How long does it take to write a book?

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A question I am often asked, if I tell someone I write and self-publish books on Amazon, is “What do you write about?” – the answer is covered elsewhere in this blog: about my books. The next question is often “How long does it take to write a book?”

With that in mind, I’d like to share with you a few insights into the writing process of my new book Black Book which is a sequel to Broken, Lucky and Bad Blood. It’s not finished, so don’t get too excited (as if). But I have finished the first draft and so I think it might interest some would-be writers and other self-publishing types to know how long it’s taken to arrive at the first draft.

Bear in mind that this book is the most complex I have ever written due to the stupid number of characters that I established in the other three books which this book joins together. Imagine Avengers Assemble in the form of a pulp paperback and you’ve got an idea of tricky it might be for me. Poor me…

So, back to the question… “How long does it take to write a book?”

The qualitative answer is that it’s taken far longer than it perhaps should because: I am an awful procrastinator; I have hit a couple of patches of writer’s block – in the sense that I felt I had no interesting story to tell so why bother; and there’s been some darned good PS4 games and TV shows out over the last couple of years.

I started writing Black Book in October of 2017 and have just finished the ‘crappy first draft’. What I mean by this is that the story is told as far as I can tell it and now it’s time for the real writing to begin – that is the revision and honing down of the story so it hangs together consistently and coherently.

For that process, I always like to have a proper paperback sized proof copy in my hands, including an attempt at a cover  design and back cover blurb. I’m currently waiting for that to arrive from the cool cats at KDP Select. Then I’ll get to work with my red pen making proofing notes and changes by hand. 

arriving-tomorrow

So, if I started back in October 2017, the quantitative answer is that it takes about two years, right? Well kind of, but I have a day job and a life away from the keyboard. No really I do! So the writing process is as Status Quo might say very ‘on and off and on again’.

Let me show you. Here’s how the word count progressed over time (click expand the size):

black-book-words-graph

As you can clearly see, there are flat-line periods where the book sits stagnating. Now I freely admit that it looks like I’ve had at least four distinct patches of no activity – maybe writer’s block. But this doesn’t include periods where I might have been planning the structure, writing handwritten notes in a notebook (I still do this, but maybe not as much as I did for previous books), writing Notes on my iPhone (I used my iPhone a lot more this time for note taking) or doing research into specific things like places in Russia or guns and other shizzle pertinent to a supernatural action thriller.

Here’s another way of looking at it. This graph shows total time spent writing (in Word) over the years (again click to expand):

black-book-time-writing-graph

Obviously there’s a direct correlation between time spent writing and word count! I’d hate to think that the 146 hours I’d spent so far on the project resulted in just a few pages. At present I have about 108 thousand words – that equates to around 334 pages in the paperback format I write for (obviously it’s meaningless on the Kindle, but I’m old fashioned).

let me get my calculator out…

So that’s about two-and-a-quarter pages on average per hour. Crazy right? Who the hell spends half-an-hour writing one page? Well I do apparently. There’s a lot of Googling going on while I’m writing – fact-checking on the fly, and a lot of in-line editing which I know you’re supposed to avoid when the words are flowing but I just can’t help myself. Also there’s a lot of scrolling around and checking what I’ve written earlier and also checking Trello (for how Trello gets involved see this other post – how Trello is helping me write my new novel).

146 hours equates to about 6 days. So the answer to the question “How long does it take to write a book?” is:

Two years or 6 days.

But even then, that’s not true because as The Klaxons said ‘it’s not over yet!’ All these stats are just related to the crappy first draft. And it’s called crappy for a reason. Rewrites, deletions and insertions (!) and several rounds of proofing and test reading will be required before publication.

I’ll do another post some time next year when the book is finally out to try and answer the question more fully!

For those among you who are wondering how I came up with these graphs it’s not a case of me keeping a journal of word count and time spent writing. The numbers have come out of file properties on the collection of Word documents I have built up over time. I am super cautious about backing up my work and so I save a new version of the document on and off my computer each time I do some writing. So this evening, while I was waiting for Siggy to come home so we can have some din-dins, and listening to a indie playlist on Spotify, I jotted down all the numbers and dates into Excel and created the graphs. Yes, I do have a lot of spare time 🙂

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3 comments

  1. Very interesting journey! thanks for sharing Matt.

    NB: As you are an adept of Black Mirror, you know that you take a risk for your ranking by doing this kind of search “doing research into specific things like places in Russia or guns and other shizzle pertinent to a supernatural action thriller.”

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