What kind of book is it?
A magnum opus of 100,000 words will take a lot longer than a self-help book of just 25,000 words.
This is an excerpt from How to Write Non-Fiction: Turn Your Knowledge into Words by Joanna Penn. Available in ebook, print, audiobook and workbook formats.
How much research do you need to do?
How much time do you need to prepare the material before you write the book? Is this a topic you’re already immersed in and know about, or do you need to start from scratch?
How experienced a writer are you?
A journalist who has never written a book but is used to writing words to deadline will be a lot faster than someone more used to spending months thinking before writing.
How many words per hour can you write?
This will be an approximate number that you can work out once you have been writing for a while. It’s good to get some idea of word count over time.
How many hours can you allocate to write?
The more hours you can commit, the faster you will get the first draft done. There is usually a maximum number of hours you can produce creatively at one time without your brain exploding, so make sure to factor that in. Writing is tiring!
How well-structured is the book? How much editing is needed?
Editing is not about typos and grammatical errors. They can be fixed by a proofreader in the final read-through. But if the structure of the book doesn't work, then the amount of time for rewrites can be considerable, as you will need to re-organize the material to make it work for the reader. The more editing you need, the longer the book will take.
An example of how long it takes
Jane wants to write a book on How to Run a Successful Food Truck Business, aimed at chefs who want to take their cooking out to events and markets. She has never written a book before, but she’s motivated and wants to help people, as well as create a small income stream that is not reliant on her making food. She spends a dedicated week reading other food truck books and taking notes, then comes up with a table of contents with 18 chapters. She is aiming for a book of around 25,000 words.
Jane spends an hour each weekday writing before her kids get up and before getting into her day job. She works the food truck at the weekend, so she doesn't write then, although she does keep notes of her ideas. She manages 1000 words per writing session, so it takes her 25 writing days, or five weeks, to complete the first draft.
Then she uses that hour to edit the book. It takes her 15 days/ three weeks elapsed time to edit the book to where she is happy. Then she sends it to an editor, who suggests some more improvements, which take her another ten days/two weeks.
In total, Jane has a completed manuscript in 10-14 weeks elapsed time. I’d also suggest a proofreader which will add another week or so.
Of course, your situation will be different based on the variables above. There are some authors who can write a book in a weekend, working intensely and using processes like dictation to speed the writing time. Others may take months or even years considering the detail of what they want to write and slowly shaping the book.
Make a plan and schedule your time
You need to take control of your writing schedule, or you will end up being one of those writers who start a book and never finish it.
Make a plan and schedule time blocks for your book.
That's how I write my books. I book a two-hour slot at a co-working space near me because I find it easier to create when I’m away from my normal desk. If I pay for space, I will definitely turn up for the meeting with myself, and two hours is a good block to write without getting too tired.
I also write at a local café in the mornings after it opens at 7 am.
It doesn't matter where or when you get the writing blocks in, but you need to schedule them. So get out your diary and work out when you can write. Assume you will manage 500 words per hour and schedule as many blocks as you need to get a first draft done.
“Nobody cares much whether you write or not. You just have to do it.” Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones