Setting A Realistic Timeline for Writing your Book

Having an honest plan

Writing a book is a daunting task. Especially when you start to ask yourself, how long does it take to write a book, really?

If you’ve never written a book before, it can be daunting to try estimate how long it will be before you have a draft to share. A simple google will tell you between six to twelve months. But of course, you’ve heard of people doing it faster. You may have heard of people who spend ten years at it before they have something to show.

But how long is it going to take you to write your book?

Part of the problem is that if you’ve never done it before, you don’t really know. Not knowing can make it difficult to judge your own progress. Making a plan for scheduling a reasonable timeline for writing a book is an important step to up your motivation.

You may hope that if you just get going—get a chapter here and there typed up—then you can get some momentum. However, over time that aimless progress can feel so slow and that can become very discouraging, especially if you don’t have a plan. Your plan also needs to be an honest one that takes into account your busy life, the enormity of the task you’re taking on, and the incremental nature of creative work.

Today we will look at how having a plan for how you’re going make continual, steady progress in writing your book can avoid emotional obstacles that can derail your progress and some tools that can help you make a sustainable progress schedule.

Not knowing how long it will take can be a stumbling block that can impede your steady progress and open you up to self-doubt and unrealistic expectations. Writing your first book is full of unknowns. Who needs one more??

That’s why we created the Writing Plan Calculator. This simple, interactive guide will walk you through the decisions you need to make to figure out how long this process is going to take. Once you’ve made those decisions, just plug them in, and you’ll learn how long your memoir will take, PLUS how much you need to accomplish each and every week to stay on track.

Click here to get a realistic timeline and create your full memoir writing plan now!

The Twin Deceivers: How Self-Doubt and Magical Thinking will keep you from writing a book

When you’ve already spent a few months trying to write a book, self-doubt can start to seep in. You may have hoped that just getting started, whether it be journaling or writing a few disconnected scenes or chapters, would get you going and eventually it would come together as a book. When time passes and that doesn’t happen, those nagging questions can crop up in the back of your mind. Do I even know what I am doing? Can I even write a book? Why is this taking so long? In a previous post, we’ve talked about strategies for overcoming this self-doubt.

There is also a flip side to self-doubt. You can come back to your project, determined to defeat those unfair, nagging self-doubts and start setting yourself goals that you can’t possibly meet. Often this comes along with an “if.” If I can just get the outline done, I can knock this out in a couple months. Or If I can just lock myself in a room for a few days, I can get a rough draft on the page, then edit it into something good.

Both self-doubt and magical thinking are deceptive ways of thinking.

Yes, you can do it.

No, you can’t do it in two weeks. Not even if all the laundry and dishes are done.

The blessings and drawbacks of writing retreats

Writing retreats can be a wonderful tool for a writer, especially if you’ve done the proper planning going into it. However, it can also be a trap of inflated expectations. If you have your outline done and your research in hand, it can feel like all you need is a few days in a distraction-free zone for writing a book. Just you, your brain, the blank page and time. It can feel so exciting to look forward to that four days or week and imagine yourself just knocking it out and coming home with half the book done, or even most of it. At least a rough draft.

I have done many writing retreats, alone and with others. I have never known anyone to knock out a whole book, or even half of one, on a writing retreat.

If you’ve never done a writing retreat, let me tell you honestly how this will play out. The first day, you can knock out a lot. You set out all your notes and you have all the energy that has been building up in anticipation of this glorious time to yourself to just get it done, at last. That first day, you can get 20-25 pages. It feels great. The second day, you wake up with a little less energy than the day before. It’s harder, and you may only get 10-15 pages that second day. The third is even fewer.

When you wake up on that second day, you do not feel that excited energy and enthusiasm, because you are tired. Writing a book is a lot of work! Our brains really are not made to just produce constant words for 8, 10, 12 hours, and then sleep for a little bit, and then do it again. Even though we’re knocking it out to start, writing is creative. We are calling on our brains to do something that is very challenging. That is not something that we are doing constantly in our day-to-day life. Your brain is going to get really tired. It’s going to need to rest.

That is not to say that writing retreats aren’t amazing times for writers and a great idea to make some headway on your project. However, you should manage your expectations. The problem is that you can build up this magical thinking in your head that you’ll leave this retreat with 70-80 pages, and when the actual results are less than that, the disappointment can lead to frustration and self-doubt. This can hurt your overall progress.

If you can take the time for a writing retreat, by all means, go for it! But don’t ask yourself for the moon. Expect to come home with a healthy chunk of writing, and have a plan in place for how you will use this as momentum to keep up a sustaining writing practice once you’re back to your real life.

Writing a book takes muscle

The reason why you can’t sustain that first-day writing pace is because the brain is similar to a muscle. You wouldn’t expect an exercise expert to be able to lock himself in a room for three days with lots of protein and come out a body builder, of course not. So why are you asking the same of yourself, writer?

When we exercise a muscle, it is through a series of contractions and release. Squeeze to raise the bar up, release to let the bar down. In some ways, writing is the same way, we think and then let it out on the page. With lifting weights, there’s a limit to how long you keep up the reps of squeeze and release. You push past that limit, you’ll hurt yourself and that muscle won’t work for you anymore. Now, it not only has to rest but to heal.

When you do the same thing with writing, working that brain-muscle until it breaks, we call it burnout. If you ask too much of yourself, become mentally and emotionally exhausted, you might find yourself never wanting to even look at the project again. And that is how a lot of really promising, worthy projects end up languishing in a computer file somewhere, unfinished.

Don’t let that happen to yours.

Be reasonable and do the math. Then do it again.

The tool discussed and linked in the video above will help you plan out a reasonable and sustainable work schedule for completing your project. Our goal with this tool is to take what we can commit to doing of a week and make a reasonable estimate of how many weeks it’s going to take to get that first draft completed. The aim of this tool is to give you a mindset of reasonable progress so that you can gain a sense of control of your project.

Choosing the number of hours per week

Don’t let magical thinking whisper to you about putting in 10-15 hours a week. You may be able to do that once, at a retreat or when you’re first getting started. But most can’t sustain that kind of pace on top of other life obligations. We’ve established already that this isn’t going to be a sprint, so be honest. Try to find windows that you can really protect from all the other things that are swirling around in your life.

Many people on the internet throw out the advice of writing every single day. I’ve seen some brazen people make the claim that you’re not even really a writer unless you write every day. Nonsense! Expecting to write every day—for most of us including myself—is asking ourselves for something we can’t deliver. Maybe an hour every day can work for some people, but trust me, plenty of books get written at a pace of 3-5 hours a week, 2-4 sessions per week. Try to get in tune with what you can really, truly promise yourself. What you put in might be a bit of a guess at first, and that’s okay.

How many pages can you do an hour?

You might already have a pretty good idea about this, you might not. It might not feel very consistent what you can do in an hour because you haven’t yet established a consistent writing habit to know what your average pace is. To start you off, we started with a range of 1-4. More than that is an unlikely pace to maintain. If you really don’t know, I recommend starting with 1 or 2. In fact, be a bit stingy with this. You can always adjust it later, and it will feel much better to realize you can do more than you estimated than less.

Planning Honestly Means Planning Breaks, Too

Once again, this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Scratch that, it’s a job. If you were to look down the next six months to a year of working a job with no breaks, you’d feel burned out before you even began. Breaks can also serve as useful buffers. Things happen, plans change. If you’ve made your plan with sufficient off and buffer time, getting behind won’t be the end of the world.

Keeping the promise to yourself

Now, you’ve made the schedule. It’s a promise you’ve made to yourself, so do your best to keep it.

Evaluating your progress

Did you fall behind? That’s okay, it happens. It’s a good time to do some honest reflection as to why. Did something happen to derail the plan, or was the plan unrealistic? Don’t beat yourself up, either way, just make the necessary adjustments and keep going.

After about a month to six weeks, take a look at how you’ve done. Are you on track? Awesome! Keep it up. Did you work even faster than you thought! Sweet! You can choose whether you want to adjust your plan or just take the win and let it give you some wiggle room for possible obstacles down the road.

Happy writing!

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