Any number of self help books will tell you that planning out your day, introducing discipline to your life, and getting on a schedule will ultimately help you with time management. Perhaps the single best way this concept has been introduced to me was this: Plan the day you want to have.
By creating the day you want to have so you have the time to get the work done that you want to have done, you put yourself in a frame of mind that will heavily impact your success. Creativity happens more often than not once you have started working, not when you are pacing about hoping for it to come. Work is the solution and while writing fiction is a creative endeavor, do not forget that it is still work and requires consistent effort. No one sits down and writes an entire book at once. You sit down and write the story one sentence at a time, day after day, until you have finished. For some people this process is fast and for others it is slow. The key aspect is consistency. While you can still see success, you will most likely find yourself haunted by the ideas you never acted upon because you had “no time.”
How long does it take to write a book?
After conducting a bit of research on the average typing speed as well as the average novel length, I have compiled a rough estimate which has worked for me as a good baseline. Every writer is different and every project is different. Most of the time I write faster, but there are times I struggle to get even a few words out. But on average, the following holds true.
- Average typing speed is 40 words per minute (wpm). To be honest, the speed at which we type is greatly impacted by the process of writing fiction. So a better metric to use: the average creative writing speed is 250 words every 15 minutes. To be conservative, you will most likely write 750-1000 words per hour. Everyone can find 15 minutes to write and an hour isn’t much harder to find.
- The average book is 80,000 words. Yes, some books are much larger and some are shorter. The genere, audience, and general story idea will impact the length of your book. But most publishers consider 80,000 words to be the sweet spot so it’s a good metric to use when starting out. For a better point or reference, the first Harry Potter book is 76,944 words.
If we say that you write 750 words an hour, and your novel will be about 80,000 words, you will spend close to 106 hours writing your book. Granted, if you write at the speed of 1000 words per hour, you will finish your 80,000 word novel in 80 hours.
Two or three full working weeks is a good estimate of the amount of time you will need to spend writing your novel. If you are the writer that goes through multiple drafts, edits, iterations, etc. you will most likely double or triple that time. This article isn’t intended to focus on that, so we will move forward considering that your goal is to finish writing the first draft of your book.
Writing in Chunks
It is easy to gawk at the 100+ hour project of writing a novel and become overwhelmed at the prospect. Just remember, we don’t sit down to write a novel all at once. Even if some one tried it, they would have to go more than 4 days without stopping to eat, sleep, and take care of business. Talk about setting yourself up to fail.
So what do writers do? We chunk it out. You are responsible for writing the next sentence. That’s it. Sounds simple, but it’s harder than you might think.
As writers, we get caught up in worrying about our story. Where is it going, is the story interesting, are my characters realistic, blah, blah, blah. While those things are important and add to the greater whole of the book, all you are truly trying to do is write the next sentence. It doesn’t even need to be in order. You can write a sentence, loop back a few paragraphs to add another one, jump back to the begining and add another. Your creative mind will help you write the next sentence. Once you have written that, move on to the next. Repeat.
Let’s go back to the 250 words per minute idea I introduced above. The hardest part about writing is sitting down to write. The longer we can keep ourselves in the chair, the more we will eventually get done. So set your timer for 15 minutes. You can find the time. Press start and begin writing. Try to write as many words as you can and once the timer goes off, you can stop.
Go ahead. Give it a try. Then, if you truly want to stop writing, then come back and finish reading this article. After all, it’s just 15 minutes. Anyone can write every day for 15 minutes. If you do that, you will end up with a novel inside of a year. In fact, writing for 15 minutes a day (250 words) for 320 days will get you an 80,000 word book. A lot of respectable authors write and publish one book per year. The question then becomes, what did you do with the other 23 hours and 45 minutes? You can’t sleep all of it away.
Learning how to write in chunks allows you to break down the insurmountable task of writing a novel into bite sized pieces that can be easily accomplished. Take as large or small of a chunk out of your day and set that time aside to write. The cool thing is, the chunks eventually add up.
As human beings, we live in a world controlled by time. Everything demands our attention, from our families and friends, to our jobs and responsibilities. The problem is exacerbated by the constant bombardment of distractions that call themselves entertainment. Think about the amount of time you could be waiting watching TV, YouTube, or scrolling Social Media. It’s no wonder we can’t find the time for our writing. It’s easy to get lost in the chaos of life. Or so it may seem. After taking account of the amount of time I was wasting on said tasks, I wanted to know how much time others were wasting as well.
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion
The idea presented by Parkinson’s Law can be expanded upon to include our leisure activities. The simple activities that we engage in during our leisure time will also expand to fill the time available. The information pulled below demonstrates how we fill this extra time with less than meaningful or productive activities.
The average time spent watching TV in America: Source
- 4 hours every day
- That is 28 hours per week
- Around 120 hours per month
- All of which totals 2 months of nonstop TV-watching every year.
The average time spent on social media: Source
- 145 minutes per day
- That is about 17 hours per week
- Around 72 hours per month
- All of which totals 37 days of scrolling through social media every year.
The average time spend on mobile devices every day: Source
- 5.4 hours per day
- 37.8 hours per week
- 162 hours per month
- 82.12 days per year.
I am certain that the amount of time spent on social media ties into the time spent on mobile devices, and it is also more than likely that most people are watching tv while on their phones. The best way to know how much time you are spending is to track it. Spend a week taking note of how much time you spend on your phone, watching TV, or engaging in what you think to be time waisting activities. You can even have your smart phone tell you how much time you are spending on it.
When all is said and done, we do have time for the things we make time for. If being creative, writing, painting, or anything else you set out to accomplish is truly important to you, you will make time for it. It’s all about choosing what you will spend your time on at the expense of what you will not. No one has infinite time. But we have control over how we use the time that has been given to us.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of The Ring
I had a personal experience regarding time management that fortunately happened while I was rather young. During Eighth and Ninth Grade, I played Alto and Baritone Saxophone in Band and in order to get better, my parents hired a private tutor so I could get extra practice. During one of my private lessons, I arrived having not practiced and was totally unprepared for the lesson. When asked about why I had not practiced, I told my teacher “I didn’t have the time.” What I was told next has stuck with me.
“It wasn’t that you didn’t have the time,” he said, “It’s that you did not make the time.”
He was right. It was not important enough for me to practice so I did not make time. Instead, I played video games, watched TV, and used my time in other ways. That was the last time I ever showed up to a private lesson unprepared. This taught me the power of making time for thing things that were important for me to accomplish.
We all have the same amount of time, and it is up to each individual to make time for the things that are important. Since you have the time to do what you want, you must make time for the things that are important at the expense of what is not.
A great short story by Tolkien, Leaf by Niggle, is about a man who sees a forest in great detail and sets out to paint it only to find that he never has the time. Things keep getting in the way and in the end, the only thing that survives is a small portion of canvas with a single leaf. It is a sad tale where Niggle is disregarded and forgotten after living a life where he never finished his own work. The short story is available HERE to read online. If you don’t make time for your creative endeavors, you will never get them done. You will become Niggle and no artist can ever be happy with such results.
Take an account of what you are doing and how you are spending your time. After analyzing how you are spending your time, find where you can sit down to work on the creative project that keeps gnawing at the back of your mind driving you crazy.
No more excuses, find the time, and get to work.