This is another question that I am asked often.
For other authors, the answer could be anything from a few weeks, to several months, a few years, or even a decade. It depends on many factors, naturally. For me, having finished three books now, it’s ranged from just over one year to just over two, as you can see below:
Six Hard Days in Andalusia (~100k words)
Started: November 2016
Published: May 2018
= 19 months
Den Of Snakes (~120k words)
Started: June 2018
Published: June 2020
= 25 months
The Dark Place (~100k words)
Started: June 2020
Published: August 2021
= 15 months
But this isn’t ‘total writing time’. It’s not even the total period of writing and editing, as it also includes time where the book was waiting for an external editor to have a slot to work on it (about 4 months for ‘The Dark Place’), and several weeks, months even, where it was finished but where I was preparing to gear up a marketing campaign and plan a release. There are also the times where I was too busy with my day job, or simply lost motivation to write. It happens – I dropped ‘Den of Snakes’ for at least six months – a period during which the little negative demon in my head was saying, ‘You’re not good enough to write books.’ I’ve since found that demon and murdered the bastard with a length of lead pipe.
So how long does it take to actually write a book?
Let’s assume that we are talking about someone who isn’t starting from scratch – that is to say that they have some idea about how to structure a novel-length story, understand genre, character development, story arcs, global theme, premise, character development etc. – so they aren’t ‘learning how to write’ anymore (although we’re all still learning to be better). Likely, then, they write at a pace of 500 to 2,000 words an hour. There’s quite a range and, indeed, some may be slower, some much faster. If we took 1,000 words/hour as an average (my speed) and consider that most genre fiction is something in the range of 80,000 to 120,000 words in length, then we can say that to write that many words will take between 80 and 120 hours.
That’s only 2-3 working weeks. So, there you have it. Easy, right?
Not quite! Although there are certainly authors out there who can churn out a novel every month (usually romance writers, it seems, and I’m in awe of that!). I’ve had single chapters that took that long if I’m honest. Whilst the logic makes sense (1,000 words an hour) it doesn’t consider that you also need to (usually) know what you are going to write first. I say “usually’ as there are no small number of authors who literally write by the seat of the pants (and are hence often referred to as ‘pantsers’). They might start with a premise, or a very high-level concept in mind, and just start writing, not stopping until they have that first draft. My contention is that most ‘pantsers’ (a nicer name is ‘discovery writers’) very probably have to re-write, heavily edit, or even completely trash their books far more often than those of us who are ‘plotters’. I’ve tried writing without knowing where the story is going. It’s fun. At first. And then you hit a logic bomb that you can’t work your way out of, or the story just dies a death for one reason or another. Some people don’t have this problem (Stephen King is one very oft-quoted example), but I bet most do. And I bet they spend weeks, months having to fix those issues to make the book right. I prefer to put that time in upfront; to at least know the ending and have a skeleton of an idea on how to get there in a compelling and engaging manner.
For me, plotting a book can take 2-3 months, or longer and I’ll often stop writing to re-appraise whether I’m on track or maybe whether I need to change track a bit. At that point, I’ll usually have vast mind maps, flow charts, and even sketches stuck to my wall (it plays havoc with the wallpaper, I can tell you!). Other times I start a scene or chapter with nothing more than a short text prompt (e.g. ‘Kill the secondary character’). I guess that makes me a ‘panster-plotter hybrid’.
But anyway, to answer the question, properly.
When I’m in full-on writing mode, I tend to write between 6.30 and 9.00 am, for a few hours in the evening and then some at weekends (I have a day job too). I probably, on average, spend 25 hours a week on the process of planning, writing, editing a book. For The Dark Place (98,000 final word length) I did that for a period of about seven months. That equates to approximately 700 hours.
So, there you have it. 700 hours or, approximately, 18 standard working weeks. Note – this does not include any of the effort needed to maintain an author presence on the web, write newsletters like this one, produce book covers, format the book, upload it to book publishing sites, create online ads, or any of the plethora of marketing and promotional activities that indie (and most traditional) authors need to do. All of that takes probably as much as the actual book writing and editing.
But if you started this article thinking, even subconsciously, ‘Could I write a book?’ then just ask yourself this – could you spare 700 hours over the course of the next year? That’s about 13 hours a week. Does it sound that much of a commitment? I don’t think so, not if you want it badly enough. I did. Maybe you could too?