So you want to become a fiction author? Maybe you even have some fantastic ideas rolling around in that noggin of yours. Why not just dust off your typewriter and clackity-clack that novel in no-time flat? Seems easy enough, right?
How long does it actually take to write a praiseworthy novel? Read on to find out.
In this post, we’re going to cover what it takes to write a great novel quickly:
- Make a plan for your novel
- What are the stages of writing a novel?
- Action Step 1 – Plan your rough draft
- Get inspired by others
- Action Step 2 – Get accountability
- Invest in the craft of novel writing
- Action Step 3 – Find more time
- Plan your future steps
By applying things you learn in this post, you’ll be shaving months (or years) off your writing time all while getting inspired to accomplish your goals.
Realistically, what are we talking here: a month, a year, two years? Ah, not so fast there, hotrod! I’ll give you a hint: it completely depends on your commitment and incorporating a solid plan.
Make a plan for your novel
Books take time, and it’s better to think about them by word count rather than the number of pages.
Novels tend to range from 40,000 words to 150,000. Breaking that down to hours will depend on your writing speed (which will increase as you plan better and gain experience).
Don’t get too intimidated by that! It took them years to work up to that, and dictation is a useful tool for those who can make it work.
Cut to the chase! How long?
Technically, one could write a rough draft is as few as 6 hours but it usually takes 60+. That is only the first step in producing a novel to be proud of.
What are the stages of writing a novel?
Let’s take a look at writing and releasing a 50k word novel. It also helps to have specific guidance, like Self-Publishing School, but while you’re here, let’s break down what it takes:
- Have an idea and pre-write. When coming up with your idea, save those notes; they may come in handy when writing your book description later. Pre-writing is a great way to streamline your process. It includes such things as brainstorming, shaping characters, mind-mapping, world-building, and outlining. (2-20+ hours) Need help with ideas? Check out these writing prompts!
- Write a crappy first draft. This is the hardest obstacle to overcome as a new writer (and sometimes as a seasoned one!) Very few, if any, of your favorite books are first drafts. If you’re feeling really brave, try dictating. (6-100+ hours)
- Read aloud and self-edit. This is an optional step but highly recommended for new writers. (2-20+ hours)
- Send it to an editor. There are many types of editing, so this could vary. This prolongs the process by a matter of weeks. Let’s assume you gave enough notice and requested a quick turnaround. (10-40+ hours)
- Fix mistakes or rewrite. At this point, you can choose to accept all the changes in a matter of minutes, or comb through each change and comment, likely rewriting several sections. (1-30+ hours)
- Have it proofread. Even after this step, errors will still surface later. Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for done! Let perfect come with time, if ever. (4-40+ hours)
- (Optional but recommended) Sit back, relax, and try not to rewrite it again…yet! To be successful, the real next step is to start the process again with the next book. You can always revisit a book or series after you’ve grown in your craft and received plenty of reader feedback.
Based on those numbers, there is a wide range! In a perfect world—what? You don’t live in Perfectville? It’s pretty nice…or so I hear.
A quality novel can be produced in as few as 25 hours or up to 250 hours.
To be honest, even those are ambitious numbers. Based on an article that also breaks it down to hours, the range is closer to 100-500 hours.
It doesn’t always work out so well. Not everyone starts out as a rockstar author.
Action Step #1 – Plan a rough draft
Place a rough draft deadline on your calendar. Assuming you push hard to write 1000 words per day, your 60k draft could be done in 2 months!
It would also be wise to get an accountability partner and post this goal on a writing group.
Get inspired by others
Let’s hear about a real person, someone I admire sometimes, but more often chastise: myself.
The first book I finished writing took me 30 days using the Self-Publishing School system #humblebrag. Honestly though, without the initial training videos, I would still be staring at a growing catalog of unfinished books.
Let’s get real though. My first novel (starting on my own and finishing with SPS Fundamentals of Fiction) took me two years to write, rewrite, edit, rewrite some more, and publish.
Did I mention rewriting?
Well, I did, at least six times. Most current authors don’t recommend that many revisions. It’s best to move on to the next project, then come back to it if you can later.
Don’t freak out though! Breathe, it’s okay. This will not be you, not if you follow the advice in this post.
With the Fundamentals of Fiction course, I actually wrote the drafts for books 2 and 3 in my series within a year. The latest one was around 60k words and only took me 2 months.
I’ve gotten progressively faster and better; so can you!
Enough about an average guy. Let’s glance at the “greats” for a moment…those are the ones we really care about, am I right?
If you’ve searched this topic at all, surely you’ve seen this infographic that shows how long it took famous authors to write their wildly successful novels. I found this both encouraging and intimidating!
The thing to remember is that not all—very few in fact—were first or early novels for those authors. If you really counted the hours they invested in their craft, it would be astounding.
That’s step one for you! (after you finish reading this post, of course)
Action Step #2 – Get accountability
Get accountability for your own writing by doing one or all of the following:
- Find a like-minded friend and set up a weekly call/checkup. Inside SPS, these are called accountabilibuddies!
- Join a Facebook writer’s group (SPS Mastermind, Clean Speculative Reader’s Group, Authors and Writers); follow at least one inspiring author on your preferred social media (I like Jon Acuff on IG and FB, Angela Ford, or my fellow alumna at Charmed Embers); and maybe subscribe to a Youtube channel such as Ellen Brock’s writing and editing tips.
- Share your deadline from Action Step #1 on social media and with friends and family
Invest in the craft of novel writing
Ask any author for the best advice to becoming a better writer, and they will say simply that you must write.
Here are seven ways you can get that seat-time and valuable feedback:
- Write Every Day! Go back to Action Point #1 to see how to make this happen. Aim for an hour but have grace for yourself if you can only do 15 minutes occasionally. Make mistakes, write rough (emphasis on ‘rough’) drafts, learn how to craft your stories.
- Be a Plotter, not a Pantser. You don’t have to be a full-blown plotter, but you need to plan as much as you can. There will still be times to write by the “seat of your pants”—hence: “pantser”—but there’s no denying the benefits of having some direction as you write.
- Participate in Nanowrimo. The SPS Fundamentals of Fiction crew has their own ongoing writing challenge called InNoWriLife (International Novel Writing Life) where they strive to write every day, every month.
- Consider Commissioning Beta-Readers and ARC. Sending Advance Reading/Review Copies (ARC) and commissioning beta readers is a great way to get early feedback.
- Publish a Book! SPS is a perfect program to get you there (save $250 right away with my referral, ask anytime!) The most powerful thing you’ll get is real reader feedback. By understanding and managing reader expectations, you get better all around.
- Learn from it! This is paramount to success and is the main reason to push so hard to get that first novel out there. Not only will the reviews give you insight, but you’ll learn through every step of this journey. The next book will be better, and you’ll write it even faster.
- BONUS TIP. If selling more books is your goal, break down some of the top books in your genre to identify popular tropes. Use those to guide your storylines and characters in order to maximize your book’s impact on Amazon.
You’re already on the right track by coming to this site, so kudos to you!
Chandler Bolt has a great write-up on how long it takes to write a book, and Scott Allan is great at inspiring people to finally start. These are geared towards non-fiction, all the principles apply and are crucial to getting your novel done well and quickly!
I wished I had come across SPS a lot sooner, specifically the Fundamentals of Fiction course. Technically, it wasn’t around when I first needed it, but it’s here now and it’s better than ever! I highly recommend it. Ask me for a referral to save some scratch (for you young’n’s, that means money, cash, moula, smackaroonies).
One of its most powerful features is how it connects you to a community of aspiring authors. Besides writing and getting feedback from readers, writers need a network in order to succeed.
Action Step #3 – Find more time
Take an honest look at your weekly schedule, and see what you can drop or rearrange in order to gain an hour a day to devote to writing. Personally, I’d rather replace my Netflix time than wake up earlier, but those are both great time-finders!
Here are six ways to find more time to write your novel:
- Invest part of your lunch break
- Use commuting times to dictate notes or scenes
- Hire a house cleaning service
- Write at work, in between responsibilities (be careful here; that’s gotten me in trouble a few times!)
- Replace video streaming and social media time with writing and/or researching
- Rearrange your sleeping schedule to find extra time
Plan your future steps
Before you leave, make sure to go back through the action points as well as devote at least one uninterrupted hour this week to writing and planning your writing. In time, make progressive steps to build that up until you are writing every day.
The world needs to know your story; don’t deprive us of that for fear of failing or falling short. You can do this. You will do this. Let us know how we can help!
What is your biggest hangup when it comes to completing your novel? (Comment below)