How long does it take to write a novel?

One of the first questions people ask when they find out I write sci-fi novels is “How long did it take?”  For my first novel, it was almost four years from the time I first wrote down the premise to when I published it.  My novella took much less, of course, and I expect my sequel novel to be completed in less than a year. Read on if you want to see what took all that time.

For Star Riders, I had thought for a long time about writing a novel about highly-advanced aliens providing an opportunity for races like ours to hitch rides to the stars. But it wasn’t until July 2014 that I decided to do something about it and enrolled in a local class on novel writing, in which I developed a premise and some characters.  I wrote a few chapters, but didn’t get much further and wandered off for a while. A long while.

About two years later, in July of 2016, I got back to it, and bought Scrivener, a fantastic writing tool (I keep saying I’m going to do a blog post on it, but haven’t yet), and installed it on my Mac.  I wrote sporadically for the rest of that year, but got serious about it in January of 2017.  At that point, I had about 14,000 words (not including what I’d written in 2014, which I abandoned to start over).  I started keeping track in a daily log, and finally completed the first draft ten months later.

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 3.37.58 PMAs you can see from the progress chart, I had several periods where I slacked off and made little progress, particularly about 75% through.  I mostly wrote in the morning, getting up early to write for an hour or so before going to work. Ten months later, in October 2017, the first draft was done!

I took a month off, and did the first rewrite in December and January, 2018. then sent it off to a small group of volunteer Beta readers for a month. Then I spent a month incorporating changes due to their feed back, and sent it off to a professional editor who worked on it in May 2018.  The rewrite took another month, then it was off to a proofreader for two weeks, and finally it was ready to publish on Amazon at the end of June 2018.

Here’s a summary:

  • First draft: 10 months
  • Rewrite: 2 months
  • Beta Review: 1 month
  • Rewrite: 1 month
  • Editor: 1 month
  • Rewrite: 1 month
  • Proofread: 2 weeks
  • Formatting: 1 week

All told, that was 17 months.

So how about the sequel, The Rogue of Sevado?  Well, I just finished the first draft, after 5 months, so that’s cut the time in half from the first book.  I was definitely more disciplined this time, and NaNoWriMo gave me a good boost (half the total words in one month).

Screen Shot 2020-02-21 at 3.58.19 PM

You can see the steep upward slope in the middle, where I was keeping up with a 1,667 word/day pace for NaNoWriMo.  Interestingly, there’s a period after that where progress slowed considerably, much like the 75% point with Star Riders.

Looking forward, I’m planning on doing the Beta Review and the editor in parallel, to save more time.  Here’s the plan:

  • First Draft: 5 months (done)
  • Rewrite: 2 months
  • Editor and Beta Review: 1 month
  • Final Rewrite: 1 month
  • Proofread: 2 weeks
  • Formatting: 1 week

So that’s a total of 10 months, which should see the book published in July of this year.

OK, so if I’m going to get there, I should stop here and get back to writing!


Author: RickAAllenSF

Semi-retired engineer, now a SF author. Recently moved to Colorado Springs, where I work in front of a window looking out at Pikes Peak.

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