Writing a novel seems like an overwhelming undertaking, especially if you’ve never written one. A writer needs to keep up with the characters and plot, worry about grammar, and find time to write. So how long does it take to put a novel to paper?

It can take several months to several years to write a novel’s first draft. To estimate how long it will take, research word counts for the novel’s genre, set a daily word count goal, and begin writing. Don’t worry about perfection, as revision is an inevitable part of the process.

Before you set a goal, you should know the length of an average novel. This article will discuss that in detail so that when setting a goal, you have some idea of how long it should take you to finish.

How Long Is a Novel?

If you google “how long is a novel,” you will find a broad range. Sites will mention anything from 50,000 to 70,000 words, 50,000 and 110,000 words, and 70,000 to 120, 000. The reason for this range is that sites consider averages without being specific about the book’s genre.

Genre

Genre plays an important role in a novel’s word count. Readers expect different things from a novel based on its genre, which includes:

  • Plot
  • Characterization
  • Themes
  • Length

Although there are outliers, most genre books follow the following word counts.

Fiction

  • General Fiction Novels: 50,000-110,000
  • Historical Fiction: 80,000-100,000
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy: 90,000-120,000
  • Mysteries and Thrillers: 70,000-90,000
  • Romance: 40,000-100,000
  • Young Adult: 50,000-80,000

A writer working in the science fiction or fantasy genres needs to build a believable world for the characters to inhabit, so these books tend to be longer. On the other hand, historical novels are set in specific time periods and need to include and explain events and details that make them believable. 

Meanwhile, mysteries, romance, and young adult genres don’t have to develop their worlds as much, so they tend to be shorter.

Nonfiction

  • How-to: 40,000-50,000
  • Memoir: 80,000-100,000
  • Biography: 80,000-200,000
  • General nonfiction: 70,000-80,000

A how-to book will be shorter because most books in that genre will focus on one topic, such as gardening or home repair. And a memoir focuses on the writer’s life, while the biography includes the subject’s life and how it affected others, so it has more material to cover.

Word Count Versus Page Count

Many writers used to focus on page count more than word count. This is especially true for those who started writing with typewriters. Writers who write in longhand or edit on a hard copy also like to think about page count.

However, the book industry thinks in terms of word count. 

Some writers find it challenging to picture what an 80,000-word manuscript looks like, so they use guidelines. The most common guideline is 500 words for a single-spaced manuscript and 250 words for a double-spaced one. According to this calculation, an 80,000-word manuscript should be 320 pages long.  

But not so fast. What font are you using? And does that make a difference? 

According to Word Counter, fonts do. For example, an 80,000 historical fiction novel will be nearly 300 double-spaced pages with 12-point Arial. Interestingly, the same novel typed in Times New Roman will be 330 typed pages.

If your novel reaches 100,000 words, you’ll need to type 365 pages using 12-point Arial, or 412 with Times New Roman.

A 70,000-word mystery is 255 pages, a 50,000 young adult book is 182 pages, and a subgenre romance (any of the speculative romances, such as paranormal, or young adult) of 40,000 needs a minimum of 146 pages.

Ultimately, it is up to you how you will count the length of your manuscript. 

Whether you decide to count pages or words, the next step is the same, which calculating how much you will need to write each day.

Determine How Much You Can Write in a Day

Now that you have an idea of how many words or pages you need to write, the next step is to determine how much to write in a day. Often people want to know how many hours writers work in a day, but word count is a better goal-setting method for a first novel.

Writers with several novels under their belt create a routine that works for them. Often they work with several projects going on, which might include writing the first draft of one book, working on short stories, and revising other writings.

Most writers set a daily word count goal, especially when writing a novel.  

  • Ernest Hemingway’s goal was 500 words. However, he was constantly revising, which slowed down how much he could write in a day. 
  • Mark Twain averaged 1,400 words in a four or five-hour sitting.
  • Neil Gaiman shoots for 1,500 words per day.
  • Stephen King admitted in his memoir that his goal is 2,000 daily words.
  • Anne Rice is the grand champ in this list, as she aims for 3,000 words.

Interestingly, many writers claim they spend 4 to 6 hours a day writing. 

The rest of their time is devoted to the other aspects of writing, such as corresponding with other writers and editors, writing and critiquing other writers, and other related activities.

The next step is for you to set a daily word count goal. Let’s say you plan to write 1,000 words a day. It should take you 80 writing days to write the first draft. Will your novel be ready to publish after that time? Probably not. 

It will undoubtedly need to be revised, and you might even set it aside for a couple of weeks. That way, when you get ready to revise, you will read it with fresh eyes.

You will be in good company if you write 1,000 words a day. Stephen King claims he takes about two months to write the first draft of a novel, and Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises in three months.

Support for Writing the First Draft

You can find support for writing the first draft by searching for online writing communities, finding accountability partners, or participating in the National Novel Writing Month sponsored by the organization NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo has two purposes. 

  • They are known for sponsoring Writing Month in November. Hundreds of thousands of people start their November determined to write the first 50,000 of a novel by the end of the month.
  • They also provide online forums and host community writing groups. You can also join or create a writing group. And with its goal-setting features, you have an online accountability partner.

Other support groups include:

They work on a pay-it-forward principle. Therefore, to receive feedback, you must give some to other writers.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, you determine how long it takes to write a novel based on the genre, the word count requirement, and setting a daily word count. Calculating how long it will take is important, but starting is essential. So what are you waiting for?

Categories: Fiction

Oliver Adams

Letter Review was founded by Oliver Adams, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the University of New South Wales. Oliver Adams has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. He has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced professional work at major theatrical venues such as the Sydney Opera House.