There are few things as satisfying as writing a book. It's no accident that only a small percentage of people who actually start writing a book finish, though-- completing a book requires time, dedication, focus, and drive.
Is there a book concept that's been kicking around in your brain for quite some time? Are you finally ready to start your magnum opus, but you're wondering how long it's going to take?
To help you estimate how long it will take to write your book, let's look at the average length of time it takes to write both fiction and nonfiction and take a deep dive into the factors that will influence the duration of the process.
As you might imagine, there isn't one right answer to the question of how long it takes to write a book. There are countless factors that will influence how much time is going to pass between the moment you first start putting words down on the page and when your book is complete.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, though, let's think about things a bit more simply.
Let's say that you can find the time to write 500 words in a session three days a week. In this case, it would take you:
Using this math, assuming that the average person can write 500 words three times a week in a consistent way, it will take four months to more than a year to write an entire book.
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Ok, so we've established a rough baseline for the average length of time it takes to write a book. Of course, there are countless factors that can mean that a writer takes much longer or much less time than this estimate to complete their masterpiece.
Before we look at the estimated length of time for fiction and nonfiction books, let's take a closer look at some of the elements that are going to impact how quickly a book can be written.
If you're planning on writing a 500-page nonfiction book that is based on detailed research and aims to provide evidence for a complex theory, it's generally going to take a lot longer than it will to craft a 160-page romance novel.
The average word counts for nonfiction books are:
The average word counts for fiction books are:
While the length of a book isn't necessarily tied to the complexity of the topic, a longer book does typically mean that plots, characters, or ideas are developed in greater detail and, therefore, more complex.
Another important factor is the genre of the book as well as the specific topic. Some genres and topics are probably going to take longer than others to flesh out into complete books, but then there's also the factor of how well-versed you are in the particular topic.
For example, if you've been a local history buff you're entire life, and you're writing a history of your hometown, you're likely going to be able to complete the book much more quickly than if you've decided to write a biography of an obscure historical figure about which there is very little available information.
How much research you have to do is going to have a huge impact on how long it takes to write your book. Nonfiction books will almost always require substantial research unless you're writing a memoir, but fiction books can also demand quite a bit of research.
For example, if you're writing a historical fiction novel about a woman that lives in 17th-century Holland, you'll have to spend quite a bit of time learning about daily life in that area at that time.
Research doesn't necessarily mean just googling around, either. The process of researching a book can entail things like:
If you're writing a nonfiction book, you'll also need to make sure that you are properly citing and crediting all of your sources.
If you're working on your twenty-third book, the process will probably go a lot quicker than if you're considering starting your first. Not only will experienced writers have developed systems and techniques over time that help them write more efficiently, they also just have the benefit of having found their workflow, voice, confidence, and writing style over many years of writing. Writing your first book will inevitably involve a lot of trial and error and some work to really get into the flow of things.
Beyond experience, some people just write faster than others. This both has to do with typing speed (or pen-on-paper speed, if you're old school) and also how quickly they can translate their thoughts into words. This also has to do with a writer's style-- some writers carefully craft every sentence, maybe only writing a few sentences in one work session, while other writers embrace a more stream-of-consciousness approach that puts many words down on the page in a session.
When it comes to typing speed, the average person can type about 40 words per minute. The record for typing speed is 212 words per minute, but most fast typists will be able to write 70-100+ words per minute.
Assuming all other factors are equal, a person that types 80 words per minute will be able to write a book twice as fast as someone that types 40 words per minute. If you're interested in writing your book as fast as possible, it could be worth taking some time to improve your typing speed.
A major factor in how long it will take to write a book is how much time you can commit to it. If you can commit an hour to writing every day, you're going to write your book seven times faster, roughly speaking, than if you can only commit one hour a week.
Setting up a set time that you write every day or every few days is great, but it doesn't mean much if you don't actually practice the discipline to follow through.
How disciplined a writer is in sticking with their schedule and putting in a set amount of time writing every week will have a big impact on how long it takes to finish a book. Many of the greatest authors in history talk about the importance of showing up every day no matter how you're feeling about the project-- you'll hear the same advice over and over again that inspiration most often comes to people who get up and do the work with discipline.
Remember, setting aside four dedicated hours a week to writing will mean your book gets done faster than if you have a fevered eight-hour session every two months. In general, it's better to set reasonable goals and pick away at your book in regularly scheduled sessions.
If you have a lot on your plate, both personally and professionally, you're probably going to struggle to put a ton of time into writing every day. That doesn't mean you can't carve out some time to write every day, but the more commitments you have beyond writing, the more time it will likely take you to finish your book.
Beyond commitments, there's also the question of distractions. If it's hard for you to find a place where you can work distraction and interruption-free, it's going to take longer to complete your book.
Not only does this take you away from your writing, but it can disrupt your flow and make it difficult to get back into it.
Finally, you have to consider how long the revision and editing process is going to take you. Depending on the type of book, this might be a simple process, or it might be a hefty endeavor in its own right.
Hiring someone else to edit your manuscript can be well worth it when you're working on a piece you want to publish. Even the most experienced authors can struggle to edit their own work, so it can be a good idea to have another set of eyes look it over. How much it costs to hire an editor can vary quite a bit, and you might even be able to find a friend or fellow writer who is willing to do it for free.
The length of time it takes to write a fiction book can range from a handful of months to several years. Some authors are able to churn out a first draft in just a few fevered days, while others might complete their first draft in several years' time.
To help you get a sense of how vast the range can be, let's look at how long it took some of the greatest authors in history to write some of their most famous books, along with some of the most popular contemporary authors and book titles:
How long it takes to write a non-fiction book is going to vary immensely. According to one source, the average time it takes to write a nonfiction book ranges from three months to several years. Again, how long it takes is going to involve a lot of factors, including the research required, the author's speed, the length of the book, the complexity of the topic, and much more.
Writing a book can take anywhere from a few months to several years. Some greats have written incredible books in just a few weeks, such as Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, while some accounts even claim that The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written in only six days.
Unless you are going to embark on a fevered, manic, non-stop multi-day writing session, though, most books aren't going to be done nearly so quickly. When you're planning out your schedule and estimating when your book will be done, it's important to set reasonable goals for yourself and focus on consistency rather than speed.
One question that might be looming in your mind is how you're going to support yourself while you're working on your book. Luckily, you can turn your passion for writing into an income source that helps carry you through to the moment of publishing.
Are you ready to start earning a living writing? If so, head over to our Freelance Writing Jobs board, where you can find brand-new posts from high-paying clients every day.