How Long Does It Take to Write a Memoir?Feb 27, 2023
You're ready to write your memoir. But how long will it take to finish your first draft? The answer to this question depends on a few factors.
First, a couple of questions and some quick math.
How long will your book be?
Are you writing a full-length book or just a short collection of essays? Traditionally published book-length memoirs range from 40,000–80,000 words.
How fast do you write?
How fast do you write? If you’re not sure, follow these steps:
- Set a timer for 30 minutes.
- Start writing, and when your time is up, check to see what your word count is. (If you’re writing in a Google or Word document, you can find ‘Word Count’ when you click on the ‘Tools’ dropdown menu.)
- Multiply your 30-minute word count by two to get your hourly word count rate. If you write 500 words in 30 minutes, you’ll write about 1,000 words per hour. For a 50,000-word manuscript, it’ll take you approximately 50 hours to write your first draft. (And by “write your first draft,” I mean your sloppy/shitty/vomit/rough first draft.)
No editing; just write!
Fifty hours for your first draft will easily become 100 hours if you’re constantly re-reading what you’ve written and tinkering with words throughout the first draft writing stage. Resist the urge to edit while you’re writing your first draft. Just write!
How long will it take you to write your memoir?
On paper, 50 hours (or whatever number of hours you estimate based on your writing pace) to write a first draft of a memoir seems doable. And it is. But you’d be surprised how often 50 hours of writing can take five years or more to complete.
I know this to be true because it happened to me. I didn't know to map out how much time I should anticipate needing to write my rough draft. Additionally, I continually went back to edit and re-edit the words I had written. On top of the constant tinkering, I wrote when I felt inspired instead of sticking to a writing schedule. Now I do the math up front and break the project into manageable phases. Let’s see what this would look like for you.
Using 50,000 words as our example, ask yourself:
How many hours per week do you estimate you’ll write?
Multiply your estimated weekly writing time by your hourly word count to arrive at your weekly word count goal.
Writing Time x Hourly Word Count = Weekly Word Count
(Example: 3 hours/week x 1,000 words per hour = 3,000 words per week)
At 3,000 words per week, a 50,000 manuscript will take you about 17 weeks to complete.
If I had followed this formula, I could have finished my first draft within about four months. Instead, I meandered around in my memoir, writing when I felt like it and letting days, sometimes weeks, slip by without writing at all. If I had simply pre-determined my writing goals at the front end, I would have had a target to shoot for to help me stay on track.
Schedule your writing time
Now that you have a rough idea of how many hours you’ll need to write your first rough draft, pull out your calendar and block your writing time. Unless you schedule your writing time, it will likely fall by the wayside as seemingly more pressing priorities fill your time. Show up for your writing sessions whether you feel like it or not.
So how long will you take to write your first draft? Run the numbers. How do you feel knowing you could have a first draft done before the end of the next quarter? Will you make it happen?
Get started writing your life stories.
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