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100,000 words makes a novel. For a perfectionist each line is poetry. How long should it take to write a novel? Not a bestseller. Just enough income to survive in the city.

Question subjective? Maybe. Answerable? Yes.

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100k is actually pretty long for a novel. Most novel length books are around 60-75k. Some publishers have a cap on word limits they'll accept, too. Generally, the only publishers that'll take books that are 100k+ are Sci-Fi and Fantasy publishers. But there are exceptions made if the book is good. –  Ralph Gallagher Dec 21 '10 at 17:18
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This is indeed subjective, but being subjective isn't always a problem here. Answerable? Yes, but answers are going to be vague; I've heard of novels being written in a few weeks or in ten years. A year or two is probably a good middle ground for a 100k novel. –  Neil Fein Aug 17 '12 at 18:26

7 Answers 7

The point is moot. You will get to however many pages you want in the right amount of time for your story. Here's how:

  1. Write your story from the beginning to the end. Whatever you have of the story, write that down. It will start with ideas or scenes or characters, but just keep adding to it until there's the story.

  2. Think about what you've written, and leave it alone for a day. Don't write down any ideas for changes, fixes, whatever. If the idea is good, it will come to you when needed. Take this time to put what you have into some sort of organization, like a timeline.

  3. After a full day, get in that story's bidness like just got off parole. Have at the thing. Don't worry about dumping scenes or characters. If they are really important, they'll come back. Even if you'd kept them you would have re-written them.

  4. Go to step 2.

You'll get the beginning, climax, ending, and conflict, and tensioners at different times, but you'll only have multiple conflicts (subplots) or multiple tensioners. When you feel like the story is all there, check the word count. You'll be over or under, but not by much. And editing that first draft will give or take 20% anyway. So ignore the number and JUST KEEP WRITING THE STORY.

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I'm not sure how helpful this will be, but it's at least one data point (though not about a novel). I've written a popular science book that will be published later this year. Once I got a response to my query letter, I started writing. These were the milestones:

The proposal submission included three chapters, 18,000 words, written in 3 months. (This was writing from scratch, with a lot of editing.) 17 months later, the draft manuscript was ready, at 75,000 words. (I'll guess that this was about 50/50 writing versus editing.) The final manuscript was 85,000 words, submitted 6 months after that. (90% editing.)

So it took 26 months in all, working in my spare time on evenings, weekends, and during the summer. I'm thinking that a year would be enough to write a reasonable 100K-word book, working on it full time, as others have suggested.

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I'm writing a book at the moment which is a Sci-fi fantasy type. I've written around 20,000 words in a month. (I started July once I got my summer holidays.)

Some days I write 7 pages, other days I write half a page. Normally, I like to write a little everyday so I won't fall behind or completely forget my story line and characters.

Have a notebook so you don't have to re-read everything. Plot down little details important to the story and it will save you time I think.

Enjoy the writing process of course. Sticking to a pattern or plan will definitely help you achieve having a whole novel written! You can write it maybe all during the holidays. At work or school time, it will probably be hard work fitting it into your schedule. Having a plan is the main key to success! You'll be finished in no time. I'm thinking around 3-5 months and it can be achievable!

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Another way of asking the question might be: how much should I aim to write every day?

I think 1000 words a day is a good number. Here's why:

  • It works even if you're not a full-time writer -- even if you're writing in the morning or evenings.
  • It's consistent w/ some of the other data points above. At 1000 words a day, you'll finish a first draft of a novel in ~3 months.
  • It's achievable!

That last one is really important. The way you finish a novel is by keeping at it, day after day. It's easier to do that when you feel like you're meeting your goals & making progress -- not disappointing yourself every time you sit down to write.

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How small of print are you using to get 1k on one page? Holy crap that's tiny text. An average page has about 250 words on it. –  Ralph Gallagher Jan 5 '11 at 1:12
    
Good point; totally depends on your setup, and 1000 is probably er, pretty dense. Edited. –  robinsloan Jan 5 '11 at 1:33

If you want the minimum practical time for publishable fiction, Lester Dent (who wrote most of the Doc Savage books) is likely the best example. He wrote 159 short novels over 16 years. Figure probably about 50K words per novel, and he was typically publishing twelve Doc Savages a year. The Master Fiction Plot page credits him with over 200K words a month, and tells how he did it.

The maximum practical time appears to be limited by lifespan.

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+1 for mention of Lester Dent. –  One Monkey Dec 26 '10 at 11:03

How long it takes you to produce 100K words depends greatly on how quickly you write, how much time you have for writing, and what level of polish you want your words to be at.

For first drafts, most writers can produce 100K words in 3-6 months, depending on the amount of time per day allotted. The truly fanatical (like those 2xNaNoWriMo maniacs mentioned in @One Monkey's answer) can finish that amount of writing in one month, while an upper limit might be about a year.

Every writer I've ever talked to recommends taking at least a month off after finishing the first draft in order to get some critical distance.

After that comes editing, which is a highly idiosyncratic process. Some people make multiple passes over the draft, making small tweaks each time. Some people rewrite whole chapters at once. Some people only write one second draft, which changes everything at once. How you decide to edit is up to you, but again I'd suggest that 3-6 months is a reasonable time frame for editing. Note that some people spend a long time in this phase--Patrick Rothfuss famously spent 14 years editing his Kingkiller trilogy before finding a publisher for it.

Overall, the novel process takes about a year if you work consistently, maybe more or less depending on how much time you can devote to it.

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So it'll probably take me about 300 years then? :P –  Nick Bedford Dec 22 '10 at 4:46

To produce something no more nor less publishable than some bestsellers bare minimum would be about a year broken down like this:

  • Two Months: First Draft (taken as 2xNaNoWriMo some people do produce 100k+ in this month but 50k is generally thought to be achievable)
  • Two Months: Cool down time. Maybe first draft a completely separate project.
  • Three Months: First Pass. Most of the good work is done here. By the time you've finished all that should be left is grace notes.
  • Three Months: Cool Down Time. More important. Get a lot of distance, should definitely work on something else consuming here, try to forget as much of the detail about your work as possible.
  • Two Months: Second pass and final polish. Time to murder the darlings, hoover up most obvious typos etc. By the time this is finished the book will still have mistakes of various types but none that can be spotted without an editor.

This should be ample time to produce one book and get underway on a couple more. If you have any talent and dedication what you produce should be up to the quality of what sits on many bestseller lists (midlist sales will not allow you to "survive in the city" you have to glean a large advance or respectable sales for that).

As to whether your offering will fare as well in the world's most Kafka-esque lottery (AKA the publishing industry)... well, that's another matter entirely.

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I like this answer, but I would like to point out that, if you are interleaving your projects, such as drafting project B during cool down time for project A, then your actual production time is less. In your example, the mean time to produce one novel is seven months. You have a one-year timeline, but you are producing ~12/7 novels in that year. –  david.smith Dec 17 '12 at 19:00
    
Sort of. The reason I say "start something new" and not "forget about it for a bit" is twofold. 1. The creativity keeps on truckin' 2. Becoming obsessed with a new piece will distance you from your first draft much more quickly. Every piece of work makes you a slightly different writer. The new you will look back with less love than that required to write something fresh. If you were to down tools completely I would say it could take six months to a year to approach the same amount of distance as being completely wrapped up in project B. My answer is clearly, therefore, "value added" ;) –  One Monkey Dec 18 '12 at 9:54

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