It depends. Yeah, not helpful. Here’s a better answer.
If you want to write a book, stop worrying about how long it will take, and start writing. That said, I’ll get to answering the question posted in the title for you.
Writing a book, whether it’s a novel or a non-fiction how-to, can be an intimidating undertaking. I think that most people assume the answer to this question is “the rest of your life.” That would be in error, of course, but many use that answer as justification for writing their book.
First off, don’t look at the whole time-line, each chunk in turn. Some of this will go fast, other parts will take a little longer, but if you want to look at the process as a whole, then we need to organize which steps are actually needed.
- Editing and Revising
Plotting can take anywhere from thirty seconds to months, depending on the story. If you have an idea now, and you have the whole thing in your head, then dump your idea on paper or in a file. Answer these questions. Who is the main character? What do they want? What must they do to get it?
Plotting has it’s own variety of little bits and pieces. There’s the world-building, the character development, the problem the main character must struggle with, whether they will succeed or fail, developing a convincing antagonist, etc.
Here’s the good news, you don’t need to hash out every detail, but how much you do will depend on how clear the picture is in your mind. The final product of plotting is an outline. The better and fuller your outline, the faster the drafting process will go, but don’t take forever. Get your story down, research anything you aren’t sure about, and jot it down.
Don’t worry about having a highly structured outline. Put the information down in a way that is convenient for YOU to index. You will be the only one using it, so put all the information you need, where you need it. Then get to drafting.
How long does it take to draft a novel? How fast can you type. I hammer keys at around 50-60 words per minute. That means that theoretically, I could write 3000 words per hour, so an 80,000 word novel would take about 27 hours to hammer out. Hmm, how much coffee am I going to need this weekend?
In reality, of course, the story-writing process takes longer, but it doesn’t need to take a super long time. If you have a solid outline, know exactly where the story is going, and you don’t waste time prettying up your sentences, or worse, editing as you write, then you might surprise yourself by cranking out a first draft in a week or two. A month is plenty of time. I would say that if it takes longer than four months to crank out a first draft, then you are doing something wrong.
Allot some writing time every single day, show up every day, and write everyday. Think about where you want the story to go before you even sit down, or the night before if you write in the morning. Then use your hour or so of writing time to actually write. You will finish in no time.
If you want more details on this part of the process, check out my new non-fiction title: Finish the Damn Book!
Editing and Revising
This is the longest part of the writing process, but not necessarily the most demanding. It’s long because you need to let your story rest for a little while between edits. My suggestion, follow some kind of pattern with your editing.
Start with the big stuff. What good is tightening up sentences when your story has gaping plot holes? Start on the big stuff. You already have an outline. Toss it out and make a summary of each chapter. Track the major story points, and fix the big shit. Make sure that the story itself is tight.
Once you finish construction, there’s bound to be a mess. Focus on cleaning it up. Again, this is not the time for sentence beautification, though you can start tidying up while you go through. These passes should be fast (with a break between each pass through the story).
Then, once the story is tight, then you do the typical “editing” think and fix your sentences. Much of this process will depend on how many passes you make through the book. And once you have all of that done, then go through again. Read out-loud, or backwards, or both, hunting for typos. Then make another pass and adjust all the commas. Go nuts.
Editing can take months or years. But that doesn’t mean that you get that time off. You book will spend most of that time resting on the shelf. During that time, you should be writing the next book, or editing one of your other books, or writing short stories, or… fill in the blank. Don’t get hung-up on getting one story out fast. Put it through multiple edits, until it’s ready, and have other books lined up and ready to go.
Sign up on AbsoluteWrite, learn to query, and do it. This process takes forever, but you should definitely spend some time working with query letters before you decide to self-publish. Sending short stories to magazines, or articles to newspapers and bloggers, is good practice for this.
Focus on your audience. Actually, start focusing on building an audience now. Publishing is the easy part, even if you don’t know what you are doing. Formatting is a pain in the ass, and if you go the traditional route, you will be in for more editing passes. At the end of the day though, you don’t need to worry about this part until you get there. Just build a social following and start collecting email addresses.
The actual publishing process can take a while. There’s lots of things to consider, like cover design, interior formatting, ebook formatting, press releases, advertising, building excitement, blogging, setting up a store-front, etc. Hitting the publish button is the easy part. Sites like KDP make it super easy, and places like SmashWords and IngramSpark can boost your distribution network. If you can, find a good publisher (one that isn’t going to charge you, those are vanity presses), and let them take care of hitting the publish button. They can help with all of this stuff.
That’s it in a nutshell. Wait, nutshell? This is no nutshell, maybe a paper bag. Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent.
Plotting (2-8 weeks), Drafting (2-12 weeks), Editing and Revising (at least a few months), Pitching (longer than it should take), and Publishing (2-4 months).
If you do everything yourself, about a year for the first book, plus you will have others lined up and ready, and after you kick-start your first book, you shouldn’t have any problem pushing out a novel or two per year. The whole process, going the traditional route could take up to 3-4 years, but very little of that time is actually writing, as should be clear from this post.
That’s the writing process. Basically a bunch of “hurry up and wait.”