be considered “complete”, but most finished books require at least a round or two of revisions. If you’re creating a writing timeline, it would be silly to jump straight from the “finishing my first draft” step to the “book signing at Barnes and Noble” step.
To use a screenwriting example: Slyvester Stallone wrote his very first draft of Rocky in three and a half days. However, he estimates only about ten percent of that original screenplay remained in the final version. Plus, in the original script Rocky ends up losing the final fight to Apollo Creed on purpose. We’re glad he went back and wrote a few more drafts.
Strategies For Completing A Book Quickly
At Write It Great, we’ve helped many writers turn their book ideas into reality. Doing so has allowed us to develop a formula for success. Here are some tactics to help speed up your writing process.
Work From An Outline
If writing is setting sail into the open sea, then an outline is your map, your compass, and your ship’s cat all in one. When you have the skeleton of your book in place, the writing process becomes less daunting. If the author feels lost or stuck, they can always refer to their outline to help them get back on track.
Some authors prefer incredibly thorough outlines, while others favor only sparse notes. For first-time authors, it’s best to put as much detail as possible into your outline.
The gift of having no deadline on your writing project can also be a curse. With no deadline, your writing sessions become easier to blow off, especially if you’re working through a difficult part of your story.
Try setting deadlines for yourself. Then, when you reach milestones and accomplish goals, reward yourself. Writing is hard, you deserve a pat on the back!
Create Ideal Writing Conditions
Are you a morning person or a night person? Do you prefer dead silence, the chatter of a coffee shop, or a Metallica album to set the mood? Writers must try their best to create an ideal environment in which to work.
A large part of writing for authors of all experience levels is minimizing distractions. The days of typewriters clacking away in dimly lit rooms are gone. Now, the computer that you use to write can also function as a procrastination machine. We recommend installing web extensions like StayFocusd or Freedom that block you from accessing your favorite sites when you should be working.
Join A Writer’s Group
One way to ensure accountability for yourself is to join a writer’s group. While setting personal deadlines might be easy to ignore, it’s much more difficult to neglect your writing when there’s a whole group of fellow writers waiting on those pages you promised.
Being part of a community with common goals and aspirations also helps to increase your motivation, improve your writing, and access an audience for your work. Some great resources for connecting with other writers are:
Reddit communities such as:
Use A Writing Coach
Hiring a writing coach is similar to hiring a trainer at the gym. While in the end it’s up to you to do the work, a writing coach will guide you along the way. Like a baseball coach, piano coach, or sales coach, a writing coach is an expert in their field. They’ll help you with everything, from mastering story structure, to working through your big ideas, to challenging your bad habits and championing your writing goals.
Hire A Ghostwriter
If you’ve got an idea for a book, but are unsure how to proceed, you may consider consulting a ghostwriter. Through extensive interviews, conversations, and research, ghostwriters work with authors to bring their vision to life. Ghostwriters are especially effective for busy professionals who want to share their insights with a large audience, but don’t have enough time to dedicate to writing every week.
If you would like to write a book but are unsure how to begin, consider contacting a professional. At Write It Great, we’ve helped numerous authors bring their ideas to life and achieve their writing goals. Plus, our books are completed on time, every time.