How Long Does It Realistically Take To Write A Book?
The Question New Writers Love to Ask
It’s really a trick question, isn’t it?
Like which came first, the chicken or the egg, there really is no suitable answer.
Harper Lee, the brilliant author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” took, from start to finish, four years to write one of the greatest works in literature.
On the other hand, John Dunning wrote “Deadline” in just six weeks.
And I happen to know an author who wrote an ebook in one month.
In other words, there is no suitable answer for the question. Still, we really should attempt to give you an idea of the time involved, so let’s get crackin’.
A Great Resource for Writers
A Purely Mathematical Approach
Those of you who enjoy numbers, and who tend to see things in black and white rather than a rainbow of colors, will appreciate this way of estimating the time necessary to write a book.
If you plan on writing a book of 100,000 words, and you write 500 words per day, then do the math….you can finish your book in 200 days, or about seven months, if you work on it diligently seven days a week.
How many of you can do that?
Maybe you are a wordsmith of the highest caliber and you can write 1,000 quality words per day. Well, then, rejoice, because that book of yours should be finished in 100 days, or roughly the amount of time a President is judged by his efficiency in office.
How many of you can do that?
Of course, maybe you are writing a book for five-year olds, in which case you should be able to knock one out every week, right?
So Many Factors to Consider
I have a friend who is writing a historical novel based on World War Two. Practically every page that she writes requires research to verify historical facts, and she estimates it will take her two years to write the first draft.
James Michener, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “Tales of the South Pacific” and “Hawaii,” often wrote detailed historical novels of 1,000 pages or more, and would write twelve to fifteen hours per day.
The point is this: the time it takes to write a book depends on a myriad of factors.
Using my own works as examples, the book I am currently working on, “Resurrecting Tobias,” took four months for the first draft. Rewrites have now taken two months and they are still going on. My first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle from Yesterday to Today,” took two years to complete. I was much more motivated in writing the second novel than I was for the first, plus I understood the process much better the second time around.
So what factors determine the time required? A partial list would show:
- The amount of research needed
- The amount of available time devoted purely to writing daily
- The motivation of the author
- The ability to focus on a lengthy piece for a long period of time
- The level of understanding a writer has regarding the book process
- And yes, the writing ability of an individual
Mama Said There’d Be Days like This
I was recently watching a video by Elizabeth Gilbert, the very popular and highly-successful author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” In the video she talks about the elusive creative genius. She explains that she views creativity as a living entity, one separate from the writer.
The writer can show up at his/her workstation, prepared to write with a huge block of time available. The computer is working properly, and all research material is within an arm’s reach. The opening lines are written and then……nothing. The dreaded writer’s block descends upon the writer, and no matter what that writer tries, it just isn’t working. Words make no sense, and the intelligent and yes, creative person, is left blubbering incoherently.
What is missing, of course, is the creative genius. She said in her video that at times she will shout at the creative genius and chastise if for not showing up.
I understand, and I’m most certain that many of you do as well.
If it ain’t there then it ain’t going to happen.
Again, referring back to the novel I am currently working on, the first draft was completed in four months. Two rewrites followed and still I felt something was wrong. Finally, I realized that one of my main characters just wasn’t real to me. I loved my other two main characters, but the third, Maria Turner, was a mystery to me, and for the love of all that was holy, I could not fix her.
And so I stewed, and I swore, and I tore hair out and looked to the heavens for an answer….and then I did the one thing I should have done at the very beginning….I talked to my wife, Bev, and within twenty-four hours the problem was solved.
We never know when the creative genius will smile upon us, and when it will treat us like ten-day old garbage.
And One Final Factor to Consider
That factor could only be….should only be….quality.
In all honesty, I could write a 100,000 word book in one month if I had to do it. So could you if you had the time available….but…..
Would it be any good?
The answer is most likely NO!
If we are truly going to write a quality book, then we need to devote the time necessary to allow the quality to shine through. I read once where John Steinbeck, he of “Grapes of Wrath” fame, spent four days writing one sentence for one of his books. No matter what he did, from cursing to taking a walk to drinking heavily, he could not find the words that would make that one sentence perfect.
I do not advocate drinking heavily to attain your goals, but I do advocate the search for quality in writing.
Join me on my website
- William Holland | Thoreau of the 21st Century
William D. Holland Author....I hope you can find the time to visit me there and follow along with my progress
Are you writing a book now?
So the Final Answer Is…..
How long does it take to write a book?
As long as it takes and not a minute more!
Let me leave you with one final thought.
Writing should be a passion. Writing should be enjoyable time spent with a lover. If you are enjoying the process, then who the hell cares how long it takes? If you are feeling the glow of a well-crafted sentence then seriously, bask in that glow, and allow yourself to feel the same joy that Steinbeck felt when that one sentence finally came to him, and wrapped her arms around him in a loving embrace.
When I was a younger man (many years ago), I took a road trip with a friend of mine. We planned on two weeks, and we set off down Highway 101 to see the splendor of the Oregon and California coasts. Every single day, and I am not exaggerating when I say this, my friend would lament that we only had twelve days left on the journey….then eleven…then ten. Finally, with only three days left and us racing northward for home, he was approaching depression because his vacation was almost over. He was so focused on the end that he forgot to enjoy the journey.
Enjoy the journey! Very few people on this planet are talented enough to write a quality book. Pat yourselves on the back and shout a thanks to the gods that you are one of them.
Enjoy the journey!
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”