Once you’ve found a compelling idea that you can’t wait to make into a novel, it’s normal to want to have a timeframe to complete it. So how long should it take you to write that novel?
Writing a novel can take 6-12 months; however, this is a rough rule of thumb, not a definitive answer. Ultimately, the time taken will depend on several factors, including the length of the finished work, its genre, the preparatory work involved, and the writer’s personality and skill.
In this article, I’ll explain in detail why timelines differ so much from writer to writer and give you a few suggestions to help you work faster.
The time it takes to write a novel can vary significantly from author to author and book to book. No simple answer can cover all genres, works, and authors.
For instance, it took J.R.R. Tolkien sixteen years to finish Lord of the Rings, ten years for Margaret Mitchell to write Gone With The Wind, and only three days for John Boyne to complete The Boy in Striped Pyjamas.
If you’re a budding writer, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it can also take the same author significantly different amounts of time from book to book.
This YouTube video will tell you how long it took for some famous authors to write their most well-known works:
So what factors lead to such significant differences in the time it takes to bring a novel to life?
A typical novel can range between 80,000 to 100,000 words in length, with 50,000 words regarded as a lower limit for a work to count as a novel. At the same time, the average writer will produce between 500 to 3,000 words a day.
So, if you intend to write a 50,000-word book at a rate of 500 words per day, working three days a week, it will take about eight months to finish your book. If you double your daily output, it will take half the time (four months).
Here’s a breakdown of your prospective timelines if you plan to write 500 words daily, 3-4 days a week.
|50,000 words||6 – 8 months|
|75,000 words||9 – 12 months|
|80,000 words||10 – 13 months|
|100,000 words||12.5 – 16 months|
It goes without saying that if you increase the number of writing sessions per week, your timeline will shrink. The inverse will also be true. Similarly, a faster writer will get through their book faster than a slower one, but a slow writer working on a short novel can complete their work faster than the quick writer crafting a gargantuan epic.
Typically, different genres of the novel have different standard word count ranges.
For example, Science Fiction and Fantasy novels tend to be pretty bulky. The typical Fantasy novel ranges from 50,000 to 90,000 words, and a Science Fiction work can often range from 90,000 to 120,000 words.
Different genres can involve significantly different preparatory and post-writing work. While most fiction novels do not need referencing and proofreading, authors whose work references a lot of historical, cultural, or scientific information can spend vast amounts of time on these tasks.
Finally, different genres also involve significant differences in intensity and are required to meet different standards and expectations. So a popular romance or potboiler by an unknown author can be written faster than the most hotly awaited literary work in a decade. Of course, once again, these are not hard and fast rules.
While all long-form literary works require a degree of planning, some novels require more preparatory work than others.
The length and complexity of a prospective work may need its author to plan its plot and chapter outlines more rigorously. In this case, the author may have to work harder to gain clarity on the development of individual characters and ensure that the work stays coherent and consistent in style.
Other works may delve deeply into the past, into specific subcultures, or technical environments. In these cases, besides the usual preparatory work, authors may have to do extensive research to build authentic and convincing characters and milieus in their work.
So it is inevitable that the time taken to do background research, character sketches, preliminary drafts, and outlines before writing will significantly impact the time taken to complete your work.
A final factor that complicates all of the above is the personality of the author. Like other artists, authors vary widely in this regard. Some authors work all day, and some work for a few hours a day. Some work every day, and others when the inspiration strikes them.
Equally important is how much they get done in their time. Some authors will work painstakingly to craft each sentence, while others race through whole pages in the same time.
And speed is no indication of quality either. Some talented writers can write well at speed; others will take hours to produce mediocre work. In the end, the personality of the author, the space they work in, and the expectations set for their work all combine to affect the time it takes to complete a literary work.
As much as the length of writing a book depends on the factors mentioned above, you can speed up the process. There are several ways that you can shorten your timeframe.
The phrase practice makes perfect applies here. Set aside some time from your schedule for writing as often as possible. It does not matter how long, but try to do it daily. The more you write, the more effortlessly the words will flow.
A less well-appreciated benefit of this practice is that it will also help you type faster.
Having your ideas scattered all over the place not only leads to drafting poor quality content but also to failing to write altogether. An outline guides you on what you are to do and gives your content direction, speeding up the process.
Before commencing to write a book, create a good framework. Put down as much detail as you can on the content and progression of the chapters and characters in your book. This will save you the time spent not knowing what to write or editing a poor-quality draft.
Having deadlines that you must observe pushes you to work harder even when you don’t feel like it. Set the number of words you want to write each day and strive to achieve them.
However, remember to set realistic deadlines that you can meet without adding to the already significant pressures of working on creative projects. On that note, be generous by rewarding yourself after each accomplishment. This will motivate you to speed up the writing process.
An accountability partner will help you focus on achieving your targets when you feel like procrastinating. They will help you conquer writer’s block, boost your morale, and keep you on your toes.
Consider choosing someone who is self-disciplined and impartial. Try not to have a friend or family member, as they tend to be biased and can be soft on you. A general rule of thumb is getting someone you’ll want to impress to be accountable.
Answering that phone call, replying to an email, or catching up with a friend during writing time derails your progress. Ensure your phone is out of reach and close all chatting apps on your browser. It would help if you had the maximum concentration to beat your target.
Also, make sure that your computer is in good shape. Breakdowns lead to loss of time, derailing your progress.
Every writer has a tendency to correct their work as they go along. However, for you to write faster, let the ideas flow without interruption. Correcting as you write will eat into your time and interrupt the flow of ideas.
You can always go back and rework your words after you finish writing. After all, the first draft does not have to be perfect; that’s why there is editing and proofreading.
There are so many tips for writing faster that we can’t exhaust all of them here. However, consider watching this youtube video for more.
As you can see, there is no specific timeline for writing a book. But if you write daily, have an accountability partner, set deadlines, and avoid distractions, you will speed up your writing journey.