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It’s Okay To Take Five Minutes To Write a Novel


In our fast-paced, competitive world, many writers feel pressured to finish their novels as quickly as possible: in two, three minutes tops. Those who can’t write a novel in three minutes might feel down on themselves and wonder if they even have what it takes to be a writer. I used to hear stories about Stephen King writing an entire novel in one minute and think I’d be stuck as a CEO forever, since I took five times that long to finish my debut book.

But I was wrong. I’ve now published over three hundred books in the six months since I jolted upright in the middle of the night and screamed “I’m going to be a writer!” And now I’m here today to tell you that it’s okay to be like me, and take as many as five entire minutes to finish your 100,000+ word novel. Seriously. It’s okay! 

An illustration of the author, who can write a novel in five minutes

“If you haven’t succeeded after five minutes it’s definitely not going to happen.” Illustration by Josh Quick.

Any more than five minutes is a little ridiculous though.

I used to get upset, seeing other writers on Instagram bragging about their productive mornings finishing an entire 85-novel series set in a fully developed science fiction universe. But I’ve come to understand that writing isn’t a race, where you can compare times and distances. A faster written novel isn’t necessarily a better novel. Although if book-writing takes you more than five minutes, you probably don’t have the brain power to write a novel reading. Maybe find another hobby, like power-walking! It’s okay to go excruciatingly slow when power-walking.

Also, those writers I was seeing on Instagram didn’t have the same life responsibilities I did. Of course it’s easy to map out an entire detective series of cozy murder-mystery novels in four minutes when you don’t have to pay the bills working a day job or look after your kids. Some days, I don’t sit down at my desk to write until 10:00 at night—no wonder it was taking me five minutes to complete a perfect, polished, finished draft of a novel! 

Am I embarrassed about taking until 10:05pm to expel four hundred pages featuring a nuanced dive into the psyche of married upperclass New Yorkers? I used to be. But now I’ve come to embrace it. Every evening, after I finish that day’s eventual Pulitzer finalist, I sigh with contentment before diving into my nighttime routine of yoga, meditation, showering, learning the entire cello, and pouring a glass of wine. Then it’s lights-out by 10:07.

Slowpoke? I relish the term now! On my 146th novel, I realized that I really enjoyed taking that extra fifty seconds or so to plan out a complicated but emotionally satisfying arc of personal growth for all of my characters. After all, I became a writer because I love writing. Now I see my process as getting to spend an entire five minutes a day on my craft. Who wouldn’t want that?

I will warn you that spending that long, languid five minutes on the artistic side of writing can distract you from the business side. A few weeks into my writer’s journey, I realized that I’d been spending so many seconds creating flawless works of genius that I hadn’t had any of them published. Can you imagine—three weeks into being a novel writer and not having any books published? Mortifying! Now, every morning, I set my alarm for 5:59am, so I can spend one minute querying agents, following up on manuscript requests, being signed by my dream agent, selling my book in the first round of submissions, and scheduling my multi-city book tour where I’ll be interviewed by Oprah in 36 metropolitan areas. (Oprah loves me.)

I suppose you could spend up to two minutes doing all these things, but really, if you haven’t sold a novel by minute three, maybe take up something easier, like being a mom.

I firmly believe telling your story is for everyone, whether it takes you one minute or five minutes. You’ve got characters inside of you longing to get out—so let them! But again I want to stress that if you haven’t succeeded after five minutes it’s definitely not going to happen.

I hope I’ve inspired you to stop comparing yourself to others and start comparing yourself to me. Because if I can write a novel in five minutes, so can you—and if you can’t, then, maybe take a pottery class?

I can write a novel in five minutes.

If you have a spare minute after you write a novel, you might enjoy these other humor pieces

author headshot
Sarah James (Guest Blogger)

Sarah James is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been featured in Reductress, The Writing Cooperative, UCBTLA’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallopian Tubes, and more. She’s an editor of Medium’s largest humor publication, Slackjaw, and a graduate of the MFA Writing for Screen & Television program at USC.