I’m still not sure how I pulled it off, but I managed to finish the first draft of my sixth book (80,000 words) in two weeks. That efficiency didn’t last very long, because my next book was only about 65,000 words but it took me almost 14 months to finish the first draft. Needless to say, there are many factors at play when calculating how long it takes to write a middle grade novel.
The length of time it takes to write a novel varies by author, however a publisher typically gives an author one year to complete each novel in a middle grade book series. A first draft can be written in about 12 weeks, however if you include editing time most books will be finished in eight months.
The purpose of this article is to help you create a project plan that will allow you to set a deadline for your book and meet it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a full-time writer or if you have a full-time job. You can write at least one middle grade novel in less than a year.
The Formula to Determine How Many Hours It Takes to Write a Novel
Determining how long it takes to write a middle grade novel is a fairly simple equation:
Hours Per Day x Average Words Per Hour x Days = Total Word Count
Sure, some days you’ll write more words per hour than others. There’ll be days you’re sick and you can’t write a thing. Other days you’ll be in a groove and you won’t want to quit. We’re not looking for precision when it comes to projections, we just want to capture the average so we know how long it will take you to write the manuscript.
How Long it Takes to Write a Novel if You Have a Day Job
You don’t have to quit your job to be a successful writer. In fact, you might find that a steady paycheck makes reduces stress, which makes write a whole lot easier.
For this exercise, let’s assume you want to write a 90,000-word book. You have a salaried job where you work 8:30 am until 5:30 pm Monday through Friday, with a 45-minute commute each way. In fact, that was the exact scenario for my first three books (and I even had time to go on book tours).
To complete your manuscript in 12 weeks, you need to write 7,500 words per week. The hours required to hit that goal each week will depend on your efficiency (the speed you can type). Let’s look at a range to help you see why writing fast is important:
- 250 words per hour = 30 hours per week or 360 total hours
- 500 words per hour = 15 hours per week or 180 total hours
- 750 words per hour = 10 hours per week or 120 total hours
- 1000 words per hour = 7.5 hours per week or 90 total hours
As you can see, increasing the amount of words you can write per hour makes a big difference.
If you only hit 250 words per hour, you’re looking at working close to full time on top of your current full-time job. 70-hour work weeks are terribly sustainable—especially if you have a family or any other interests.
500 hours is a nice solid pace. You’d have to write 15 hours each week to hit your goal and that’s doable. Here’s an example:
- Lunch breaks at work (Mon-Fri): 5 hours
- Replace one hour of screen each week night: 5 hours
- Saturday morning writing session (9am-Noon): 3 hours
- Sunday afternoon writing session (3pm-5pm): 2 hours
- Wake up one hour earlier (Mon-Fri): 5 hours
- Tuesday and Thursday night writing sessions (8pm-11pm): 6 hours
- Saturday afternoon writing session (1pm-5pm): 4 hours
The combinations are endless, but you get the point. If you look hard enough, you can find time for the things that matter most in your life. And when it’s over, you’re going to feel like you can conquer the world!
How Long it Takes to Write a Novel if You Write Full-Time
If you’re blessed with the ability to write full-time, you can accelerate the 12-week timeframe that it typically takes to write the first draft of a 90,000-word manuscript.
This might sound strange, but I vowed to never write for more than three hours a day and I can still write a quality 90,000-word first draft in less than 2 months.
When I first started writing full-time, the expectation I had for myself was that I need to write 8 hours each day and produce no less than 4,000 quality words.
I doubt I hit that goal more than a dozen times over five years. That expectation created an immense amount of pressure and the more I missed my daily goal, the more I felt like a failure.
That eventually led to self-doubt, and self-doubt led to writer’s block.
Before long I was working 12-hour days trying to make up for lost time. But I was lucky if I had 250 quality words by the end of each day.
Not per hour, mind you. I’m talking about 250 words in an entire day. That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 words per hour.
It was torture.
Instead of torturing myself, I decided to give myself permission to write for three hours each day without feeling like a failure.
My output exploded almost immediately. Instead of 20 words per hour, I hit 250 words per hour the very first day.
The following week I reached 500 words per hour, and within a month I was regularly hitting between 750-1000 words per hour. Once in a while I even jumped to 1,200 words per hour.
I will typically hit 2,500 words in a three-hour writing session, and that’s plenty for me. That puts my output at 12,500 words per week, or a little over 7 weeks to hit 90,000 quality words.
So, thanks to limiting the time I spend in front of a computer, I can finish a 90,000-word manuscript in a little over 100 hours stretched out over a couple months.
Here’s a chart that shows you how many days it will take you to write a 90,000-word manuscript based on your word count during a three-hour daily writing session:
- 250 words per hour = 750 words per day = 120 days or 24 weeks
- 500 words per hour = 1,500 words per day = 60 days or 12 weeks
- 750 words per hour = 2,250 words per day = 40 days or 8 weeks
- 1000 words per hour = 3,000 words per day = 30 days or 6 weeks
Improving your writing speed from 500 words per hour to 750 words per hour is a reasonable goal. It will also save you a month. And you can do it!
How to Write Faster
Your writing speed is based on two factors: how fast you can physically type; and how much you focus on the quality of your sentence structure instead of the emotion in your story.
You can increase your typing speed through simple exercises. I wrote about them in an article titled 19 Proven Tips to Help You Write Faster Today.
Freeing your mind from focusing on the fruitless search for perfect sentence structure instead of the quality of your story is a bit more difficult to overcome. It can be done, though.
The key is shifting from your conscious mind where your critical voice lives to your subconscious mind where you’re free from criticism.
If you struggle with writing slow due to your critical inner voice, I wrote an article called 31 Proven Strategies to Overcome Writer’s Block that outlines the techniques I’ve used to avoid writer’s block and increase my word count.
Why a Project Plan with Real Deadlines Helps You Write Faster
The best way I know to write faster is to create a project plan with a deadline, milestones that are attached to actual dates, and a little peer pressure.
Deadlines are critical because they give you something to measure your progress against. In fact, I tend to do my best work when I’m on a tight deadline.
I stop procrastinating and the voice of doubt in my head fades away. Time limits help me focus on the task at hand.
Don’t push your luck, though. If you wait to start your manuscript until two weeks before it’s due, things can and will go wrong. And if you do miss a deadline with a publisher, they have the right to cancel your contract.
Create your own deadline weeks (and preferably months) before your book is actually due. That way you have time to perfect your story. As a bonus, you can also produce more projects, which leads to additional revenue.
Remember, the more money you make from your books, the more time you can spend writing instead of working in a job you hate.
Step 1: Set a Hard Deadline
The first step when it comes to creating a project plan for a middle grade book is to give yourself a hard deadline.
Look, I get it. Unless your deadline is contractual, it’s going to be difficult to trick your brain into honoring it. That means your job is to create a scenario that makes your deadline real.
Here are ways I’ve added gravity to my deadlines:
- Ask a select group to review your manuscript and tell them the date they can expect to receive it
- Agree to a project that will demand your time starting the day after your deadline
- Give yourself a significant reward if you hit your
- Extended vacation (if that means just binging everything you’ve ignored on Netflix)
- Purchase something that you’ve been wanting for a long time
- Celebratory dinner at a restaurant you wouldn’t normally go to
- Taking time to work on a personal project
- Serving with an organization like Habitat for Humanity for a couple weeks
- Pitch another book that is due to a publisher the same year
- Come up with an idea for a self-published book that you’ll work on when your current project is finished and then post on social media that you’ll be releasing it on a specific date
Step 2: Create Milestones with Due Dates
Now that you have a defined delivery date, it’s time to create the milestones that you’ll need to track your progress.
It’s important to note that each one of these milestones will have its own delivery date. If you miss deadlines on early milestones, you’re going to have to find a way to make up time on the backend of the project.
These milestones will help keep you accountable to your final delivery date. Those micro deadlines will help drive a healthy anxiety.
Even if they’re arbitrary (and let’s face it, they kind of are)—and even if you’re the only one who knows what the deadline for any of the milestones is, you won’t want to disappoint yourself.
The good news is that you’ll get that same rush of dopamine for hitting the deadline for a milestone that you will for completing the entire project.
Usually that’s enough of a reward for me, but if you need to build in some micro rewards along the way, go for it!
How to Select Milestones
A milestone is a just a specific point in time within the lifecycle of a project. You use them to measure the progress of your project against the overall deadline.
I’ve found the best way to create milestones is to start at the delivery date and then work backwards so you understand all of your dependencies. Here are the 14 milestones that I typically outline for one of my manuscripts.
14) Submit final manuscript to editor
13) Submit revised draft to editor for line edits and story consistency
12) Submit revised draft to editor for final story review
11) Submit revised draft to editor for second story review
10) Submit revised draft to editor for story review
9) Submit revised draft to agent
8) Write first draft
7) Write synopsis
6) Create outline
5) Create rough sketch of the plot
4) Develop characters
3) Conduct necessary research
2) Create project plan
1) Assign deadline
Why You Need to Assign Dates
However, outlining milestones isn’t enough. For any project plan to work, you need to assign a date to each milestone. Those dates will help keep you accountable so you can hit your overall deadline.
Earlier in this article I claimed that you could write the first draft of a 90,000-word book in 12 weeks, even with a full-time job.
Let’s use that timeline and set our delivery date at December 31 (but the book isn’t contractually due until April 1).
14) Dec 31: Submit final manuscript to editor
13) Nov 24: Submit revised draft to editor for line edits and story consistency
12) Oct 27: Submit revised draft to editor for final story review
11) Sep 29: Submit revised draft to editor for second story review
10) Aug 4: Submit revised draft to editor for story review
9) Jul 14: Submit revised draft to agent
8) Apr 28: Write first draft
7) Apr 21: Write synopsis
6) Apr 14: Create outline
5) Apr 14: Create rough sketch of the plot
4) Apr 7: Develop characters
3) Apr 1: Conduct necessary research
2) Apr 1: Create project plan
1) Apr 1: Assign deadline
Even though I’m able to write my first draft in 12 weeks, the entire process to write a book will take about eight months.
So how did I come up with these dates?
I calculated the time I need to either research, write, or implement edits, along with the time my agent and editor needs to review the manuscript at each stage.
For instance, on July 14 I deliver a draft of the manuscript to my agent. I allotted two weeks for her to review, which means that I’ll get it back on July 28.
I’ve given myself a week to implement those changes and then I get it to my editor on August 4.
Then my editor has four weeks to review the manuscript before she gives me her edits on September 1.
This will be the stage where I get the most requests for changes, so I’ve given myself another four weeks to make the edits.
There are stretches where I have anywhere from 1-4 weeks where all I’m doing is waiting for feedback, but instead of playing video games or watching YouTube videos, I use that time to work on other projects.
When I have two book projects at the same time, I’ll work on my other manuscript. But if I don’t have an official project I’ll start working on a new pitch. Either way, I try to make the best use of that time.
Step 3: Manufacture Peer Pressure
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a justification every time you miss the deadline for a milestone. You’ll have a plumbing emergency or a sick kid, or you just had to watch all five seasons of Breaking Bad for the sixth time.
It’s a lot harder to explain why you missed your deadline to someone else.
What is the Word Count for a Middle Grade Novel? There is no standard measurement for how long a middle grade novel should be. However, could consider the following as a rule of thumb:
- Upper Middle Grade: 60,000-90,000 words
- General Middle Grade: 45,000-60,000 words
- Lower Middle Grade: 20,000-45,000 words
How long does it take to write a chapter? The equation to determine the length of time it takes to write a chapter is based on the number of words in your chapter divided by the number of words that you can write per hour. If a chapter is 2,000 words and you can write 500 words per hour, it will take you four hours to write the chapter.