How Much Time Should I Budget to Write My Book?

New authors have a distinct advantage over established authors under deadline: no deadline.

As a new author, you may have fiddled with your novel for years. Perhaps you’ve entered contests and incorporated feedback. Maybe you’ve read books about writing and attended conferences. After all this effort, you landed a contract. Congratulations!

Now you may have another happy problem: estimating how much time you need to budget to write your next book. Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t be overeager. You’re rightfully excited to be entering a partnership with a publisher and you’re eager to please. Traditional publishers are aware of this propensity and they have an idea of how to pace you. Listen to them. Don’t try to set your deadlines too close together.
  2. Allow for edits. You won’t know how long it takes you to address edits until you’ve been through the process a few times. Your manuscript may hardly be touched, but it’s more likely you’ll be looking at rewrites. Changing a detail on page five will mean being sure the story keeps the change for the next 300 pages. This work will take time. As a new author, you won’t want to be writing another book under a tight deadline as well.
  3. Remember your family. Now that you’ve gotten a contract, your family will see you as a working writer rather than a hobbyist. However, family demands won’t dissolve. True, you may decide to hire help with housekeeping and take other shortcuts to free up time. Or you may not. Either way, you will not want to omit vacations and making family memories. Budget time for life.
  4. Set aside time for emergencies. We all hope you’ll never have an emergency. But if you do, you’ll be grateful for those free days. And if you don’t use that time for an emergency, you can take afternoon naps!
  5. Don’t work seven days a week. Flush with the excitement of a new contract, you may think you’ll easily write 3,000 words or so seven days a week. Please don’t. Your mind and body need a rest.
  6. Be realistic about the number of words you write a day. When I wrote books for publication, my top number was 8,000 words in one day. Many authors fly by me with 15,000 words a day. I thought I would die writing 8,000. You may think you’ll collapse after 500. There is no correct number. Just be honest with yourself about your actual output on average. If you write 1,000 words a day, five days a week, you will have a book of 80,000 words in four months.
  7. Allow time for your personal edits. Don’t forget that once you write the novel, you’ll want to go back and read it again and make your own edits before turning it in to the editor. You want to avoid turning in what is close to a first draft. The authors who can turn in amazing first drafts are rare.

Again, congratulations on your contract! Enjoy the journey.

Your turn:

What tips can you offer new writers on how long it takes to write a book?

How much time do you budget to write a book?

How do you manage a work/life balance as an author?


38 Responses to How Much Time Should I Budget to Write My Book?

  1. Avatar
    Shirlee Abbott July 26, 2018 at 5:00 am #

    It’s tempting to cut my time with God, thinking I can put that time to better use.

    Per Martin Luther, “I am so busy now that if I did not spend three hours each day in prayer, I could not get through the day.”

  2. Avatar
    Nancy Massand July 26, 2018 at 5:50 am #

    Thank you for this very helpful insight, Tamela. I’m just starting in this, having finished my first novel, and your points are well taken. And thank you, too, Shirlee, for reminding us who gave us the story that is the core of all stories in the first place. I appreciate your wisdom!

  3. Avatar
    Steven Fantina July 26, 2018 at 6:02 am #

    I just finished a children’s book and I found that I just wrote when it came to me. Now I am trying to budget the proper timing to land an agent.

  4. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson July 26, 2018 at 6:50 am #

    Thank you for the great advice, Tamela. I’ll keep it in mind when I land a contract. Woohoo! Looking forward to the day!

  5. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 26, 2018 at 6:51 am #

    I figure that a first book takes as along as it takes, because it’s a singular experience.

    Now I write as I am physically able, but I figure it should take about 10% less time than I think it should, because that last increment is apple-polishing that degrades voice and freshness.

  6. Avatar
    Richard New July 26, 2018 at 7:01 am #

    I’m not quite at the contract stage. My first post-editor manuscript was requested by a small publisher about a year ago. I’ve been in touch with them during this time but it’s still in-house. I guess they’re still passing it around among the other editors and generating in-house opinions.

  7. Avatar
    Jon Guenther July 26, 2018 at 8:03 am #

    My tale on “how long” may be one of woe for many aspiring writers. Having now penned something like 40 books (I stopped counting), and being a “planster”, I can only say it takes however long it takes. I’m a fast typist — about 80 words but a slow writer. In my process I see words. If I see them clearly I can punch out a 3000-word chapter in 90 minutes. Other times it takes me days to complete two paragraphs.

    If I average it out, I typically produce around 2000 words per day. This is on a good day, since I have a full-time job that is busy and stressful most days, and I’m often wiped out by the time the work day is through. Recently I started using Scrivener, and that has a session target tool in it, and I’ve found this helpful in keeping me honest.

    Happy writing!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 26, 2018 at 8:14 am #

      Lynn Blackburn teaches excellent classes on Scrivener. I suggest anyone wanting to learn the program attend a conference — usually Blue Ridge — where she is teaching.

      • Avatar
        Lynn H. Blackburn July 26, 2018 at 8:29 am #

        Thanks, Tamela! I *love* the new writing tracking tools in Scrivener. They’ve really helped me have a more accurate picture of how long it takes me to write!

  8. Avatar
    Katie Powner July 26, 2018 at 8:09 am #

    With four kids at home, some of whom I homeschool, I set deadlines for myself and a goal of one book per year. I’ve met my deadlines/goals the past 4 years in a row and feel I have a pretty good system/routine down now.

  9. Avatar
    Tisha Martin July 26, 2018 at 10:00 am #

    Tamela, thank you, especially for number five. In recent months, I’ve been contemplating the time and energy I spend, and after a few adjustments earlier in the year, this new writing/editing routine is starting to see some consistency. 🙂 The key I’m learning is having that healthy balance. Thank you for this timely blog post! Such a nice shot of encouragement!

  10. Avatar
    claire o'sullivan July 26, 2018 at 10:18 am #

    Hi Tamela (and all),

    Your words are always timely and the comments are also chockfull of information.

    I don’t have a contract yet with an agent for book 1, so, there’s that. But praying.

    NanoWrimo was the way to go from 2012 to 2015 as far as getting those 50,000 words in each November.

    So I plotted/planned my second novel. Surely it would go faster than the first. That was 2015. Still rewriting. An ‘alpha’ group shot it full of holes (that were already there) and so I reworked the entire thing, adding a male voice in third POV simple past tense in his own section along with the fMC in first person POV simple past tense in her own section (all well demarcated as to avoid the dreaded head-hopping).

    The process of writing the first draft is quick (for me). The process of rewriting the second … and on is molasses at best. After I finish as best I can, I will throw it to my critique site, then edit more, then to the Beta group. And no deadline at this time. I stopped to make some agent edits novel 1 before a possible contract.

    ‘Learning to be realistic for me.’


    • Avatar
      Tisha Martin July 26, 2018 at 10:26 am #

      Claire, sounds like a wonderful journey for you! I really think it’s funny how the writing and editing process is different for each writer. I tend to write slow, but the editing process is swift. And I love that, “learning to be realistic for me.”

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 27, 2018 at 11:30 am #

      Great job, Claire! Keep at it!

  11. Avatar
    Elisabeth Warner July 26, 2018 at 10:32 am #

    Thank you for this wisdom, Tamela! I’m still trying to get my first novel off the ground. This information is nourishment for my emaciated author experience, and I’m gobbling up every piece I can find! Don’t worry, I’ll have my novel polished soon enough 🙂

    Congrats to all those who have landed a contract and are in the process of publishing their books.

  12. Avatar
    Stacy Simmons July 26, 2018 at 10:54 am #

    Thank you for writing this timely blog post. As I fine-tune my first manuscript, I’ll bookmark this post to reread when starting the next. I appreciate all the helpful advice from your agencies blog.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 27, 2018 at 11:32 am #

      I am humbled that you find my information that useful. So glad you can benefit from all of us!

  13. Avatar
    Ann Coker July 26, 2018 at 12:03 pm #

    I don’t have that contract yet, but using your tips now will help me get to that point if and when I do have an association with an agent, publisher, and editor. I’ve sent in my book proposal and still writing as I wait. Mine is a non-fiction book. Most appreciative of your advice not to work 7 days a week. When in college I did not study on Sundays. As you said, my body, mind, and spirit needed that rest. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 27, 2018 at 11:33 am #

      I had to discipline myself not to study at certain times during college, too. I think the flow of college life helped prepare me for the life of an agent. We could all easily work 24/7, too, but none of us should.

  14. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D July 26, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

    Tamela, as a new author without a contract yet, I try to fit in 2-3 hours a day to write. It doesn’t always work but usually I can swing it. Sometimes I hit a mental wall and have to stop short of that, but I love writing and try to be consistent.

  15. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca July 26, 2018 at 2:28 pm #

    I finished my first book after over two years of writing and re-writing. I had the good fortune to sign with a publisher, and we expect the book to be released later this year. Along the way, I learned that all the things the professionals told me about endurance were true! But it wasn’t just “enduring” as in “waiting.” It had to do with getting constructive criticism, swallowing my pride, re-writing, re-thinking, re-plotting, attending conferences, and crafting something I was proud of.

    I was excited when I finished the first draft of the manuscript. But I found the real joy was in all the hard work that followed.

  16. Avatar
    Marie Wells Coutu July 27, 2018 at 10:23 am #

    Tamela, these are wonderful tips. With each book, I’m convinced I can write the next one in half the time, but so far it hasn’t worked that way. Between family demands, marketing my previous books, and editing/rewrites taking longer than I expect, I can’t seem to shorten the length of time to a polished manuscript. But at least I know to be realistic with what I promise, right? I may miss my own personal deadlines but a career in journalism taught me not to miss “real” deadlines (as from an agent or publisher)!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 27, 2018 at 11:35 am #

      Those of us with a journalism background definitely know the meaning of DEADLINE! Sounds like you’ve got it all together.

  17. Avatar
    Ann Coker July 27, 2018 at 1:48 pm #

    Does it go this way? The agent secures the right publisher and the publisher assigns the editor.

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