How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

how long does it take to write a book?
How long is a piece of string? How tall is a tree? As we so often find, there is no single answer to certain questions, and the question of how long it takes to write a book is one of these. There are so many variables that come into play it would be difficult to enumerate them all, but generally speaking, the volume of text, the complexity of the subject matter and the amount of time a writer can actually devote to his or her writing are among the factors that would influence the answer. For those looking for the most rudimentary of guidelines, it takes a year to write a book. Now that has been written, it’s also important to point out that the year-to-book timeline doesn’t really apply to anything more than a framework to get some writers started.

Some of the quickest books to write

E-books: The fastest I’ve ever written an e-book from beginning to end was just one week. It consisted of 25,000 words, which would have made it a bit short if the book were to be printed for an adult reading audience; but for an e-book, it was relatively substantial. The topic required quite a lot of research, so if I’d picked a subject that was a little less factual than “How to train for a marathon,” I estimate I could have finished even faster.

Heavily illustrated books: Kids books for a very young reading audience and coffee table books that consist mainly of images can be even quicker to write. I’ve knocked off a kids’ story in less than an hour, and just captioning images doesn’t take long when eye-candy is the principal selling point of a book. That doesn’t mean the book will be ready in that amount of time. Since these books aren’t primarily about writing, the writing is the easiest and quickest part of the process. The other aspects (photography, illustrations) will take much longer.

Recipe books: It doesn’t take long to write a recipe book, but if you take time spent in the kitchen testing your recipes and taking photographs of your mouth-watering results into account, it can turn into quite a lengthy project. But the actual writing? It doesn’t take long at all.

No and Low Content Books: There are actually books that have little to no written content. A journal with quotes could be written in a day if that long. So could a car mileage log book.

What about your magnum opus?

I’d love to be able to tell you how many words you’d write a day if you worked on your literary masterpiece all day every day, but everyone has their own pace, and some days are better than others. In general, I manage a word count of about 4,000 words on a writing a day – provided I have direction and know what comes next. I edit on the following day, and that takes anything from half the day to the whole day, depending on my form when I drafted the original text, my mood, and whether I’m feeling self-confident on the day. That brings down the final number to about 2,000 words a day when averaging it out.

If you’re really writing something that means a lot to you, completing your book could take years. A friend of mine decided she needed to change the focus of her autobiographical work when she was already halfway through writing it. I think it was the right decision, but it meant she had to go back and revise absolutely everything she’d already written.

Another writing buddy faced repeated rejections from publishers when she submitted her science fiction story. One publisher was kind enough to tell her what he thought needed changing, and she’s been reworking the whole thing by fits and starts ever since.

Even non-fiction works can take ages to compile. Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” took 20 years to complete, but it is still considered to be the definitive work on Roman history. Meanwhile, “The Cantos” by Ezra Pound took a massive 52 years to write, and he would probably still be writing it if he were still alive. The unfinished book was published after his death in 1969.

Then again, Mickey Spillane is said to have written his first novel in just 19 days, and Earle Stanley Gardener used to publish four books every year. Could detective fiction be one of the easiest genres to tackle? However, Jack Kerouac takes the cake with “On the Road” — a book that he is said to have completed over a single weekend. Mind you, I’ve read it, or tried to, and it’s difficult to digest.

Anything from a week to a lifetime

Here’s the bottom line: depending on a whole range of factors, writing a book could take you as little as a week or as long as a lifetime. If you’re serious about writing a book and getting it published before you depart from this mortal coil, I’d advise you to get started now. Create a framework to guide you through the chapters you have to write, and set mini-deadlines for yourself so that you’re forced to keep working at it. If you receive rejection letters, see if you can distil any valuable information from them. Then go back to your book and see if you can accommodate the ideas you’ve been given without completely deconstructing your story and starting over. The sooner you can get it back to the kind publisher who actually took the trouble of reading your proof and commenting on it, the greater your chance of getting it published.

(Photo courtesy of Tim Geers)

8 comments

  1. I could say I am a bookworm. I can read a whole book in a day, but I got to thinking that what I read in one day takes a year or more for someone to write. It takes a lot less time to consume the writing than it does to create the writing. I think I should appreciate the work the writers must do more.

  2. I want to write a book, but I’m not sure I want to spend all the time it would take to write it. I’m afraid that I will spend a year and then nobody will want to read it. If that happens, I will have wasted a year of my life. How do you write a book when you want to, but you don’t think it will be good enough for people to enjoy?

    1. If you’re worried about the time it will take and if anyone will read it, then you really don’t want to write a book. You just like the image of you writing a book. If you really wanted to write a book, these things wouldn’t even be a consideration in your thoughts.

  3. I think it depends on each person. Some people are able to write books quickly while others it will take a lot of time. There is not a specific time for everyone as each book is different. I think each person should set a realistic goal as to when they want to be done and shoot for that goal.

    1. It’s pretty conceited of you to assume that you are the standard when it comes to writing books. No two people are the same, so the amount of time it takes to write a book for each person will be different. Your statement is like me saying anybody who doesn’t know how to scuba dive is stupid just because I happen to enjoy scuba diving. It doesn’t make any sense at all advancing your own thoughts and skills on somebody else.

  4. The problem is that so many people know this now and they create “click bait” titles. That is, titles that don’t have anything really to do with the article, or which misrepresent the article, just so you click. It’s effective, but misleading and I hate them.

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