How to Estimate How Long a Project Will Take

It’s #Preptober for #NaNoWriMo and I wanted to talk to you a little bit about project management. I think it’s important in light of the National Novel Writing Month that we all know how to objectively plan how to work on our projects every day. Once you figure out a few key things about your writing habits and capabilities, planning out how long it will take you to complete any given project will be only too easy.


Figure out how many words or pages you can write, or pages or chapters you can edit in an hour. Given any average writing day, how much can you actually write in an hour? How many pages can you edit before the soul-crushing depression and self-loathing make you catatonic?

This isn’t a measure of your best days, nor should it be a measure of your worst days. This is just a general feeling for how much you can usually accomplish in a hour. I usually do about 500 words in 45 minutes before I get twitchy and have to get up and move, so it turns into 500 words per hour. I usually only get through about 3 pages of editing before I want to die.


Think about how many hours per week you can devote to writing new words or editing new pages. Please don’t automatically assume you can do a set amount of time. Realistically look at your schedule. When are you most likely to write, morning, noon, or night?

I am the worst kind of writer, because I am definitely an afternoon writer. I am not a morning person, and by the time I get off of work, my brain is mush. My prime writing time is, inconveniently, in the early afternoon before the after-lunch fog sets in. So, you know, between 11 AM and 2 PM.

Knowing that I have an hour for lunch though, I can easily scarf food in about 15 minutes, and then use the rest of my lunch hour to get writing time in. I work 5 days a week. That’s 5 hours right there in any given week.

So then let’s talk about weekends. I can still only realistically devote my time on the weekends to writing during my peak times, again between 11 AM and 2 PM, and it won’t happen at all if I am doing some kind of luncheon that day. This means 3 hours on Saturday and 3 more on Sunday.  If I get more done, then that’s great, and if not, no big deal.

To recap, in a week’s time, I can realistically only count on myself to show up for 11 hours of writing time, or edit 33 pages.

Therefore, I can write 500 words per hour, and devote 11 hours of time to my novel per week. On average, I should therefore be writing about 785 words per day.

In the editing example, I can edit 3 pages per hour, and devote 11 hours or time to editing my novel per week. On average, I should therefore be editing 5 pages per day.


Figure out the average total length in words or pages of the genre you are writing for. There are many guidelines on this, so if you’re unsure, I’d say just google it. Let’s say for the sake of easy math (and aren’t we all for easy math?) that my genre’s average word count is 100,000 words per book, and (depending on the internal book formatting) about 400 pages.


Do the math. Total Word Length / Words per Day = Days to Complete.

Plugging my word count numbers in we get : 100,000/785 = 127

Plugging in my page editing numbers in we get : 400/5= 80

In total, for one draft of one novel, I am looking at spending at least 207 days working towards making it happen.


Once you know your pacing, schedule in some big deadlines in your calendar. In my example, in roughly 130 days, I should have written a finished draft. In 80 more days, I should have an edited draft.

Let me just say here and now that jumping straight into editing after finishing a draft isn’t ideal. You usually want to let your soul rest after pouring it all out of yourself for 4 months. Catch up on sleep, laundry, reading, video games. Refuel, recharge, reconnect with the people in your life that matter, because, let’s face it, you’ve kind of been a total hermit the last few months, and man, what is up with that?

Here’s how this would go if I started all this at the beginning of a calendar year. January through May, I am going to be butt-in-chair writing that damn book for as many hours as I can spare.

Then, in June and July, I am going to walk away from my finished manuscript and let it sit while I get back to normal. This is also a good time to totally switch gears and start thinking about other novel ideas, and working to flesh them out.

In August, I’ll come back to my manuscript and begin hardcore editing, and I’ll do that until probably the end of October, or until my brain leaks out of my nose, whichever happens first.

In November and December, I will make a decision to begin publishing the novel, or I will make a decision to take it through another round of revision. If I publish it, then it has to go through interior work, get cover art, back matter, arc reviews, and all the other fun things related to publishing. If it is going to go through another round of rewriting, editing, or revision, we start back at January. I will take November and December largely off in this scenario, and start creating revision notes, plans for sequels, and anything relevant.

These are my big deadlines. May: Manuscript complete. October: Editing complete. December: Publish or make a revision plan.


Break the big deadlines into smaller deadlines too, and link these smaller deadlines with rewards. 5000 Words and I get to take a long bubble bath with my favorite book until I turn into a prune? Done. 10000 Words and I can make mac and cheese for dinner? Definitely. 25000 Words and I can buy that cute writing-related mug I’ve been eyeballing on Etsy? Done and done. 

Remember that your rewards don’t have to be things you buy. And even the things you buy don’t have to even be that expensive. Cute writing mugs on etsy could cost me as little as $10 which is totally affordable. Or maybe I take that $10 and my laptop to my favorite coffee shop and have them make me the largest, fanciest, white hot chocolate with whipped cream while I burn through another thousand words.

So schedule in your smaller goals and the rewards you’ll reap when you reach them.


Decide on a daily word count, and schedule it in.

Understand that to keep on track in my example, I should be writing an average of over 700 words per day in any given week. Understand too, that I will not write past my 1-hour deadline on weekdays because it isn’t 700 words or bust, it’s 1 hour or bust. So I still want to get in 5500 words per week, an average of 785 words per day, but I have to do it smartly. Here’s what that looks like.

Sunday – 3 hours – 1500 words

Monday – 1 hour – 500 words

Tuesday – 1 hour – 500 words

Wednesday – 1 hour – 500 words

Thursday – 1 hour – 500 words

Friday – 1 hour – 500 words

Saturday – 3 hours – 1500 words

Weekly – 11 hours – 5500 words

So I’m still getting in my average words, even if some of my days, I’m getting less.


Also have a minimum word count number in mind. Even on your worst writing days, some progress is better than no progress. Pick a minimum word count goal to complete even when you just can’t even and push yourself to stick to it.

Sometimes just starting is the hardest part, and you’ll find after you hit your minimum that you can just keep going. If that’s not the case, can you use micro-moments, even 5 or 10 minutes at a time, to make up the word count? How many times do you find yourself standing in a line, or waiting for a file to scan or upload? Whip out your phone and use your favorite note-taking app to get some words down.  Mine has always been Google Docs.


When making your schedule, don’t forget to also schedule in the days that you won’t be working. For instance, on Thanksgiving day when you know you’re going to get swept up into the family tradition of making sure dad doesn’t burn the turkey while he’s watching the football game. On days you know you have something to do during your writing time, or will need a break, just schedule in a zero day. This way, you won’t beat yourself up over missing a day you knew you would miss anyway.


How do you estimate your project time? Let me know in the comments below!

Riverton, WY 82501, USA

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