Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How Long it Takes to Write a Book

I’ve kept a work diary for about three months, and I’m starting to realize just how long it takes to write a book. It ‘s a lot more time than I thought.
In November, I’m going to start a new book for Nano, and I plan on continuing the work diary. That means I could find out how long it takes me to write a novel from beginning to end.
That’s kind of an exciting idea, but also scary. Maybe knowing will take a lot of the fun out of it.
If you could see how long it took to write your book, would you want to know? Or would you be afraid of comparing how much you put into it to how much you’re getting out of it and deciding it’s not worth it?
I want to do a fun but almost pointless math exercise:
I read in Writer’s Market that the average novelist makes $45,000 per book. This is probably the most subjective number imaginable – what does “average novelist” even mean? But that’s the only number I have, so let’s go with it.
This means you’d have to write a book a year, or at the very least a book every two years, to make a decent salary. From what I hear, publishers expect a book a year anyway.
I asked a smart person how many hours the average 8-5 person works (including vacation and sick days), and he said around 2,000. No author actually writes for 8 hours a day, though. I’ll bet when you actually get published and start marketing and whatnot, it becomes a full-time job, but I’m talking about the writing itself.
I personally try to write 2 hours a day (this includes editing and research), and the goal is to write a book a year. 2,000 hours for a full-time job divided by four… If I want to keep my current habits and goals, writing a novel needs to take me 500 hours a year.
Since Sacred Fire is my first novel, it took much longer to write than my future books will. I hope my next one won’t even take a third of the time. I wonder how many hours I’ve put into my book? A thousand? More?
This math activity was pretty silly, but it somewhat puts things in perspective.
Any thoughts?


  1. I just finished the first draft of my novel and I started it last November! So yes it took quite a lot of time and I've been writing all summer long... literally. When I'm at home all I do is write. (The only time I'm not at home is when I'm figure skating). But I think if I knew how many hours it would take to write my novel BEFORE I wrote it, I'm not sure I would have started. Luckily, I know that all that work has added up into something that I can be proud of!

  2. I'm also writing historical fiction as my first novel, and the "requirement" most publishers have for one book a year is daunting particularly for this genre. I spent two years just researching, developing the concept, and planning the plot and characters (part-time, but fairly steadily). I started the first draft in March and don't expect to finish (along with the rest of my research) until the middle of next year. And then there will be 6 mos. or more of revision.

    I hope future ones take less time because of what I've learned about writing and the period and setting I want to focus on. But anything less than 1.5-2 years seems really unrealistic for me with a day job.

  3. I started my book in 2002 as a way to grieve the deaths of two brothers. Now I am done, 9 years later. But it has been only in the past year that I have poured out myself into the book, writing hours on end.

  4. I wouldn't want to know how many hours it would take. Then I would just be sitting there, counting down the hours and not getting anything done.

    My first drafts seem to come quickly (love NaNo!) but the next stage (whether it's editing or rewriting) seems to take much longer. )ie. My rewrite was supposed to be done last summer.)

  5. I'm with you, Brooke. Writing a novel is a little like climbing a mountain. Every once in a while, I stop to catch my breath, get a drink of water, take in the view. In those moments, I sometimes say, "Wow! Look how far I've come!" and I feel gratified. At other times, I look up at the journey ahead and can feel overwhelmed by how much climbing I still have ahead of me.

  6. I've heard that writing a book takes as long as it takes. :) It's interesting how different books take different amounts of time. My first book took like four years from conception to completion. The second one took a year. My current one is looking to be possibly shorter than that. But the next one might be longer. I don't think I'd want to know how long it takes ahead of time-- I love the process of finding out. :)

  7. I think you're wise to cut your blogging. Once a week is the most I can manage because more than that cuts into WIP. So, although all writing is good, it depends on your priorities

  8. My first book took me ten years to write. Well, not quite my first. My first viable book took ten years! I'm cutting way down on that to try to make a go of this as a living, so I'm trying to do a book a year, but it's a lot of work!


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