How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?

I read in an article today that a dictionary of medieval Latin has been completed after 100 years. My first reaction was surprised interest; how cool is it that a book that was begun a century ago is finally going to be published? My second reaction was relief.

A page of Latin translations

A page of Latin translations

I’ve been worrying lately that one of my current manuscripts (I’m working on two at once, while working full time, because I’m a glutton for punishment or something) is taking too long to complete. After nearly finishing the first draft, I realized that I needed to combine three of the characters into one. It’s a significant change, and although I’m convinced it will make the story much better, it’s going to mean some pretty big revisions. No matter how many times I rearrange the story though, it’s certainly not going to take me a hundred years!

Lots of other books have taken a long time to write. Since I was on the subject, I looked up some other books that took a long time to write. It was fairly reassuring for me, and maybe it will be for you, too.

Apparently J.K Rowling took seven years to write Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and of course the series in total took many years.

Victor Hugo spent 17 (!) years writing and perfecting Les Miserables.

Gustave Flaubert took five years to complete Madame Bovary

Geoffrey Chaucer spent at least a decade on The Canterbury Tales, which may have not been completed as he intended when he died.

It takes Diana Gabaldon about three years to complete each of the novels of her Outlander series.

J.R.R Tolkien spent twelve years writing The Lord of the Rings

Jean Auel takes a few years for each book of her Clan of the Cave Bear series; the first one was published in 1980 and the last one was published in 2011.

Leo Tolstoy took six years to write War and Peace. Apparently his wife had to help rewrite it several times (by hand).

And now, for a very off-topic comment – just now, while I was checking how long War and Peace took to write, I came across a page of random facts. When I read that your hair still grows for a couple of months after you die, I had a mild freak out. Then I did more research and found out this is not true. Whew, that’s a relief!  It’s actually the skin shrinking that makes hair and fingernails look longer.

This sums up my reaction to reading the (false) hair-growing after death fact

This sums up my reaction to reading the (false) hair-growing after death fact

So, there’s your next fact to ‘impress/irritate people at parties’, courtesy of the Internet, that fountain of wonderful and sometimes questionable knowledge. Please, there’s no need to thank me.

Anyway, how long do you take to write a book? My record is nine weeks, but I wasn’t working at the time, and I spent about as long again editing. Also, unlike my usual habit of writing historicals, it was an urban fantasy, and the fact that I could make anything happen without research considerably sped things up.

I guess the real answer to the question “how long does it take to write a book” is the frustratingly vague, but completely true: “it takes as long as it does.”

Have a great week!

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6 thoughts on “How Long Does it Take to Write a Book?

  1. For me, academic books: 3-5 years. Fiction: my fastest was 6 weeks but the book was short. I’ve got one now that is really dragging, mainly because I spend too much time blogging… to promote my books….

  2. Seventeen years for Les Mis sounds about right–have you read that sucker? It’s a monster. First drafts seem to be taking me about six months to write; polished, ready to query drafts? That, sadly, is something I’d rather not disclose at the moment….

    • I haven’t read Les Mis yet – it’s on my list of classics to read! (Also I can’t seem to make the italics work in the comments). Did you like it?
      I bet I can make you feel better about the polishing time of your current draft – I’m working on one novel where I spent a year writing the first draft and researching, then I was so sick of it that I left it alone for about two years, and then I re-wrote almost the whole thing! After that, I decided to combine three characters into one. Clearly, I am still learning where this story is going!

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