What I learnt this week: how long does it take to write a book?

Perhaps I should re-title this:

How long does it take me to write a book?

Because all writers are different. I believe Barbara Cartland used to write a book every two weeks. Now that’s going it some. She carried the book in her head and dictated it to her secretary. I don’t have a secretary (shocked?!). Even if I did, I dread to think what my book would turn out like if the thoughts in my head were transcribed unfiltered.

Some writers plot, plot, plot before they begin to lay down the words. Others just sit and go for it.

I lie somewhere in between. I plot in my head for weeks before dumping my thoughts into a document that loosely ends up being a biography of the main characters and an outline of the book, chunked into sections.

So when we talk of time taken to write a book, do we count the plotting phase? For this exercise I’m not going to, because for me it takes place in my head when I’m running or swimming, so technically it’s not actually taking up any of my time.

Swim hat and goggles trainers

But I do spend time putting my thoughts into a document, so I’m going to allow:

Plotting = 1 day

Now, the writing. On a good day, I can write 2,000 words a day. Let’s say the book I need to write is going to be a novella (i.e. a shorter novel) and I’m looking at around 50,000 words (for comparison most of my books are around 90,000).

Perfect world first draft time: word count (50,000) ÷ words per day (2,000) = 25 days.

Of course there are days when real life (and real work) crashes in to my creative world. So we need to double the writing time. Then there are bad writing days as well as good. Days when words flow as easily as burnt treacle. So I need to add another 10 days to account for that.

Real world first draft time: (word count ÷ words per day) x 2 + bad writing days = 60 days.

Now that’s just the first draft. It could be useless. It will no doubt have great chunks that need swopping round, re-writing. It will definitely need another pair of eyes to read it and tell me where I’ve gone wrong. So we need to add another chunk of time, equal to the original writing time, for editing.

Time taken to write a decent draft: (word count ÷ words per day) x 2 + bad writing days + my editing = 85 days

Alas we’re not done yet. By this stage I’ve hopefully got a story I think is the bees knees, and is therefore ready to submit to my publisher. They will forward to an editor who won’t think it’s the bees knees. They’ll see all the holes, the flaws I didn’t. And the story will need editing again. Then more minor edits. Finally a proof check. This could take a couple of months, though not of it all my time.

Time taken to write a ‘proper’ book: plotting time + (word count ÷ words per day) x 2 + bad writing days + my editing + professional editing

Is there a purpose to this rambling, I hear you cry. Surprisingly, yes. The thing is, I want to write another Christmas novella and I haven’t started it yet. I need to know whether I have a chance of finishing it in time for Christmas – which ideally means it being ready for November.

So let me see, for a draft ready for my publisher it will take me: 1 + 50 + 10 + 25 = 86 days.

Allow me some time off at the weekends (pretty please?) and we’re looking at around 4-5 months. If I start now, it could be ready for submission in July. Looking good. But then I need to factor in my holiday. Also my publishers schedule as, surprisingly, they have other books that need editing besides mine.

Basically, I think this all sums to the following:

I need to stop writing this blog and get on with writing my flipping book

emoji grinning

(and finally, just in case you missed it, my current Christmas book)


  • Nicky Wells

    LOVE this! LOL! Great post, thanks for this insight into your creative world. XX

    • Kathryn Freeman

      Ah, thank you so much Nicky. Fingers crossed my formula works! xx