It’s a simple question. Seems like it should come with a simple answer.
But of course it depends.
Some books take six months to write and some take six years and some take longer. (Just ask Robert Caro. Or George R.R. Martin.)
I published my own book last year, I’m ghostwriting and book coaching for others, and I have edited and copy edited books as a freelancer. So that’s the experience I’m speaking from. Setting aside externally imposed deadlines, here are a few things I think determine how long it takes.
The bigger your ambition, the longer the book’s going to take. That’s not writerly wisdom; it’s just math. The more you want to accomplish, the more time you’ll need. When you have big ambition, you end up with a lot of raw material. I love this essay by Caro because it shares a great example of that.
Even if you’re a confident writer, this organization stage—deciding what goes where, and crucially WHY things go where they go—just takes a long time when you have a lot of stuff you’re trying to say.
Most interruptions are not that charming and a lot of them come from inside your own mind. You can shut off the internet, but what the heck do you do about your brain?
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. “Join ’em” means getting to know how often you’re interrupted and how long it takes for you to reset your focus. On average.
As with almost all other big projects, you will overestimate how much you can get done in a day, in a week, in a month. Recalibrate your estimates based on what you learn from observing your writing sessions. Don’t base your estimates on arbitrary, theoretical expectations that you can’t meet and then beat yourself up for “falling behind.”
Ta-da! THAT’S how long it takes to write a book.
OK. No! But! These are the variables that determine how long it takes. As a ghostwriter, I don’t just write the book. I also account for these variables. It’s part of what I love about this book-writing partnership between my clients and me.