Should I Write a Book? 7 Questions to Ask Before You Start

By Colin Sharpe

July 10, 2020


Hello to all, and welcome to “Should I Write a Book” Part 1 of An Exceptionally Silly Guide to Writing from Someone Who Hasn’t Quite Even Made It Yet (Working Title)

Today we’re focusing on the very first part of the book writing process — should you even write a book?

In this article, we’ll go over 7 important questions to ask (as well as some answers), to see if it’s really time to start writing a book! Remember, there are dozens of things to do with your time and countless worthwhile artistic pursuits, and writing a book is hard work!

So if you’re gonna write a book (which I’ve found to be the most fulfilling challenge of my life), you should definitely undertake that journey with confidence, good information, and a road map!

So without further ado, let’s go!

You can listen to the audio version of this article on our podcast, or you can watch the video version below. 

Should I Write a Book? 7 Questions to Ask Before You Start

  1. How Long is a Novel/ How Long is a Book?
  2. How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?
  3. Reasons to Write a Book
  4. Why do I Want to Write a Book?
  5. Is There a Better Platform?
  6. Is There Another Activity I’d Prefer?
  7. Should I Write a Book?

1) How Long is a Novel/ How Long is a Book?

A good question to get started! Bodies of writing start in length with the very old-school sketch stories (now sometimes called short-short stories) and short stories. From there, they can range up through the novella (a sort of in-betweeny-lengthed thing), to the novel, and finally to epics and series. And then there’s that one Super Smash Bros fanfiction. 

For a general reference:

  • Sketch stories/short-short stories are Sub-1000 words (to read in a glance)
  • Short Stories are 1,000 to 10,000 words (to read in a sitting or a day)
  • Novellas are 14,000 to 40,000 words (to read in a few days)
  • Books start around 40,000 and can range up to almost 300,000 depending on the genre (to read in a few weeks). The book gods constantly change this number though.
  • Epics and Series can feature many, many books, so they get much longer, and can occupy you for months or years
  • And Subspace Emissary Worlds Conquest, that Smash Bros fanfiction, comes in at a whopping 4,102,217 words. To be read in a lifetime, I guess.

Now, if you’re a super-reader who just thought “books should be read in weeks? I read them in a sitting!” then congratulations! You are the far end of the bell curve. Here is a picture of a silly goat. 

He thinks you’re the G.O.A.T.

For everyone else, no worries. Books are not a race. 

Now, this guide focuses mostly on writing books, so we’ll break these lengths down by genre using some help from our friends over at Reedsy. 

Average Book Lengths by Genre

  • General Fiction — 80,000 to 110,000
  • Fantasy Novel — 100,000 to 115,000
  • Romance Novel — 80,000 to 100,000, although this can vary wildly by subgenre
  • Middle Grade (Younger than Young Adult) — 25,000 to 50,000
  • Young Adult — 55,000 to 70,000
  • Mystery — 75,000 to 100,000
  • Thriller — 90,000 to 100,000
  • Memoir — 80,000 to 90,000
  • Western — 45,000 to 70,000
  • Nonfiction — 40,000 to 75,000

These references are guidelines and should give you an idea of what other books in the genre are clocking in at. Now, that isn’t to say that you have to obey these as law. When the art is good, the art is good, and in my opinion, you should always focus on making the story as good as possible.

But if you’re looking to get published, these numbers can at least help you figure out if you need to add an explanation in your query letter. And also hey, sometimes less is more.

2) How Long Does It Take to Write a Book?

The time it takes to write a book can vary wildly, especially once you factor in potential revisions, but here’s a good equation to ballpark a first manuscript.

Time in Weeks = Ideation Time + (Word Count * Revision Rate) / (Words/Min * Mins/Week)

Ideation Time is all of the time it takes you to plan, brainstorm, and write a good outline. 

Word Count is the number of words in your book

Revision Rate is how often you’ll revise. If you’ve got a very clear set of ideas, a great outline, and a ton of good content laid out, I find this usually hovers around 2. If you’re less clear on what you want to write, this can get much higher.

Words/min is how many usable words you can write, not your typing speed. I usually find that with a great outline and some good ideas, I still hover around 10 usable words per minute, because you’re not gonna nail your sentences perfectly the first time, or even the second time.

Pro Tip: Putting in some extra ideation time can really help cut your revision rate AND your words/min. I never write without a clear plan, which I’ll explain in a future article.

Mins/Week is how many minutes a week you can commit to writing. I write for my job, so I can tend to average 20 hours a week, or 1200 minutes per week. If you’re writing in the afternoons and evenings, that can change a whole lot. A good target I shot for when I was working full time elsewhere was around 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week. That came out to about 150 minutes. 

So let’s see an example of how this equation comes into play with a personal example. 

My most recent book, A Slanted Reflection

Sample Calculation: Writing Volume 1

So remember, for this calculation we’ll need: 

Ideation Time

Word Count (Or Target Word Count)

Revision Rate

Words/min

Mins/week

Now for this Volume (being a part of a series), I already had plenty of ideation done, so organizing it all into an outline only took about 2 weeks of work in the background.

My word count for A Slanted Reflection: The Seventh Valkyrie Volume 1 was right around 83,000 words. 

Since this was planned as part of a series, and I had a good outline, my revision rate was about 2. What this meant was that for every chapter that I pretty much nailed on the first try, there were some that took 3 or 4 tries. 

My words per minute, since I had a pretty good outline and a good idea of what I was writing, was about 10 words/minute. 

During Volume 1 I tried to write about an hour every evening Sunday – Thursday. With a little writing during breaks, and some Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, I was able to average about 10 hours per week or 600 minutes per week

So the calculation followed that:

Total Time = 2 weeks + (83,000 * 2) / (10 words/ minute * 600 minutes/week)

Time = 2 weeks + (166,000 / 6000)

Time = 2 weeks +  ~28 weeks

Total Time = 30 weeks, or about 7 months

Which is actually very accurate to the time it took me to come up with a final manuscript that I was happy with. 

Now, these numbers may vary for you depending on your experience, ideas, writing speed, etc. Sometimes, the magic just comes over you, and you can write much, much faster. Sometimes, you get stuck, and that’s okay!

But I find that with consistent, disciplined writing, you can usually finish books within about 6 months to a year. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint!

And especially remember that if you put your arms back like Naruto you can run faster.

3) What’s the Point of Writing a Book?

Now, as you’re thinking of embarking on this journey, it’s worth getting clear on why people write books in the first place. 

As the matter stands, there are three overarching reasons to write a book: 

To Share Some Knowledge — Nonfiction books primarily fall into this category, which is written as a way to share information with others. Biographies, Nutrition Guides, Self Help, Advice Books, Histories… they all share knowledge

To Entertain and Engage —  Fiction books fall directly into this category. Whether they excite or entice, whether they immerse you in a world or invent a narrative within this one, whether they’re written for 8-year-olds or 80 years olds, the primary purpose here is to entertain and engage you. 

Note: There is definitely an overlap between the categories. There’s historical fiction. There’s gripping, thrilling nonfiction. But I find that in the broad sense, these categorizations hold true.

To Change the World — I separate this purpose out because both fiction and nonfiction books can change the world. Whether it’s a bombshell biography or investigative piece designed to expose some grand truth, a cutting satire like Animal Farm or 1984, forward-thinking SF designed to challenge our conceptions of society, racially charged documentary writing designed to immerse us in a different culture, or one of many other forms of literature, books have an intimate and powerful ability to open our minds and change our perspectives.

4) Why am I writing a book? 

Now that you know what a book can accomplish, it’s time to face yourself, and ask, as honestly as you can: “Why am I writing a book?”

Is it to make money? 

This is a perfectly valid reason, especially if you have some knowledge or expertise accumulated over years of hard work and well-lived life, or a killer fiction story just waiting to explode into the next sensation. 

It’s definitely worth noting that the percentage of writers who make a full-time living off of books is very small. If you’re in it strictly for the dollars, there are probably other career paths that would be a better investment. 

Is it to help people? 

My very, very good friend Cyrus (the Real One) started his company Mastering Diabetes to help other people with diabetes, and when the time came he put out a New York Times Bestseller to wrap up all of his knowledge into an easy-to-digest format. 

And in the long run, he’s helped thousands of people with diabetes change their lives. Remember, books have the ability to change the world.

Is it for the fun and enjoyment of the craft? 

When it comes down to it, this is probably the most sustainable reason to write a book, because it relies on no one else. And no matter what other reasons you write, I hope you enjoy it. 

Watching your writing get better over time is awesome. Having a big project to sink your teeth into can be downright meditative, and I know for me it’s been an anchor and a direction and a source of inspiration through 6 different jobs, and 12 different countries.

Sometimes, I just come alive when writing. And even if no one else reads it, that makes writing worth it.

Or is it because, well, you just feel you have to? 

For some writers, there is a voice, a force, and it just pushes you to write. Sometimes it’s quiet. Sometimes it’s loud. It gets stronger the more you write, except for when it doesn’t. It’s finicky. It’s magical and it’s incredibly frustrating. 

I don’t count on that force, because it comes and goes. And don’t worry if you don’t feel it now. Books can be art as much as they can be craft. 

But I promise you — if you do start writing, and you actually care about what you’re writing about (for any of the above reasons), that voice can be a bucking bronco that’s always a hell of a ride.

5) Is Writing the Right Platform for My Story?

Another very valid question! If you’ve made it this far unintimidated by the potential work, and you’re driven by purpose, you’re onto what I call the two “derailer questions”. You’ve got the train built, you’re ready to head off on your journey… but would it be better to take a plane? What about a kayak? Or a pair of classic rollerblades. 

Maybe your story is best told as a book. Or maybe it’s best told on a different platform. 

Maybe it’s best served as an OUYA exclusive game. You remember the OUYA, don’t you?

Benefits of Books as a Medium

There are two major benefits of using books as a medium. The first is its availability and ubiquity. Almost anyone can start writing for little to no investment, with nothing but a pen, word processor, and imagination, and almost anyone anywhere can access books through the internet. That makes them incredibly powerful, especially for an independent creator. 

The second benefit of books is the power of words, both through imagination and information compression. I can say ‘pink elephant’, and I take advantage of your brain’s imagination to generate a pink elephant. Much easier than drawing one, rendering one, or painting an elephant pink. Where in the world would I get an elephant anyway?

In essence, words are one of the most powerful ways to transfer ideas. 

Drawbacks of Books as a Medium

There are also two major drawbacks of books as a medium. The first is that we live in a world filled with text. Emails, WhatsApp Messages, Comments, etc. etc. As more people work digitally, they deal with a great deal of text in their daily lives, so people can face a real problem of text saturation. 

The second is that, for all its power, text doesn’t grab the attention as much as visual mediums like art and movies, and it doesn’t invite interactivity like video games. As a result, it takes just a touch more effort to hook in your audience. 

All important things to be aware of when you choose a book as your preferred medium. In my opinion, as a solo creator, you absolutely get the most bang for your buck with writing. But then again, I am an author!

6) Is There Something Else I’d Prefer to Do With That Time? 

Here’s the second “derailer” question, and it’s one that I always consciously ask myself each time I start a project. 

There are tons of other artistic pursuits to spend time on. There’s the joy of free time to consider. Maybe you want to go to the gym. Besides, one of the worst things in the world is when you start to hate working on your project, or it becomes a source of stress or shame. 

There’s no shame in saying ‘yes’ here! No one really knows the ‘correct’ answer to this one. There really isn’t a correct answer.

But saying ‘no’, and in turn, saying ‘yes’ to this grand adventure can be powerful! It’s a commitment, and it gives you clarity. 

I also ask this question during the book writing process, and sometimes yes really is the answer, and I take a break. Sometimes I go on vacation. Because to me, the moment these books lose their magic, the moment they’re not worth it for me. 

So don’t be afraid to ask this at any point.

7) So, Should I Write a Book?

If you’ve just read through this because you’re already committed and just skimming to see if there’s any worthwhile content, here’s a video of a dog doing parkour.

If, at the end of this, you’re thinking “Nah, no way”, that’s fine! Maybe now’s not the right time. Maybe your interests are elsewhere. 

If you’re still just dipping your toe in the water, one great way to test out longer writing projects is to just write a short story. The Seventh Valkyrie series actually came from a short story, and it just exploded! Remember, not every worthwhile piece of writing has to be a book. 

And if you’re on the fence, take a walk, go outside, watch a good movie. If you’re still not clear, my favorite method is to flip a coin. Because when it’s in the air, you’ll know which one you’re hoping for. 

If you’ve confidently navigated these questions, and you’re ready to take the next step with me, then AWESOME!

Jamie O’Brien Surfing Teahupo’o on fire is awesome. But not as awesome as you

Let’s Get Started Then!

I’ll see you guys next week where we talk the first step: Finding Things to Write About.

Final Notes

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Love y’all, and until next time!

Colin Sharpe

About the author

Hey y'all, my name is Colin, and I'm the writer and creator of the Seventh Valkyrie Series. Born in raised in New Orleans, currently on a tour of the world writing wherever I go, and turning it all into stories. Hope y'all like reading them as much as I enjoy writing them!

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