How long does it take to write a novel?

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If you’ve never done it, you might be wondering how long does it take to write a novel from start to finish. There are no straight answers, but hopefully this blog post will show you what actually matters when it comes to writing your novel and how you can make that time count.

I’ve written multiple full-length novels in varying circumstances, so I can speak from personal experience in addition to giving some general pointers.

Related reading: How to write efficiently – 5 simple tips

How long does it take to write a novel?

Why does it matter how long it takes to write a book?

Before we get into the post, I need to ask: What does it matter how long it takes to write a novel? Are you hoping that you can do it quickly, and if you can’t, you just won’t do it? Or are you wondering what the normal time frame is so you can have a general idea of how long it might take you?

We all have different lives and different priorities, so someone else’s timeline might not work for you. You might have more time in a day than them, or less. You might need more help or you might take longer to revise. There are so many variables, but what actually matters is finishing writing a book that you can be proud of.

Does it matter how long it takes yu to write a book?

What counts as “writing a book” anyway?

I’m a little sceptical when it comes to those “this is how long it took to write these famous works!” lists when they’re not exactly clear on what they mean by “writing a book”.

You can totally write a first draft in a few weeks, but it feels a little dishonest to say that you “wrote a book” in that time. How long did the outlining take? And for how long did the editing process take after that? I find it a little hard to believe that A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess turned from an idea into a completely finished novel in just three weeks, for example. Did his editor or publisher have nothing to change or fix in the manuscript??

You can check out this article on how long it took to write some of the most well-known books, but take it with a grain of salt.

Most often, you should reserve a lot more time for revising and editing your novel than for writing the first draft. Getting the words on page can be a lot easier than making sure they’re the right words and that the story works in general. That’s not even counting the part of the process that happens solely inside the writer’s head and all the research you might have to do.

The time will pass anyway

If it took you ten years to write an amazing novel, would you do it? Or would you just give up because that’s too much and you want results sooner?

The thing with time is… it’s going to pass anyway. There are a lot of great novels that took five-ish years to write, and if that sounds like a lot to you, let me ask you this: Five years from now, wouldn’t you rather have a finished novel in your hands than not?

Quality is more important than speed

When you're writing a book, this matters more than speed

Experienced writers like Stephen King who work with professional editors can still churn out readable books every year, but that might not be you. I mean, it probably isn’t, since you’re reading this blog post.

What you should focus on is writing a great story and then making sure you write it the exact way it was meant to be written. Do you really think your readers will be like “wow, this book was written so fast, I love it!” if you rush through the process? Or will they simply put away your book, unfinished, because it wasn’t that good and the storyline was kind of lacking?

Writing a novel is going to take as long as it needs to take. That’s just a fact. Do justice to your story and don’t rush it.

All the steps of the writing process are important

If you don’t yet know what goes in writing a novel from start to finish, you might not know what exactly takes so long.

Writing a book, however, is more than just writing. To find out what else it can be, read this post for the steps of the writing process.

Don’t write fast, write efficiently

Do this instead if you want to write a book fast

That said, there’s still no need to procrastinate. Most debut authors don’t have the option of devoting all their time to writing their novel, which is why they need to make the most of the time they do have. That’s where writing efficiently comes in.

You might not be able to prioritise writing a novel completely, but when it comes to all the “extra time” you have, sometimes you need to make hard choices. I know that new Netflix series is so good, but if you want to write a novel and you’re busy, some other things will have to go.

Another thing that’s going to save you so much time is going in with a plan. Don’t just have a great outline that keeps you on track, but also have a plan for each writing session. That doesn’t need to be a written plan, you can just decide ahead of time what exactly you’ll be focusing on and what you want to succeed in in the time you have. Having a solid focus for each round of edits also helps with that.

This is how long it takes to write a “breakout” novel

Writing a Breakout Novel by Donald Maass was the first craft book I ever read. Essentially, a “breakout” novel is a novel that makes its author established and well-known, whether it’s their first of fourteenth published work. The book details what these kinds of novels have in common and how you can achieve the same.

Maass, an experienced literary agent, says that it takes 2 to 3 years to write a breakout novel. Sure, you can write any novel in a shorter time, but if you’re happy not becoming a household name and only getting small results, you might want to put the time in and really work on writing a smashing novel. I mean, why else would you even bother?

expect your debut novel to take this long to write

The real answer to how long it takes to write a novel

Yeah, sorry. It’s going to take as long as it’s going to take.

If you’re not working with a professional editor, it’s safe to say it’s going to take at least two years if you’re starting from scratch. It could take you even longer than that, and that’s totally normal and okay. Expect to take weeks or months to write your first draft and then spend at least a year editing that manuscript.

Taking the time to create a thorough outline usually shortens the time it takes you to write your first draft and often helps you avoid some of the biggest issues that lengthen the editing process.

Get started on your novel in less than a week

The first step to writing a novel “quickly” is starting the process the right way. Even more than that, getting started NOW rather than SOME DAY also greatly increases your chances of writing your novel in a timely manner.

Fortunately for you, my free 5-day course helps you with both of those things. Even if you don’t yet know what to write about, you will find your winning idea and plot your story in less than a week. What would it feel like if a week from now you were already working on your debut novel?

2 thoughts on “How long does it take to write a novel?”

  1. Boy, this is great advice, and very reassuring! When I started working on my novel, I gave myself five years because I honestly didn’t even know how to write a book. I started in 2020, been through several drafts, and I’ve still probably got another to go before it’s ready (we’ll see the editor’s verdict), but the book is already SO MUCH BETTER than it was, and I’ve learned a ton. That’s another thing about taking time to write, you LEARN about what it takes to be a good writer. It’s a huge accomplishment. And it’s better to take years to put out something your readers will love and come back to you for more instead of a half-baked, unrelatable loser of a book. Thank you for writing this!

    1. I’m happy to hear you’re so dedicated to writing a great book! You’re going to do so well. So many novels that people love were years in the making.

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