“The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season.” –Stephen King
Hello Goodie Two Shoes!
First off, I do want to let you know that this is not about plotting.
I do have many other plotting posts, but this is specifically a formula for creating deadlines for yourself.
In writing, it can be very hard to hold yourself accountable, and to know exactly what you can expect from yourself.
This post is meant to help you with that.
There’s a tiny bit of writing advice, or, really dos and don’ts involving drafting, but that’s not the main focus.
So, today, we’re going to explore this question: How long is it going to take you to write your novel?
Question 1. How much time do you have to write a day?
You may have to change this question to how much time a week or even month you have to write depending on how busy you are.
If you’re really serious about writing, I would encourage you to take a hard look at your schedule and your habits and say, what can I, (or even should I?) give up so that I can spend more time writing?
For me, I’m going to be completely honest there’s always some form of media I’d rather be consuming instead of creating my own.
After you take a hard look at yourself and your schedule, write down the amount of time you have. Schedule it in. Don’t wait for the muse.
For the sake of this exercise, we’ll say you have an hour to write everyday.
Question 2. How many words can you write in this set time?
Be very realistic with this. Don’t use that one time you wrote a thousand words in a half an hour as your basis.
I really think it’s better to undershoot your goals and hit them faster than to say, I’m going to have the perfect draft after two weeks, not hit it, and burn yourself out because your goals were too high.
Don’t do that.
Be real with yourself.
If you don’t know your average, the general average is 1 thousand words in an hour. You can go by that and adjust, or you can set aside your writing time and see exactly how many words you can write.
For this example, we’ll use the average. 7 hours a week to write, and that comes out to about 7 thousand words a week.
Question 3. How long will your draft be?
So, there are a few things I want you to think about before we go answering this question.
- How are you planning to publish this?
I know, I know, you just need to write the book first, but this could potentially be helpful.
I know it is for me, because I am a serious underwriter, but even if you’re not, it’s nice to have a tangible goal to work toward.
If you’re planning on self-publishing, I’m going to tell you not to worry about word counts.
You should still try to fit into your genre, because book length does play into reader expectations, but you’re going to be going all the work yourself, so it doesn’t matter as much.
If you’re planning to query and attempt traditional publishing, you’re going to want to err on the shorter side of a novel. Because it’s more expensive to publish a larger book, publishing companies are going to go for shorter, if you’re not already an established author.
- What genre are you writing?
If you don’t know, you need to figure this out.
The average romance novel is 60-90K.
The average fantasy novel is 90-120K.
Horror’s average is 100k.
The average book length is 70-120K words.
If you do fall into the “I don’t know what my genre is” category, I’d aim for that. 70-80K, and I wouldn’t go much higher.
Question 4. What projects will you work on?
Plural, yes. Your projects.
You are going to have some long periods of waiting time in between drafts, so I would highly, highly recommend having a second project.
For our example, let’s say you’re writing a romance novel, and it’s a sweet, cute, fast paced summer read, so you’re aiming for 50k.
But there’s also this fantasy book that you’ve always wanted to write. We’ll aim for 80k on that one.
Now that we have all the details out of the way, let’s get to the part we’re really here for.
How long will it take me to write my two stories?
Question 5: What stage are your stories at?
Let’s say your romance idea is already plotted, and you’re ready to start writing it.
But your fantasy novel is still in the brainstorming/ideas phase.
I’d recommend not taking a long break between outlining and the first draft. In fact, those can happen back to back.
Question 6: How many drafts will you need?
This is going to be super hard to answer if you’ve never done this before.
I’d recommended at least 2-3 drafts before you even let anyone else look at it.
The first draft is just to get all those ideas on the page.
The second draft is to decipher those ideas and see if they work, overhaul if you need to, or even to tell the story completely over again now that you actually know which story you want to tell.
And the third draft is to clean up and figure out questions to ask you critique partner before you send it over.
Then, you’ll need another draft each time you get your work back from your critique partner, any beta readers, and your editor.
That could be at least 3 more drafts, and then you may want a final look through.
So we’re going to guesstimate 6 drafts and a final proofread.
Question 7: How long will you let your drafts sit?
Again, this is going to be tricky if you haven’t done this before.
You need at least, at least, 2 weeks, but I’d suggest waiting a lot longer.
Since we have a second project, I’d actually change the question to: how long do I think it’s going to take me to draft my second story? I wouldn’t take longer than 3 months unless you absolutely have no time to write.
Like our quote above, your draft should take a season.
So lets say it’ll take you three months to write the draft of your second project, maybe a little extra time to plot it, so that’s how long you’ll want to let your first project sit.
At least 3 months.
Why? Why? I hear so many writers finish their first draft and going straight back to the beginning.
I beg of you, please don’t do this! Too many things will go wrong.
Either you will think it’s amazing and you’ll try to give something that makes absolutely zero sense to a bunch of beta readers who are wasting both their time and yours trying to help you with something that you 100% can still fix yourself. Or, you’ll think it’s absolute garbage, that you’re not good at writing, and that you should quit.
Most likely, neither of those are true, so let it sit.
Let it sit until you’ve completely forgotten about the story. So you can read it like a reader, or an editor, see both the good, “I wrote this? Who, me? Hello best selling author!”, and also the bad, “Sharp gasp, what the hell is even that?” like it’s someone else’s writing.
You’ll be able to see what you should keep, what you shouldn’t, and how to fix your story.
I know waiting is hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
You’re not being lazy if you set your book aside. You are giving yourself the best chance for success.
Question 8: When will other people read your draft?
We kind of went over this a little bit when thinking about how many drafts it’s going to take us.
A good guesstimate would be critique partner after the second or third draft, and beta readers sometimes after that.
Trust yourself, but also, I think a good way to look at it is, when you can’t find a flaw, and you think the book is as good as you can physically make it, get some other hands on it, because they will tell you that you’re wrong.
Question 9: So, how long will it take you to write your books?
Here is our final formula for the first draft: time to write multiplied by the number of words you can write in that time, divided by how many words your draft should be.
After that is a three month break, and after that, each step should take roughly a month, back and forth between more drafts and more breaks.
To see it played out, here are our examples.
Romance: 50k word goal, divided by 7k written a week = a little over 7 weeks of writing, so 2 months would be a perfect 1st draft goal because that gives you a week of buffer time.
Now your 80k fantasy novel, divided by the same amount of words written a week comes out to 11 weeks, or 3 months with one week of buffer time, and we’ll add a couple weeks for plotting as well.
Read through your romance novel with fresh eyes and make it intelligible. 1-2 months is hopefully all it will take.
Send it to your critique partner, and then start to work on fixing your fantasy monstrosity.
About a month later, your critique partner has some feedback for you.
Whoops, there’s a plot hole. Take a month to figure that out before sending it to your beta readers.
Work on the fantasy for a month until your beta readers get back to you on your romance.
They love it! But there are a few things they’re confused about, and a couple others they would change. You only change what you want to, when you agree that it will make the story better.
That takes a month, we’ll say, and now you’re ready to send it off to the editor, just a year after you started this whole journey.
A month later, you get your edits back. You incorporate the last few touches, give it a final read through, and your novel is done, ready to publish or ready to query.
So, about a year, if everything goes to plan.
Now, we did lose sight of the secondary project along the way, but that’s okay, because we have a book ready to publish.
And there you have it! This is my formula to figuring out how long, roughly, it will take you to finish your novel.
I hope this helps you as you plan everything out, and I wish you luck on your novel.
Let me know how this worked for you, when your books should be ready, and what books your working on!
Thank you for watching. Stay fun, and I’ll see you in the next one.