There are a lot of variables that go into figuring out how long is “too long” to take to write a book. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but understanding some of these considerations can help give you a better idea of how close you are to being finished (or how far behind you are).
When is your book manuscript complete? Some say the moment the first draft is completed. Others don’t count a book manuscript as being “finished” until it has been self-revised, developmentally edited, fact-checked (if applicable), line edited, and copy edited, with a title, query letter, synopsis, and author bio to match. Just about any definition is valid, you just need to choose what your personal finish line looks like. For most people, considering your manuscript finished once you’ve reached your goal word count for the first draft is an appropriate definition.
There are people who take as little as a week to write a 40,000-word (novel-length) manuscript. There are people who have been working on the same manuscript for over a year. There are a lot of “justifiable” delays to completion, but most people run into issues with the easily preventable delays. So let’s go over those first.
Hating to write
I know it sounds bizarre (🤯) but there are people in the world who absolutely loathe writing. I have a couple of them in my own family (though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t adopted). If you hate to write, but are excited about the idea of writing and publishing a book, delays are bound to ensue. This is likely because every time you sit down to write, it feels like a huge burden. Therefore, you do it less often than you could and it takes longer to get finished.
Possible fixes include:
► Hiring a ghostwriter
► Speaking your manuscript into a voice recorder and sending it to a transcription service for typing.
Diddling (yes, diddling)
Going around in circles over one thing or another appears to be a common preventable delay for authors. Once you realize and accept the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect manuscript (and therefore no such thing as a perfect book) you can rest a little easier. Trying to get every aspect of your book to meet some random standard you’ve created for yourself is exhausting. The attempt itself is a great way to pass time without producing anything of value (a.k.a. diddling). And because perfection (and often simple satisfaction with what you’ve written) can never be achieved, you’re ALWAYS “writing a manuscript” and never “wrote a book.“
Possible fixes include:
► Putting a finite limit on when you will move forward to the next step in the process (after two rounds of self-revisions, at 75,000 words, May 15th, etc.).
► Daily affirmations that your <<INSERT ISSUE HERE (plot, cover, characters, world-building, etc.)>> will be ready to move to the next step as soon as you hit whatever limit you set in the first bullet. “I’m sending it to the editor in two days because I’ve done all I can and it’s ready to move forward (as am I).”
“I’m sending it to the editor tomorrow, no matter what.” “Developmental editing begins in 10,000 words and that’s a good thing that I’m excited about.”
Not making time to write
In The 12-Month Manuscript we outline how you can complete a first draft of your book within less than a year writing only five minutes each day. If you don’t have five minutes of down time on a daily basis, you have much bigger problems than not finishing a manuscript (and you should probably address those first). Otherwise, your issue is likely not that you don’t have time to write a manuscript, but that you haven’t put any effort into making time to write a manuscript. Even if it means taking a fake bathroom break at the same time every day and using those five minutes to type a couple of hundred words on your phone, that’s doable for nearly everyone who claims they want to be an author.
Possible fixes include:
► Setting up a designated writing time each day (five minutes or more).
► Scheduling a dedicated writing hour each week (on your least busy day).
► LAST RESORT: Hiring a ghostwriter.
Depending upon the kind of book that you’re writing, it may be necessary to take what seems like a long time to write it. In situations like this, it’s most helpful to (1) understand and accept the idea that it will take however long it takes and (2) be as patient as you can.
Research can include investigating a crime, interviewing a series of celebrities, or even engaging in an experiment of some kind (think Supersize Me or Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead). Research can delay manuscript completion by months or even years because you have to wait to get the information you need so you can use it in the book. If you thought it was necessary to get this information in order to write the book, it will likely be worth the wait. Practice patience and know that it will all come together in the end to create your unique vision for the piece.
You may be writing a book that involves getting permission to use certain photographs, transcripts, likenesses, etc. Unfortunately, this can often mean submitting a request for something and waiting weeks or months to get a response. And if said response is negative, you must either rework your plan for the book, or appeal the decision if you can. Either way, it adds to the length of time it will take to finish your writing.
How long does it take to write a book? It depends.
The genre and scope of your book have a lot to do with how long it takes to finish. But it’s helpful to recognize which delays you have control over and which you don’t. Do all you can to prevent delays if possible. When you’re forced to sit back and wait, do that with the knowledge that the pause in progress will be worth it in the end.