How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

How long does it take to write a book, Lela Davidson

Most people I meet are curious about how long it takes to write a book. I suspect writers ask because they are secretly comparing their process to mine, or they are calculating the free hours in their days, ever convinced that if they only had more time... Non-writers express disbelief that 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. All by myself (almost) I made each and every word fit together in a little puzzle of sense until it meant something to someone else. A book is a tiny miracle when you really stop to think about all the processes that had to combine in order for it to live.

From the initial idea, to the awful first drafts, to the editing, more editing, so much editing, and then all the logistics of getting the words into a format others can consume, and ideally, pay for. It's all so much work.

For Faking Balance: Adventures in Work and Life, it all went down like this.

April 2013
Drafted the initial essays for the collection through a program of structured writing prompts offered by the writing coach I've been working with for years, Christina Katz. I had a vague idea that I wanted to write about the challenges women face on the work/home front.

This was the 2nd or 3rd time I'd completed Christina's 21 Moments program, and I had decided this time to focus on moments at work dating back to the decision to get pregnant while working as an accountant all those years ago. Christina doesn't offer this program anymore, but at the time you could pay a nominal fee to receive daily examples of great writing as inspiration, as well as a reminder to sit and write one moment each day.

By the end of three weeks I had 50 pages of raw material. It was mostly decent and definitely focused around my theme because I had selected the 21 moments I would flesh out ahead of time. I wasn't sitting down each day to free write. I had a specific moment in mind each day. Time elapsed: 21 days.

May 2013 - July 2014:
Time to turn that raw material into actual essays. I had to fill in around whatever moment I had written, providing context and finding the relevant and compelling story for each. Then I had to fill in the blanks, find interesting moments in between the ones I had written, because unlike my two previous books, I wanted this collection to have a narrative arc, which is fancy writer talk for a beginning, middle, and end.

Starting a new job in August of 2013 (the first time working in an office for more than 6 years) put a cramp in the 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 just 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. Granted, there was a lot of editing while drafting, getting essays into a form that was truly worthy of showing another human.

That process also informs the drafting of new work that supports the overall theme. For the editing in earnest, I worked with an amazing editor who helped ensure this book had a true through line, or narrative arc that I mentioned earlier. 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 come, and that beloved first print order came through. A retailer actually believing the book is salable is an important milestone. Time elapsed: 8 months.

Total time elapsed from 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. To reference and remember and celebrate and sometimes cringe when I will later undoubtedly see things I wish I would have done differently. After that, life goes on. Time elapsed: Unknown.

There it is, in case you wanted to know. Let me know your process in the comments, and please take a look at the finished product here and see if the book is one you can recommend to others. Thanks!