Do you really have time to write a book?
I’ll bet you lead a full life. My guess is you’re a go-getter. A human on a mission.
You’re out in the world tending your family and social relationships, nurturing your businesses and launching amazing offerings, helping people in meaningful ways through your sacred work, finding time to take care of your body and soul, and so much more.
While you seek to lead a rich and full existence, it can feel daunting to consider adding a book to the balance.
I totally get this.
It’s rare I meet a client or other book writer that feels they have an abundance of time to commit to their writing project. Most people wonder if they really have time to write a book, and don’t have a clear sense of how to answer that question. They just know their lives are full to the brim.
They feel a calling to write a book, and it just won’t leave them alone.
“Not having the time” is the number one reason (some may even say excuse) that prevents writers from sitting down to write the book they deeply yearn to write.
Many people assume they don’t have time to write a book, without having a clear understanding of what time commitment a book actually requires.
If you can relate, I’d like to help you get a clearer sense of how long it’ll likely take you to write your book, so that you can determine if you can realistically commit to writing a book, now or in the future.
In what follows we’ll look at six factors that will influence how long it will take you to write your book. The first three are more quantifiable factors and the last three are wild cards but we’ll still try to factor those in.
The Short of It
If you’re one of those folks who just wants to get a ballpark idea without getting into the nitty gritty, I’ll throw you a bone here. It’s totally possible to write a book in 6 months with only 3-4 hours of writing time each week.
Book length: How long should your book be?
Let’s begin with your intended book length, as this will invariably influence the amount of time you will take to write it.
The average non-fiction book is between 200-300 pages. A standard guideline is that there are 250 words per page. (Of course, this may be different if your book is physically larger or smaller than industry standard or if you use bigger or smaller font on your pages).
Standard Book Length Guidelines:
200-page book = 50,000 words
250-page book = 62,500 words
300-page book = 75,000 words
To get an idea of how long you imagine or would like your book to be, pull books off your own shelf that match your desired length and check the page count (remember this page count may also include pages like titles, forewords, table of contents, etc.).
Your writing pace
The next factor to consider is your own personal pace of writing. Do you write six pages an hour or one? That will make a big difference in how long it takes you to write your book.
There are two ways find your writing pace.
1) Set your phone stopwatch and write a page (250 words), stop the watch when done and record time it took. Try to make your writing pace as natural + realistic as possible. Considering tracking your pace for 3 different pages + take average. From here, determine how many words you can write in an hour. (For example, if it takes you 20 minutes to write a page, then you know your average pages/hour rate is THREE. And your words/hour rate is 750)
2) You can set your alarm for 1 hour and begin writing. When the timer goes off, check your word count.
First Draft Trimming: Content lost to revision
Many authors eliminate content in the revision process (it depends on your book but some sources say it’s an average of 5,000-7,000 words or about 10% of your writing) which is something to consider in your book math time-factoring. The more developed and clear your writing plan, the less you’ll likely have to cut, but it is normal and part of the process to lose some content to the revision process.
I lost two whole chapters of my book Birth Your Story to the revision process. It wasn’t that the writing wasn’t good or important, it was just too tangential to the work of that specific book. This writing doesn’t have to be lost forever in time, though, it can be repurposed. You can make it into a blog, article, or bonus content. You can save it for your next book.
Every day isn’t summer: the 80/20 Rule of Drafting
While it would be nice if we sat to write each day and consistently hit our production (word count) goals, I don’t find this is a realistic expectation for many of us. It is more likely if we have done our book planning, but even for those folks, the nature of creativity has her way.
In my work I talk about the four seasons of the Creative Life Cycle. You can grab a PDF handout that explains this in detail here:
Essentially it goes like this:
Spring—the research and idea generation stage
Summer—production/ manifestation (the only season in which you are actually sitting down progressing on your page count)
Fall—the reflection/reflexive process, which may involve some revision as well
Winter—the fruitful darkness wherefrom all creativity comes, but which may make us feel like nothing is happening.
With careful planning and readiness, Winter and Spring can largely be journeyed through before our drafting process. In other words, the ideas have sprung from the fertile darkness, we’ve spent our time researching and planning our books already, and we come to the drafting stage in full summer mode.
I highly recommend this, and its what we do in my GROUP PROGRAMS.
In such cases, I suggest using the 80/20 rule. In your summer season of draft writing, plan that 80% of your time will be in production mode, and the other 20% will be in another season.
Some days you’ll come to drafting needing to do more planning and other days you’ll come needing to reflect on your work so far.
Some days you’ll feel like it’s the dead of winter in your creative life.
So we’ll plan for this in our writing plan. That said, let summer be summer as much as possible, and work to find an 80/20 balance in your drafting mode between summer and the other seasons.
The Organic Pace of our Creative Project
Our creative projects have a life and pace of their own. They’re like children—we have our ideas for their pacing and they have theirs. Theirs usually wins. We can assert our desires and our will but only to an extent; and we must be humbled by this fact.
Sometimes an idea, concept, or new connection needs to work in us awhile and it may take time before we understand it well enough to write about it.
Sometimes we discover a new way of seeing something we’ve been working with, and we need to let that new perspective fully arrive before we can share it.
All of this is normal and natural. We want to be on alert for times when our inner critic, aka our resistance is stalling our project and address the situation.
Nevertheless, our project’s organic pace is going to have an influence on how long our project will take. Of course, this is hard to predict at the outset, so we try to create a little buffer of space into our expected book writing time.
Life Happens Too
Lastly, life happens. Kids get sick. Family or loved ones need help. You have a big project at work. You’re traveling to the Sahara to ride a camel through the desert for two weeks. These factors must also be considered.
Putting it all together: Some Crazy Book Math
I have this AMAZING PDF I’ve created for my clients that I am willing to share with you. This takes you step-by-step through Book Math to determine realistically how long it will take you to write your book, given all the factors above. I’m offering this to you as a gift here:
Here is a brief version of book math for now. If you’re more of a words person than a numbers person, I can totally relate. Don’t let book math scare you, just take it one step at a time.
Targeted word count (see above)+ 10% lost to the revision process = total first draft word count
Determined pace of writing (x pages/hour) x number of words/page (250 words) = Number of words/hour
Total word count/ words per hour = number of hours for drafting process
Total number of drafting hours + 20% rule of Creative Cycle buffer time (rounded up) = more realistic first draft hour count
From here you can take your total first draft hours and:
1. Determine the number of weeks you’d like to write your book in.
first draft hour count / number of weeks = number of hours each week you need to dedicate to your project to meet your goal.
2. OR Determine number of hours you can dedicate to your book project weekly.
First draft hour count/ number of hours you can dedicate each week = number of weeks it will take you to write your book.
If you’d like me to take you step-by-step through this, download the PDF Accountability Tracker above.
If you want to write a 200-page book, write about 3 pages/hour, and dedicate about 4 hours of time to your project a week, you can likely have your first draft complete within about 6 months.
Finding four hours a week is doable, even for the busiest among us if we make it a priority. Recent research says the average American spends over 16 hours each week on social media. Just imagine if you took just a quarter of that time and dedicated it to your book.
In my private and group book programs I take people through how to make writing fit well into their full lives. I also save people time, frustration and energy by helping them plan their books well, by giving them structural support, accountability, pro guidance, draft feedback, and so much more.