June 20, 2023 4:55 pm


Have you been putting off writing your book because you think it will take too long? If you have, I imagine you think it takes years of hard work to finish the first draft and then years more to revise and polish it enough to publish.

Writing a book can take a long time, but it really doesn't need to. This post is about how long it takes to write your expert book - about 65 active hours! You can either keep reading here or download your copy of my 33-page booklet, How Long Does It Actually Take to Write a Book? below. This booklet brings together all of the blog posts I point you to in this post for further information about the process of getting your book out of your head and into your readers' hands!

Your expert book is the one about how you help your clients - so you don't need to do any research before you write it! You simply need to write about things you already know like these:

  • how you came to do the work you do and why;
  • who you help and why;
  • how you help your clients;
  • why you do things the way you do.

If you let writing about these things be easy, it will be - but only if you take it one step at a time.

Step 1: Let go of the myth of the natural writer

When we see other people doing things we wish we could do, we often tell ourselves they were just born with knowledge or abilities that we weren't. This way of thinking stops a lot of people from even trying to write their books - they think that because they weren't born knowing how to write that they can't learn.

Text reads: "Authors are made, not born"; image: drawing of a statue of Athena.

Authors are Made, not born.

The biggest problem with this way of thinking is that it simply isn't true. Writers aren't like Athena, who sprang fully grown from Zeus's forehead.

We mere humans don't come into this world as ready-formed adults - and you don't have to adhere to the philosophical concept of the the human mind being a tabula rasa (blank slate) at birth (this is often associated with the late-seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke) to understand that we aren't born knowing how to do lots of things we later learn: how to sit up, to speak, to hold a spoon and feed ourselves, ...

There's really no reason to treat writing - and specifically learning how to write your book - differently. After all, being able to write isn't genetically determined - like, eye colour or blood type. It's a skill and all skills can be learned. 

Richard Sennett talks about this in The Craftsman - whether it's writing, parenting, or glassblowing, we can learn skills or crafts. And in learning them, we learn about ourselves and the world around us. 

For this reason alone, it is well worth your trouble to learn how to write your book! In learning to write about your process, you'll come to understand yourself and your practise better than ever.

If you need help letting go of the myth of the natural writer, read a blog post I wrote called "You Can Be an Author: The myth of the natural writer" - this is also available in How Long Does It Actually Take to Write a Book?

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Step 2: Pre-work - 3+ hours

Before you start writing your book, you need to do some work on your mindset and your commitment to the process, and you need to make sure you understand the whole process.

Reading this post and downloading (and reading) How Long Does It Actually Take to Write a Book? will take care of the last item in that list. For the first two items, read on.


Doing some mindset work before you start writing your book will help you stay on track. All writers have off days when they just don't want to write. 

If a writer is going to get blocked, it's usually in the messy draft stage. Doing some pre-work on your mindset and creating some resources to help you through the tough days will keep a bad writing day from become a months long block.

In "Pre-Work: Before you start your book", I give you some questions to spend some time with - writing down, or otherwise recording, your answers will give you the tools you need to work through any writer's blocks you experience.

If you do better with workbooks and more detailed instructions, have a look at my Think Like an Author workbook and mini-course (£10).


As I said above, you'll only need about 65 active hours to write your book. What do I mean by "active hours"? 

I'm using the phrase in the same way you've likely seen it used in recipes - for example, baking bread may only take 30 active minutes, but the total time is 3 to 4 hours because the dough needs time to rise and prove and the bread needs time to bake.

For your book, you'll need 65 active hours (not all at once!), but you'll have at least 8 weeks of non-active time when your book is with your beta readers and editor. 

Before you start writing your book, you need to do some internal work to make sure you're going to commit to seeing it through. You can do this by reflecting (in writing or on video) on other large projects you've completed. There's an exercise for this in Think Like an Author, if you think that would work better for you than the general advice to record how you've dealt with large projects in the past. Recording this work is crucial so you'll have it to look back on when you have a tough writing day.

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Step 3: Start your book - 3+ hours

Before you start writing your messy (first) draft, you need to do three things:

  1. Get to know your reader
  2. Decide what you want your reader to get from your book
  3. Focus your topic and outline your book
Photograph of a woman reading on a beach with a green banner at the top. In the banner (in white text), it reads: Your Reader.

Take the time to get to know your reader.

Your reader

Your book is for your reader, not for you. I know that seems like a statement of the obvious, but we writers have an annoying tendency to make it all about us. 

To help you counter that, before you write your book, spend some time getting to know your ideal reader - that is the one ideal reader to whom you'll write the book. Doing this this makes the whole process easier - from choosing a topic and deciding how to approach it to marketing your book. 

I give you some guidance on this in "First Steps to Writing Your Book".

Your topic

To help you choose your topic, you need to decide what you want your reader to get from your book. Starting with the end result you want your book to produce for your reader and working backwards ensures you write the book your readers need - and one that they will buy!

As I explain in "First Steps to Writing Your Book", your topic needs to be narrowly focused - you're not putting everything you've learned over the years into one book! That would overwhelm the reader.

Instead, you're solving one problem or teaching one lesson - that way, you present a focused, coherent text and your reader understands why they're reading the book.


Before you outline your book, you need to focus your topic down far enough that you can state it in just one sentence: your statement of argument. This is an odd little sentence, but since it's the most important one in your whole book, take some time over it.

Once you're happy with your statement of argument, it's time to outline your book by listing the questions you'll need to answer to convince your reader that your statement is true. That list becomes the book outline - you can repeat the process to outline each chapter, if you wish to do so (not all writers do). I discuss this process in more detail and point you to other resources in "First Steps to Writing Your Book" - you'll also find this material in How Long Does It Actually Take to Write a Book?

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Step 4: Messy draft - 40 hours

Now that you have your outline, writing your messy draft is as easy as answering the next question.

I call the first draft of your book the messy draft because that reminds you that it needs to be a mess. If you remember that simple fact, it will take you about 40 hours to write your first draft.

I know that sounds like a lot, but with a little planning and self-reflection, you can find a way to make it work with your schedule. First, you need to determine whether you prefer to write little and often (15 to 30 minutes at a time 2 to 3 times a day, most days) or in longer, more intense bursts (a week in which you do nothing but work on your messy draft).

I've written both ways and tend to prefer the little and often approach, but I have clients who love the more intensive sessions, and I have programmes for each approach: There's a Book in Every Expert is a six-month course that takes the little and often approach, while my 3-day intensives (1:1 and group options are available) take the intensive approach. My one-to-one work takes the approach the client I'm working with prefers, so Author: From plan to publication day and beyond could suit either kind of writer.

Tame your inner critic

Many writers struggle to remember that the first draft is supposed to be messy and that its only job is to be done.

Since you cannot write a book without a first draft, it is usually best to write it as quickly as possible.

Your messy draft doesn't need to be perfect, pretty, or even coherent to anyone but you. You just need to get all the ideas and content out and onto the page so you can sort it into reader-friendly text.

The hardest part of writing your messy draft is persuading your inner critic to stay out of the way while you're writing it.

White background with green text that reads: Your Messy Draft's only job is to be done.

The messy draft just has to be done!

Your inner critic doesn't mean to cause problems - quite the opposite, in fact. Your inner  critic's job is usually to keep you safe.

When it comes to writing your book, keeping you safe means making sure you don't look silly or unprofessional. Your inner critic's interference is helpful when you're writing something that's going to be (potentially) seen by others almost immediately, like social media posts or emails. But she can be a hindrance when you're writing your messy draft. 

I offer some tips on keeping your inner critic quiet in "Your Messy Draft".

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Step 5: Revise your text - 12 hours

Once you have a full messy draft, it's time to start sorting it out. This is best done in two steps:

  1. big picture
  2. polish

Big picture

At this stage, you're dealing with chunks of text, not tiny details like word choice, sentence structure, and punctuation. I usually compare this part to the stage in a wardrobe clear out when you put your clothes into three piles: keep, send to the charity shop, and repair.

Do the same thing with your words. If you choose to do this work digitally, make sure you look at the section called "Time to move" in "Clean Up Your Text" - this will help you make sure you've backed everything up so you don't risk accidentally deleting a chunk of text you want to use.


This is where you get to let your inner critic out to play! The polishing stage of revision is detail oriented, so this is the time to think about whether you prefer this word or that. When it comes to things like grammar and punctuation, though, just do the best you can.

You will be sending your final draft to an editorial professional whose job it is to know things like when to use commas, semicolons, and colons! 

This kind of revision will be more familiar to most writers, but it's also harder than the big picture revision. Why? Because we're frankly too clever for our own good. Our brains insist on seeing what we meant to type on the page, instead of what we actually typed. In "Clean Up Your Text", I offer some suggestions for workarounds for this.

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Step 6: Beta readers - 5 active hours; 1 month non-active time

Most of you reading this will be familiar with the term beta testing, beta readers are essentially beta testers for books! Your beta readers will need about a month to read and review your book. When they finish, you'll need about 5 hours to respond to their feedback.

White background with text in green and yellow that reads: Your book, Your choice!

Your book, your choice!

To help you choose good beta readers, remember that they need to:

  • have a lot in common with your ideal reader
  • not be your biggest cheerleaders - you need honest feedback here
  • not be your biggest critics (the ones who find fault even when it's not there) - again, you need honest feedback here

I always recommend finding more beta readers than you need for the simple reason that some of them will get busy or forget to get their feedback to you. So if you ask 6 people and 3 follow through, you have the information you need and don't have to spend time chasing up the others!

In "Clean Up Your Text", I give suggestions for working with beta readers (including a list of questions to ask them to answer for you) and for responding to their feedback. The most important thing for you is to remember that it is your book, so only make the changes you agree with.

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Step 7: Editor - 8 active hours; 1 month non-active time

Your editor will likely need about a month with your manuscript, but you should book them well in advance (months in advance). If you leave it until the last minute, you'll find an editor, but they'll charge you at least 2 or 3 times more than they would if you'd planned ahead. Editors' calendars fill up quickly.

Many of you won't have worked with a professional editor before, so keep these things in mind:

  • Their job is to improve your book - they are not judging you.

  • They will track every tiny change they make. It's normal to find that they've made hundreds or thousands of edits in a book-length manuscript. This is not a reflection on your ability as a writer.

  • It will take you about 8 hours to go through and either accept or reject each change they make. You should not try to do this all in one day.

See "Clean Up Your Text" for more advice on working with your editor.

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Step 8: Format and publish your book - variable

Writers often outsource this step, but it is something you can do yourself. If you outsource, your active time will be minimal, but you may be waiting weeks to get your book back. Also, if you outsource, pay attention to the small print and make sure you own your ISBN numbers (in the UK this will only be the case if you buy them) and retain your intellectual property (IP) rights.

If you do it yourself, you're in total control of your IP rights and more in control of the timeline, but you have some tech and other details to get to grips with. See "Clean Up Your Text" to find out how I can help you with that.

Don't forget to download your copy of How Long Does It Actually Take to Write a Book? so you'll have all of this information to hand as you start your book!

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About the Author

I help entrepreneurs get their books out of their heads and into print!

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