How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

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Most people I meet are curious about how long it takes to write a book. Fellow writers compare their process to mine and calculate the free hours in their days. If they only had more time they too would finish their projects. Non-writers can’t believe anyone has time to write a coherent thank-you note, let alone a whole book.

As an author, when I see the final product, I'm still amazed that it all came out of me. Together with my editor, we made each and every word fit together until it made sense someone else. When you think about all the processes that had to combine for it to come to life, a book is a tiny miracle.

From the initial idea to the awful first drafts. From the first edit, to the 101st edit. After all that editing comes the logistics of getting the words into a format others can consume, and ideally, pay for. Books are a lot of work.

Here’s how I spent my time bringing Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life, into the world.

April 2013

Using a series of 21 writing prompts, drafted the initial essays. I had a vague idea that I wanted to write about the challenges women face on the work/home front.

The prompts were essentially a list of memorable moments at work. All of them had to do with "work life balance, beginning with the moment on the list was how my husband and I made the decision to get pregnant.

I wasn't sitting down each day to free write. I had a specific moment in mind each day.

Because I curated my list of moments before I started writing, everything I wrote built on the theme of “work life balance”. At the end of three weeks, I had 50 pages of raw material. It was mostly decent and definitely focused.

Time elapsed: 21 days.

May 2013 - July 2014

Time to turn that raw material into actual essays. I had moments, but needed to fill in the context. I also needed to find the relevant and compelling story for each moment I had written.

Finally, I had to find interesting moments in between the ones I had written. I wanted this collection to have a narrative arc, which is fancy writer talk for a beginning, middle, and end.

I started a new job in August of 2013. This was the first time I’d be working in an office in more than 6 years. That put a cramp in my writing schedule. My singular focus during that time was getting enough material to go into the editing phase.

Time elapsed: 1 year 3 months. 

July 2014 - January 2015

Now, we're getting to the fun stuff. Sculptors only have to carve away at their raw material. Writers first have to create the raw material, and only after they have done so, do they get to shape it. I also did a lot of editing while drafting. I needed to get my essays into a form that was worthy of showing another human.

That process also informed the drafting of new work that supported the overall theme. Once I had a solid draft, I called my editor. She helped ensure this book had a true through line.

Time elapsed: 7 months.

February 2015 - September 2015

Publishing. Distribution. Marketing. All of this takes much, much longer than you think it should. It's just forever, and that's working with an independent publisher. I have no idea how long these things take at a big New York house. (I plan to find out someday.)

During this time I settled on a cover, saw the preliminary listing on Amazon, and got that beloved first print order. A retailer actually believing the book is salable is an important milestone.

Time elapsed: 8 months.

Total Time Investment

Total time elapsed from my first draft to publication: 2 years and 5 months. Which is actually extraordinarily fast for 100% new material. That is, dare I say, pretty good.

Beyond: Now I have another title, another product, to market forever. I will reference and remember this book. I will celebrate it and sometimes cringe when I see things I wish I would have done differently.

After that, life goes on.

Time elapsed: Unknown.

Are you ready to take on a book project? I can help.