How long is a piece of writing?

How long should a book be? 

As long as it takes to tell the story, probably.

If one person writes a book of, say, 100 000 words, the completion date of the book is determined by how fast they write. If you want to get it quicker, you either have to cut down the number of words, or reduce the quality, ie churn out a manuscript with very little copy editing. In practice, neither of these options are favourable as writers rarely want to lose any of their story and no one wants to ready sloppy writing.

The only other option available is to take as long as it takes to write a book, making sure that all parts of the plot are included and that every word has been scrutinised to ensure the story is told to the writer’s high standards.

How does this affect me? 


I don’t have the luxury of an ever extending arbitrary deadline. My deadline is fixed. Absolutely. It is the fundamental reason behind the whole project.

I also don’t have the luxury of a team of writers and editors to help craft this book. I’m on my own – all output will be created by me alone.

The quality of the book is also a pretty major consideration for me. I reckon I could bang out a feature length first draft of ill thought out characters and nonsensical plot-lines in a month or so. Maybe less if I’m allowed spelling mistakes. I don’t want to do this though – I want something I can be proud of at the end of the project.

So what is left then? If all else is firmly fixed, the only thing I can change is the length of the book. Does this mean it’ll be a very short book at the end? It all depends on my production rate. If I write 100 words of absolute top quality prose every week then the length of the book will be 100 words x the number of weeks work. Hopefully I can write a bit quicker than that.

The other consideration is that I don’t want to write a book that suddenly ends because I ran out of time. I need a proper beginning, middle and end. This is forming part of my planning right now – I’m considering how to end the book before I’ve started. I’ll then look at how the story starts and then what can go in the middle.

The tricky bit

If the start can join directly to the end, then I have a book, albeit rather a short one. If I can “plug in” a block of middle between the start and end, I have a slightly longer book with more story line. If I have more time, I’ll work on another middle block of writing to add in, ensuring the start and end both remain logical to the extended story. I guess the easiest way to think about this is in chapters – write the first and last chapter so the story makes sense. Then add as many chapters in the middle that the plot and the time limit allow.

This is my very early thought around managing the scope of the book. If this has made any sense and you think it’s a good idea or if I can improve upon it, leave me a comment and we can discuss.


4 thoughts on “How long is a piece of writing?

  1. Pingback: How do you know when to stop? | the lost dabs project

  2. Not sure about writing it by chapter. I would maybe sketch an outline, identify a group of Essential scenes, and make sure to hit all of those — a bare-bones but relatively complete story. After you hit those targets, you can extend to just the Important scenes, a step down from the Essential but significant for the flavoring of the book. Then come the Useful or Fun or other Not-Necessary-But-Good-To-Have scenes, keeping in mind that once you add a new scene you go back to the old scenes (ahead and behind) to edit in any necessary link-ups to the new information. Then continue going down the scene priority until you hit the Trivial or, as I call them, Interstitial scenes, which don’t serve much purpose beside linking scenes or providing transitions or a bit more color to the tale.

    Never tried your kind of project, but this just seems a little more…whole than doing first chapter, last chapter, then cautiously filling in the middle. Like starting from a skeleton instead, then packing the meat and innards back onto it.

  3. Great thoughts expanding on my original idea. I wrote this a week ago and have been thinking quite a bit more about how to deliver this book. I don’t want anything half finished and a start/end with nothing in the middle would be almost useless. I also don’t want to hit my deadline with a v1.0 of the book and have to do an update in early 2014.

    My thoughts have come along a bit this week and I’ll hopefully be sharing this in the blog at the weekend – basically I’ve developed a structure to slice up the plot to enable delivering the most I can in the limited amount of time. In response to what you’ve said though, hitting the plot points is crucial and hopefully I can fit in as much extra as possible. I think my outline will show something similar to what you’ve said, and would love your opinion of it when it goes up.

  4. Pingback: Fixed deadline? Go flexible on the plot | the lost dabs project

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