How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

“I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.”

― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

One of the most common questions I receive as a writer is “how long did it take you to write your book?”. On the surface, this seems like an innocent enough question. When readers ask me this, they probably expect a straight to the point answer such as three months, one year, etc. They may even be asking because they desire to write a book themselves and want to know how long it will take. Truly, there is no simple response as the answer varies from author to author.

So, how long did it take for me to write my latest book? There are two answers to this question; a few months, and ten years. Simply put, my novel was based on a short story I wrote in my early teens. It took me about two months to write that story, but I loved the book so much that I rewrote it several times over the years. Each time, I added a bit more to the plot. I included additional storylines and added more characters. After this, I moved on to editing.

During the editing phase, I examined my book for errors, from both grammatical and storytelling standpoints. I had to figure out what did and did not work for my book. I deleted scenes and added new ones. I examined my book for plot inconsistencies and awkward sentence structure. I read over my novel so many times that the very thought of looking at it one more time made my eyes want to bleed.

Even then, I still wasn’t done because after polishing my novel to the best of my ability, it was time to send it off to a professional editor, and yes, he painted my manuscript red. Sometimes I wanted to scream, especially after my 53,000 word novel got condensed down to a 41,000 word novella. But I reminded myself just how much I loved being a writer and I rolled up my sleeves and got to work, because editing is part of the process of crafting a good book.

So just how long did the writing and editing process take? I spent ten years on that one particular book. However, this is not the standard and it all really depends on the time the author is willing to put into it on a daily basis. Typically, I write about 1,000 words per hour. The minimum word count for most novels is generally about 50,000 words. Some people write faster than this while others write slower. For most, the entire process takes at least a few months, while for some it takes a few years. According to an article by Merilyn Simonds, How Long Should It Take to Write a Book?:

“William Faulkner wrote Light in August in seven months, a slog compared to As I Lay Dying, which he wrote in less than six weeks while working the night shift at a power plant. Jack Kerouac spent seven years on the road, but the actual writing of that iconic book took less than a month, typed on a single, taped-together roll of paper. Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange for money and churned it out in three weeks. John Boyne gave voice to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in a breathless two and a half days.

Surely years, not weeks or months, is the norm. A quick glance at the oeuvre of writers like Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Louise Erdrich suggests that writers devoted to their craft can manage a new work of fiction every two to four years.”

As you can see, the process varies greatly. I think what we can all take from this is that there is no definite answer as to how long it should take you to write a book. Just write at whatever pace feels good to you. Crafting a novel takes a lot of time and effort, and most new writers have other careers and responsibilities in addition to being an author. The most important thing is that you write, and you do it often; otherwise, you’ll never finish that novel.

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