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100,000 words makes a novel. For a perfectionist each line is poetry. How long should it take to write a novel? Not a bestseller. Just enough income to survive in the city.

Question subjective? Maybe. Answerable? Yes.

  • 6
    100k is actually pretty long for a novel. Most novel length books are around 60-75k. Some publishers have a cap on word limits they'll accept, too. Generally, the only publishers that'll take books that are 100k+ are Sci-Fi and Fantasy publishers. But there are exceptions made if the book is good. – Ralph Gallagher Dec 21 '10 at 17:18
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    This is indeed subjective, but being subjective isn't always a problem here. Answerable? Yes, but answers are going to be vague; I've heard of novels being written in a few weeks or in ten years. A year or two is probably a good middle ground for a 100k novel. – Neil Fein Aug 17 '12 at 18:26
  • I never support these "quantitative" questions, because they can never be objective. 100k words and "how much time" are just numbers that don't mean nothing, without considering your skills, your expectations, your daily routines, etc. The most honest answer is that writing 2000 words per day, it would take 50 days. The NaNoWriMo requires you to write 50k words in 30 days, which is an average of 1666 words per day. It is totally doable, not considering of course planning and reviewing. – FraEnrico Oct 5 '17 at 13:03
  • @NeilFein - one writer who's well known in certain forums tells a story of having been approached by a publisher with a media tie-in line of novels when the novelist who was scheduled to turn in a new title for the line had let them down just before the final deadline ... he wrote, edited and delivered an entire novel overnight. Don't imagine it was 100k words, though. – Jules Nov 2 '18 at 9:09

11 Answers 11

34

To produce something no more nor less publishable than some bestsellers bare minimum would be about a year broken down like this:

  • Two Months: First Draft (taken as 2xNaNoWriMo some people do produce 100k+ in this month but 50k is generally thought to be achievable)
  • Two Months: Cool down time. Maybe first draft a completely separate project.
  • Three Months: First Pass. Most of the good work is done here. By the time you've finished all that should be left is grace notes.
  • Three Months: Cool Down Time. More important. Get a lot of distance, should definitely work on something else consuming here, try to forget as much of the detail about your work as possible.
  • Two Months: Second pass and final polish. Time to murder the darlings, hoover up most obvious typos etc. By the time this is finished the book will still have mistakes of various types but none that can be spotted without an editor.

This should be ample time to produce one book and get underway on a couple more. If you have any talent and dedication what you produce should be up to the quality of what sits on many bestseller lists (midlist sales will not allow you to "survive in the city" you have to glean a large advance or respectable sales for that).

As to whether your offering will fare as well in the world's most Kafka-esque lottery (AKA the publishing industry)... well, that's another matter entirely.

  • 1
    I like this answer, but I would like to point out that, if you are interleaving your projects, such as drafting project B during cool down time for project A, then your actual production time is less. In your example, the mean time to produce one novel is seven months. You have a one-year timeline, but you are producing ~12/7 novels in that year. – david.smith Dec 17 '12 at 19:00
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    Sort of. The reason I say "start something new" and not "forget about it for a bit" is twofold. 1. The creativity keeps on truckin' 2. Becoming obsessed with a new piece will distance you from your first draft much more quickly. Every piece of work makes you a slightly different writer. The new you will look back with less love than that required to write something fresh. If you were to down tools completely I would say it could take six months to a year to approach the same amount of distance as being completely wrapped up in project B. My answer is clearly, therefore, "value added" ;) – One Monkey Dec 18 '12 at 9:54
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If you want the minimum practical time for publishable fiction, Lester Dent (who wrote most of the Doc Savage books) is likely the best example. He wrote 159 short novels over 16 years. Figure probably about 50K words per novel, and he was typically publishing twelve Doc Savages a year. The Master Fiction Plot page credits him with over 200K words a month, and tells how he did it.

The maximum practical time appears to be limited by lifespan.

12

Another way of asking the question might be: how much should I aim to write every day?

I think 1000 words a day is a good number. Here's why:

  • It works even if you're not a full-time writer -- even if you're writing in the morning or evenings.
  • It's consistent w/ some of the other data points above. At 1000 words a day, you'll finish a first draft of a novel in ~3 months.
  • It's achievable!

That last one is really important. The way you finish a novel is by keeping at it, day after day. It's easier to do that when you feel like you're meeting your goals & making progress -- not disappointing yourself every time you sit down to write.

  • 2
    How small of print are you using to get 1k on one page? Holy crap that's tiny text. An average page has about 250 words on it. – Ralph Gallagher Jan 5 '11 at 1:12
  • Good point; totally depends on your setup, and 1000 is probably er, pretty dense. Edited. – robinsloan Jan 5 '11 at 1:33
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How long it takes you to produce 100K words depends greatly on how quickly you write, how much time you have for writing, and what level of polish you want your words to be at.

For first drafts, most writers can produce 100K words in 3-6 months, depending on the amount of time per day allotted. The truly fanatical (like those 2xNaNoWriMo maniacs mentioned in @One Monkey's answer) can finish that amount of writing in one month, while an upper limit might be about a year.

Every writer I've ever talked to recommends taking at least a month off after finishing the first draft in order to get some critical distance.

After that comes editing, which is a highly idiosyncratic process. Some people make multiple passes over the draft, making small tweaks each time. Some people rewrite whole chapters at once. Some people only write one second draft, which changes everything at once. How you decide to edit is up to you, but again I'd suggest that 3-6 months is a reasonable time frame for editing. Note that some people spend a long time in this phase--Patrick Rothfuss famously spent 14 years editing his Kingkiller trilogy before finding a publisher for it.

Overall, the novel process takes about a year if you work consistently, maybe more or less depending on how much time you can devote to it.

  • So it'll probably take me about 300 years then? :P – Nick Bedford Dec 22 '10 at 4:46
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I'm not sure how helpful this will be, but it's at least one data point (though not about a novel). I've written a popular science book that will be published later this year. Once I got a response to my query letter, I started writing. These were the milestones:

The proposal submission included three chapters, 18,000 words, written in 3 months. (This was writing from scratch, with a lot of editing.) 17 months later, the draft manuscript was ready, at 75,000 words. (I'll guess that this was about 50/50 writing versus editing.) The final manuscript was 85,000 words, submitted 6 months after that. (90% editing.)

So it took 26 months in all, working in my spare time on evenings, weekends, and during the summer. I'm thinking that a year would be enough to write a reasonable 100K-word book, working on it full time, as others have suggested.

6

I'm writing a book at the moment which is a Sci-fi fantasy type. I've written around 20,000 words in a month. (I started July once I got my summer holidays.)

Some days I write 7 pages, other days I write half a page. Normally, I like to write a little everyday so I won't fall behind or completely forget my story line and characters.

Have a notebook so you don't have to re-read everything. Plot down little details important to the story and it will save you time I think.

Enjoy the writing process of course. Sticking to a pattern or plan will definitely help you achieve having a whole novel written! You can write it maybe all during the holidays. At work or school time, it will probably be hard work fitting it into your schedule. Having a plan is the main key to success! You'll be finished in no time. I'm thinking around 3-5 months and it can be achievable!

4

The point is moot. You will get to however many pages you want in the right amount of time for your story. Here's how:

  1. Write your story from the beginning to the end. Whatever you have of the story, write that down. It will start with ideas or scenes or characters, but just keep adding to it until there's the story.

  2. Think about what you've written, and leave it alone for a day. Don't write down any ideas for changes, fixes, whatever. If the idea is good, it will come to you when needed. Take this time to put what you have into some sort of organization, like a timeline.

  3. After a full day, get in that story's bidness like just got off parole. Have at the thing. Don't worry about dumping scenes or characters. If they are really important, they'll come back. Even if you'd kept them you would have re-written them.

  4. Go to step 2.

You'll get the beginning, climax, ending, and conflict, and tensioners at different times, but you'll only have multiple conflicts (subplots) or multiple tensioners. When you feel like the story is all there, check the word count. You'll be over or under, but not by much. And editing that first draft will give or take 20% anyway. So ignore the number and JUST KEEP WRITING THE STORY.

2

To answer your question, we can do four things:

  1. Look at how many books professional authors publish:

    According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most prolific writer was Mary Faulkner, who published 904 books during the 70 years of her life. If we subtract her childhood and maybe the last year or two of her life, she has written about 18 books per year on average, or one book every three weeks.

    Sylvia Plath, Emily Bronte, J. D. Salinger, and Ralph Ellison each have published one novel in their lifetime. They haven't spent an inordinate amount of time writing it, but for one reason or another they found themselve unwilling or unable to write another one. Apparently their literary energy was spent in that one work, so we have to regard each of their novels as one novel per lifetime.

  2. Look at how long some authors have taken to write a single novel:

    It took George R. R. Martin five years to write A Dance with Dragons, and he has been working on The Winds of Winter for six years now. Patrick Rothfuss has been working on the third volume of his Kingkiller Chronicle for six years also. Both authors have written other works in the meantime, but being unable to continue and having to take time off of writing a novel is still time that goes into finishing it.

    There are quite a few famous authors who have struggled with one novel all their lives. For example, Robert Musil has been working on The Man without Qualities from the First World War to his death in 1942, that is over the course of 25 years. He did not finish the novel, and yet it is considered one of the most significant novels of the 20th century.

  3. Look at the daily word count of professional authors:

    Authors write between 500 and 10,000 words per day. Given a range of 50,000 to 200,000 words per novel, it should take five to fourhundred days to write a novel.

  4. Look at how much you have to write to make a living:

    Authors have recieved royalties of between nothing and several million dollars for a single novel. In the first case you should have another job to make a living. Since there is then no pressure on you, you can take as long as you like for your novel. In the last case, you only need to write one book, but you should probably publish it before your parents kick you out. So the time you have for your 100,000 words would depend on your parent's generosity or the status of your bank account.

I guess you are getting the idea. Your novel will take as long to finish as it takes you to write it. There is no point in setting yourself a time limit that has no relation to how you work.

If you want to know how long it will take you to write 100,000 words, you will have to find out by writing 100,000 words.

2

So, it depends on how much you want/can write in a day. In my experience, I can do 2,000 words in a day on average, 2500 if it's the best day ever. That's about 50 days, or about two months on a NaNoWriMo schedule.

Hope this helps.

  • Hi Kale, welcome to the site. NaNoWriMo is a good comparison (target 50k words in a month) but is generally regarded as challenging (to say the least!), so keeping up that level for two months would be quite an effort unless you're writing full-time. Are you doing this year's NaNoWriMo? See this Meta post for a current WriMo discussion. – Chappo Says Reinstate Monica Nov 2 '18 at 22:59
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    Thanks, Chappo! I actually find it a lot easier than most, then, for I'm in this NaNo as a senior in high school. Actually, should get to writing... :P – Kale Slade Nov 3 '18 at 1:13
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It depends on how much time you have and also depends on knowing what you write. I am currently writing a novel that is currently about 104,000 words and it took me 63 days to write that many words. I wote this while only balancing college. However, I knew what I wanted to write before I started writing which allowed me to write faster because I wrote a detailed outline. My previous draft was 113K but took me longer to write because I was just creating things at the top of my head. My new draft I suspect will hit at 120K or more.

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I'm addressing publication on Kindle only, as that's the economic model I'm familiar with at this time.

My partner is an established author, and has published four long novels this calendar year, totaling nearly five hundred thousand words. That works out to around fifty thousands words per month, including rewrites, editing, etc. Published on Kindle at very competitive pricing with Kindle Unlimited enabled, that rate produces a living income (on average -- of course that has peaks after a release and valleys if it's been 2-3 months since the last book) -- but we live in the country, and own our home free and clear. Generally, it's the back list that pays the bills in slow months; it's the new sales that pay for things like computer upgrades, car repairs, and so forth.

To make enough to live in the city, you'd either have to write in a less competitive genre, maintain sales numbers at higher pricing, have higher Kindle Unlimited numbers, or live more frugally than we do (I also work full time, which gets past the slow months), or a combination of more than one of these. And you can't count on a living income until you have a back list that provides some sales in months when you don't have a release -- around five novels seems to be the minimum.

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