How Long Does It Take To Write A Novel?

write a novel

Some authors need weeks, others over a decade, to put their dreams into text. Your timeline to write a novel? Whatever you need it to be.

As I described in “The Accidental Novelist – How Stolen Moments Can Make A Book,” I’m writing a book — and it’s taking a while to complete.

Next month will mark four years from initial conception to current draft. And though I’m proud to say that I’m at over 100,000 words, with all major chunks roughly cut, I still see months to go before stitching is complete and I can call the work done.

Spending close to four years on a single writing project has been a source both of pride and frustration. Why isn’t it done already? How long does it take other authors to finish their books? So I did some research and learned that, for novels, the time it takes authors to complete their work ranges from under a month to as long as ten years (or more). Which makes perfect sense. Factors ranging from the complexity and scope of the story to the logistics and demands of daily life can all impact how long it takes to translate a novel from imagination to completion.

BookBaby posted a great infographic showing the different lengths of time taken by authors to craft noteworthy works. Here’s a closer look at some of the novels included in the chart.

how long to write a novel?

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

Irish novelist John Boyne may have been a student of the Holocaust for years before starting his best-selling Holocaust novel, which has been adapted for film and ballet formats — but when it came time to put words on paper, he completed his draft in an impressive two-and-a-half days.

Les Miserables

This seminal epic of revolution, resistance, and redemption was described by Upton Sinclair as “one of the half-dozen greatest novels of the world.” The journey of Jean Valjean took Victor Hugo 12 years to write.

A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess’ dystopian satire created cultural waves and earned widespread acclaim. The author put together his influential novel in just three weeks.

The Catcher In The Rye

J. D. Salinger’s novel of prep-school angst, teenage rebellion, and social alienation has become one of the most influential English-language novels ever written. He brought Holden Caulfield’s story to life after 10 years of writing.

Wuthering Heights

This classic work of literature examines themes of morality and religion, class and sexism, as characters chase love and battle social convention. Emily Brontë’s work took her a mere nine months to complete.

Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone

J.K. Rowling’s fantasy empire has grown to include seven core books, ten films, a Broadway play, theme parks, and more. The book that got it all started took her six years to complete.

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Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, a foundational story in the horror genre — that some also consider the first true work of science fiction — took the author one year to write.

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn’s New York Times best-seller is a psychological thriller that twists perceptions and winds suspense. Before it gained widespread popularity and inspired a popular film adaptation, Flynn spent three years writing it.

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 story of West and East Egg, Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, excess and idealism, is regarded as one of America’s greatest novels. The work took Fitzgerald two-and-a-half years to write.

In short, whether you can punch out a completed work in a handful of weeks or need a decade to complete your concept, as long as you’re fulfilled by the process and pleased with the results, you’re on the right track.

Knowing that authors like Salinger and Hugo took years to write their seminal works may be a comfort, especially if your own writing process is stretching from months to years and you find yourself losing patience. But don’t let those writers’ long writing times be a crutch when it comes to your own work.

Other authors’ extended timelines are not an excuse for you, me, or any other writer to get lazy (or to rush and compromise quality, for that matter). No two writers will engage the same process, and no two books-in-progress will demand identical commitments of time and energy. And, as the above list shows, no correlation exists between the time needed to create a piece and its merit, significance, or success.

The answer? Focus on building the best work you can. Write words, sentences, and chapters that will make you proud. And, as life will allow, give yourself the space and time you need to do it. Pursue your goal doggedly and avoid over-watching the clock or calendar. And remember — if your book requires not weeks or months, but multiple years to complete, rest assured that you are in outstanding company.

How long did it take to complete your own book? Share your story in the comments below.



  1. Thank you, I found your piece most interesting, while cliched: ‘How long is a piece of string?’ comes to mind. When I wrote my only novel The Catalyst, it took some time as it was based on the 2005, true, Terrorist bombing of a particular train in London, UK. As it would have been too painful for anyone involved to read about such an atrocity so near to the actual happening, I deferred the writig of it for several years. Sadly, when it was published, there were around four books with the same – or similar – title!! I feel like re-publishing,..Thanks again.

  2. Very interesting blog. I wrote my first novel just last year. It’s difficult to say exactly how long it took, because I’m not sure when I really began in earnest. It started as a bucket-list item. But I’d say it was about a year and a half. Once I got into the rhythm, however, I knew that I would continue writing novels, and before I was finished I was already getting ready for the next one. I didn’t set a deadline; instead, I estimated that I would write two more novels in about 18 months. That, of course, is an average of one per nine months, but I purposely made it 18 months for two. It turned out that my second novel took about 10 or 11 months. And I’m about 100 pages into my third, so there is a good possibility I will cover that 18-month timeline, though I don’t have any pressure to get it done in a certain amount of time.

  3. Thanks for the article Michael. It was both interesting and enlightening. I recently published my first novel Time Would Not Pass. Clocking in at 88 thousand words it took just six months. Two months for the first draft, and four months for rewrites and edits. I also had the advantage of being stuck at home during the glow bull lockdown.

    I’ve been working on another novel for over three years. It is over 120 thousand words and the first draft is still not complete. As you know that is a long time to put into any project. I put the whole thing aside while I worked on Time Would Not Pass. I learned that if I put in the work the narrative and the characters will tell you when it becomes a novel.

    One other thing I learned and you touched on it. I agree that being pleased and fulfilled with the finished product brings great satisfaction. I found that as I went along, getting to know the characters better the story took on a life of its own. Finishing Time Would Not Pass and moving on was almost like losing a friend. The characters had grown on me and I sometimes now miss them. As I complete the novel I started three years ago I will look to find that feeling once again.

    Thanks again for the upbeat, encouraging article


  4. I enjoy your articles. I am about to send my manuscript in for editing, but I would like to know if there is a criteria for knowing if ones work is worth reading. I know this is a simple question, but I will be spending, what I think, is a lot of money, and it is scary. There were times when I got excited with what I was writing, and other times, I would doubt that anyone would be interested in reading it. Scary, Scary!

    • There’s no simple checklist to say how far a manuscript is from “publishing form.” If your sense of when it’s ready isn’t “calibrated” yet, then see if they’ll look over a chapter or three before you send the whole thing. If you’ve got a recurring flaw (tendency to overuse certain words, being wishy-washy about what verb tense you’re talking in, wandering off on irrelevant tangents, excessively wordy descriptions, etc.), they probably won’t need the whole novel to find it. Then you can use their corrections for the lead chapters as a guide to what you have to guard against in the rest of the book. If it’s good, you’ll be more confident sending the whole book off, and if it’s full of red, then you haven’t wasted your money and their time on repeated corrections.

  5. It is a lot of hard work. I do it all….proofreading, editing, formatting, own covers etc etc and the promotion. Luckily I formed my own publishing company. Been at it eleven years today for a total of 75 novels. That effort has got me into the Western Writers of America and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Now my novels can be found all over the world. How? I guess I just didn’t know better. R.E. Riepe

  6. I really appreciated this post. Your infographic made clear that there is no scale. If we are driven to write, then we simply have to write on a regular schedule and trust that we will eventually write something others will want to read. Thanks, again!


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