Of all the questions that arise when you're learning how to write a book for the first time, the most pressing of all might be: just how long does it take to write a book? After all, you wouldn’t embark on a road trip without knowing how many hours you’d be in the car. It’s only natural to want to have a timeline in mind for this journey, too!
To that end, we’ve created this post all about how long it takes to write a book, including typical figures and factors to consider when adjusting your expectations. And for those who want to speed things up, we have actionable tips to help you shorten your writing time and get that manuscript done! Now, since time is of the essence, let’s begin.
How long does it take to write a book?
Based on data from a 2021 survey Reedsy conducted, it takes most authors six months to a year to write a book. A writer's timeline depends on the genre of the novel, the word count of the story, the amount of research you do, and the time you spend editing the completed draft.
Of course, every author is different, and there are famously wild outliers from the range above. Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in just three weeks, whereas The Catcher in the Rye took J.D. Salinger 10 years to finish! (Though to be fair, he was pretty busy fighting in World War II at the time.) Even a single author may have totally different timelines for different books — for example, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks, while David Copperfield took him over a year.
All this is to say that there is no wrong amount of time to write a book. If you manage to write all day, every day, maybe it takes less than a month! Or if you’re meticulously constructing a thousand-page historical fiction novel, it might take an entire decade. But if you’re writing a typical novel (50,000 words or more) on a typical schedule (a few hours of writing per week), you’ll likely fall somewhere in that 6-to-12-month range.
How long does it take to write a children’s book?
We’ll include the caveat here that writing a children’s book does take less time than writing a full-length novel. Though one can’t underestimate the degree of care and effort that goes into writing for kids, the fact of the matter is, their books are shorter and therefore less time-consuming to create.
Here’s how long it takes to write children’s books, on average:
- Picture books (500-1,000 words) — 1-2 weeks
- Early reader books (1,000-2,500 words) — up to a month
- Chapter books (10,000-15,000 words) — 1-3 months
- Middle-grade novels (25,000+ words) — 3-6 months
Keep in mind that with a kids’ book, you’ll probably spend more time thinking about the story than actually writing it. This is especially true for picture books and early reader books, which need strong concepts behind them in order to sell! While there may only be 500 words in a picture book, every single word needs to count — so don’t assume it will be easy just because the writing time is relatively short.
How much should you write per day?
The other burning question when it comes to writing timelines is: how much should you actually be writing every day? While we can’t give a universal decree, we’d suggest that beginners aim for 3-4 writing sessions per week, at around 500 words per session.
How did we conjure up with these session and word count goals? Well, based on our collective experience and testimony from other writers, 500 words/session seems to be the perfect balance of substantial and manageable: enough to make progress without getting too overwhelmed.
Indeed, many writers advocate not just 500 words per session, but 500 words every single day. While you might work up to this eventually — and if you’ve had lots of writing practice, you may already be there! — we still recommend starting off fairly easy with 3-4 sessions a week. Once you’ve got this schedule down pat, you can move onto more frequent sessions and higher word count goals. In the meantime, we have some calculations to help you along.
Here’s how long it takes to write a book based on our daily writing guidelines:
- 50,000-word book — 5-8 months
- 75,000-word book — 8-12 months
- 100,000-word book — 1-1.5 years
- 125,000-word book or more — 1.5+ years
PS. Curious about average word counts in your genre? Check out this post!
How many pages is 500 words?
In a standard word processor, 500 words = 1 single-spaced page or 2 double-spaced pages. However, in a book, it’s about 1.25-1.5 pages.
So if you’d prefer to think in terms of pages rather than words, try to write about 5-10 book pages per week. Most people stick to word count-based goals for convenience’s sake — otherwise you’ll have to translate your word processor pages into “book pages” every time. But if you think tangibly tracking your pages will help, you can always write on the Reedsy Book Editor, which automatically formats your book as you go.
Should you do NaNoWriMo?
If you’re hoping to get a first draft done ASAP, you might consider participating in NaNoWriMo — an annual event during which writers attempt to complete a 50,000-word novel in a month. NaNoWriMo can be a great incentive to write quickly, and the NaNo community is an amazing source of advice and support. If you can handle the intensity, then by all means, go for it!
However, note that NaNoWriMo is designed to help you write more, not better. Many NaNoWriMo winners — especially first-timers — find themselves doing extensive rewrites and edits in the months that follow, because the first draft is usually a hot mess.
This may not matter to you if your first priority is getting words down on the page. But if you want to minimize the editing time (and editing costs!) on your book, you should probably skip NaNo for the time being.
Tips to cut your writing time in half
Speaking of minimizing, we certainly wouldn’t leave you without a repertoire of time-saving tips! If you follow all our advice, it’s definitely possible to write your book in just three to six months — essentially cutting the average writing time in half.
That said, it takes some serious discipline to get a book done that fast. Don’t set goals that you aren’t prepared to meet, lest you end up more discouraged than ever. But if a few months of sacrifice sounds like a worthy tradeoff for a finished manuscript, read on!
1. Work from an outline
As most experienced writers will know, the work always goes a lot faster when you outline first. For some, outlining will be second nature, while for others it’s like pulling teeth — especially if you’re a “pantser” who prefers to improvise as you go. But regardless of your natural inclination, if you want to cut down on writing time, outlining is the only way forward.
Now, your outline doesn’t have to be intensely detailed, nor is it impervious to change! You just need a framework so you don’t either a) write too much irrelevant content that later gets cut, or b) find yourself stuck on what should come next. Both these scenarios are massive time-wasters that can set you back weeks if you’re not careful.
So pantsers: suck it up and make an outline. It can be a standard chapter-by-chapter synopsis outline, a “mind map,” or a character-based plan. Whatever helps you stay organized, do it! An organized outline is absolutely paramount to reducing how long it takes to write a book.
2. Set deadlines and track your progress
Experienced writers will also know that having the outline isn’t enough. You'll still need a concrete plan for filling it out — that’s where deadlines and progress tracking come in.
You already know that your word count goals should be around 500 words per writing session, but how does this translate into chapter deadlines? Well, most chapters are 2,000 to 5,000 words long, so it should take you about 1-3 weeks per chapter when you’re first starting out.
What you should really do is determine how long each of your chapters will be, and give yourself appropriate deadlines for each. For example, a short chapter can be completed in a week, whereas a meatier chapter with more important details may be closer to 2-3 weeks. Be honest about how much time it should take — don’t set a lazy three-week deadline for a 2,000-word chapter!
And how do you make sure you’re meeting the deadlines you set? Progress tracking! There are some great writing apps, like Ink On and Word Keeper, to help you keep track of your word count goals, time your sessions, and maintain summaries and stats for all projects. You can also create a simple spreadsheet and keep track of your session times and WC milestones in there; again, whatever helps you stay organized!
3. Find an accountability partner
Other than progress tracking, having a writing partner is probably the best thing you can do for your productivity. Indeed, those who have trouble staying accountable may find that another person is just the motivation they need.
That doesn’t mean it has to be someone you know IRL. Though it’s great to work together in person, you can always find a writing buddy (or several) through online writing communities and forums, which include people from all over the world. This may even be better than working with someone you know, because you’ll be more objective with each other: about goals, deadlines, and even feedback if you decide to swap manuscripts.
The key thing with a writing partner is to stay in constant contact. That way, if one of you falls off the writing wagon, the other one can provide a pep talk — and maybe some gentle guilt-tripping — to get them back on right away.
4. Never go more than two days without writing
Remember when we mentioned “long breaks” as one factor affecting your writing timeline? Well, it might sound obvious, but if you want to finish your book faster, don’t take breaks. Or at least, don’t take breaks for more than a day or two.
This is because, if you’re aiming to write a book in three to six months, you simply can’t afford it. Not only will you lose precious writing time, you’ll also lose the “flow” that you obtain after writing for several days in a row. Even a 24-hour break can wreak havoc on your creative sensibilities, so try to write at least a little bit every day! Remember: 100 words of “flow maintenance” is still better than nothing.
5. Get used to the “pressure cooker”
The truth is, if you’re trying to write a book in under six months, it’s going to get intense. Most writers have day jobs, many have families, and of course there’s the constant juggling of hobbies and social obligations. Cram in writing on top of that, and you might feel like your head is literally going to explode.
But don’t give up before you’ve even started! The first few weeks are the most painful, and after that — well, things don’t get easier, per se, but you grow accustomed to the pressure cooker. Believe it or not, it’s actually better to be busy; when you don’t have very much free time, you tend to build extremely efficient habits.
Still not sure you can do it? Well, perhaps this next section will inspire you…
How long did it take these famous authors to write their books?
We mentioned Kerouac, Salinger, and Dickens earlier, but here’s some more trivia about famous authors and how long it took to write their novels!
👦🏻 John Boyne took 3 days to write The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
🔥 Ray Bradbury took 2.5 weeks to write Fahrenheit 451
🔎 Arthur Conan Doyle took 3 weeks to write A Study in Scarlet
🧛 Stephenie Meyer took 3 months to write Twilight
🤴Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took 6 months to write The Little Prince
💔 Emily Brontë took 9 months to write Wuthering Heights
👒 Jane Austen took 10 months to write Pride and Prejudice
🌪️ L. Frank Baum took 1 year to write The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
🧟 Mary Shelley took 1 year to write Frankenstein
👻 Toni Morrison took 1.5 years to write Beloved
🍾 F. Scott Fitzgerald took 2.5 years to write The Great Gatsby
👩 Gillian Flynn took 3 years to write Gone Girl
⚔️ George R.R. Martin took 5 years to write A Game of Thrones
⚡J.K. Rowling took 6 years to write Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
🌬️ Margaret Mitchell took 10 years to write Gone With The Wind
💍 J.R.R. Tolkien took 16 years to write The Lord of the Rings
We’ll end with this: how long it takes to write a book is almost entirely dependent on you. If you want to finish it as soon as possible, the best thing you can do is start today! So get off the Internet, and get cracking on that manuscript.
Another way to speed up your writing time? Find a piece of writing software that lets you stay organized, leaving you free to do the important stuff: write!