Write your life story with YouByYou Books, logo

Home > Your Life Writing Guide Contents > writing as Routine

7. Writing as Routine

Your quick and easy-to-read guide to life-story writing, by Anna Foster

You have crossed a major hurdle by starting your book. Now for the hard part keeping going.

You need to establish a writing routine. If your schedule allows, set aside a time each day. Allow yourself an hour or two in the morning, afternoon or evening - whenever you are least likely to be disturbed - and aim to write a certain number of words.

Personally, I have to get all my household chores done in the morning before I can settle down to write. Even then, by mid-afternoon I need some fresh air or I doze off at the keyboard.

If you are an early riser, writing for an hour or two before everyone else wakes up can be fruitful. Youll be surprised at how quickly you make progress.

If you tend to leave things to the last minute then you may need to set yourself a deadline. Perhaps there is an anniversary or birthday on the horizon, for which you could time the book.

You can also set short-term deadlines, such as having a particular section written in a week's time.

How Long Will I Take?

Its very hard to judge at the outset how long your book will take to write. It depends on so many factors; the amount of material, how quickly you write and how much time you can devote to the project.

Generally - and this is based only on experience - the book will take months, rather than weeks or years, if you are writing regularly.

That said, I helped one customer who took only six weeks to produce her manuscript and, at the other end of the scale, another customer arrived with a manuscript that had taken 10 years to complete.

You may undertake some research in the course of writing the book, either about your family or historical events, adding to the overall writing time.

You should allow at least one month for editing (assuming that a major rewrite isnt necessary), and a further two months for production and printing.

You will want to have the books in good time if you are planning a book launch, so I would allow a minimum of three to four months for editing, production and printing.

If you decide to stop writing for a while, don't let your text sit idle. This is a good moment for a member of the family or a friend to read your work-in-progress and give you an honest opinion.

Read the text yourself and rewrite if necessary. Professional writers often amend their manuscript.

Book Length

Clearly, your book can be any length. Here are a few stats. This online guide which is relatively short contains about 14,500 words; A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle has around 90,000 words; Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres has 186,000; and, to put it all in perspective, the Bible contains 783,137 words.

A full-length life story often falls between 25,000 and 75,000 words.

Some websites now offer printing options for shorter life stories of up to 10,000 words. Your story may well suit a short format, plus its less expensive to produce.

Keep a tally of your words, you may well be asked at a later date by an editor or printer.


How do you want your book to look? Ask yourself the following:

  • How important is the books appearance to you?
  • Do you wish to leave the manuscript as a written or typed document or do you wish to have it printed and bound?
  • Do you envisage a paperback or a hardback?
  • Do you want to group the pictures in the middle of the book or do you want them spread throughout the text?
  • Do you want extra illustrative material, such as drawings or cartoons? Do you know someone who could produce them?
  • What will you put on the cover?

In Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 we will return to these questions.


Inevitably, you may experience some setbacks. You are not alone. Many professional writers redraft their manuscript several times.

Are you finding the writing hard? Is it because you lack the vocabulary, the text just doesn't flow or you struggle with grammar?

Sometimes, it's just best to get the facts down and worry about the style later. There are professional writing and editing services available.

Is the material too emotional for you to deal with? You'll have to decide if this is the right time for you to unburden yourself on paper. Maybe you should seek counselling rather than continuing to write on your own.

Is it boring? Self-doubt can creep in when you are so familiar with the material, but dont confuse feeling stale yourself with how new readers will react.

Losing Motivation

Any of the above setbacks can lead to you losing motivation. It can be tough to confront this feeling of apathy.

Writing a book is such a lengthy process compared to other jobs, like painting a room or weeding the garden. It's also a solitary activity, so you don't have the constant encouragement or participation of work colleagues or family.

First of all, remember that you don't have to write this book. It may not be the right project for you. How many times have you taken up an evening course or tried a new form of exercise and not enjoyed it?

Don't get depressed or feel guilty that you've let people down you are an adult, its okay to change your mind!

But please dont be put off too easily. Remember the pleasure your book will give to others. Try to pinpoint the problem:

  • You may need professional help; you'll spend more money, but if it means completing the book, it will be worthwhile.
  • Consider joining a writing group. You will get help with your writing and useful feedback.
  • Sign up to writing forums and ask other members for advice.
  • Read the autobiography of someone you admire. Look at the writing style and how the author handles story-telling, descriptions, emotions and so forth. The book might inspire you.
  • Also, talk to a family member or friend whose opinion you respect. Show them your writing and get some feedback. If you find this encouraging, perhaps you could send each chapter as you complete it to this person for their response.
  • Feed off other people's enthusiasm.

Case study — Terry Changes His Mind

Terry retired at the age of 65 after a successful life in financial services. He had become rich, but soon grew bored with time on his hands. His wife and daughter both thought it would be a good idea if Terry wrote his life story.

In fact Terry had enjoyed English at school and he began to jot down his childhood memories from the Second World War. He even paid a visit to Felixstowe where he had been evacuated.

Then, a friend called Terry with an idea for a part-time business. He couldn't resist and began to spend less time on his writing. Then a charity requested his help. He agreed.

As Terry wrote less, his enthusiasm for the project waned, and eventually he stopped. That's fine, because Terry is occupied with his new interests. But, I hope he takes up his writing again one day...

The Experiences of Famous Authors

The following may inspire you or persuade you to give up

J.K. Rowling took seven years to write the first Harry Potter book and 17 years to complete the series.

Jane Austen spent 16 years writing and rewriting Pride and Prejudice, though she famously took a long time over all her books.

Victor Hugo took 17 years to complete Les Misérables and Chaucer spent over 10 years working on The Canterbury Tales which were unfinished when he died.

Finally, the story goes that novelist John Fowles sent the manuscript of The Collector to the publishers. They loved it and said, How on earth did you do this? We never get such a good first draft.

He replied, 'You don't understand, Ive been working on it for 12 years.

Difficult Subjects

Is there a sensitive family event which needs to be covered? Many families have skeletons in the cupboard, or someone who has been through trauma, breakdown or divorce.

Tread carefully, at all costs. You don't want your book to cause pain.

I suggest you write about the particular issue and then show the text to the parties concerned. They may be less sensitive than you imagined, or by changing the odd word, be satisfied with the result.

However, if someone objects to what you have written, you may have to say something along the lines of:

"Rob's breakdown in the late '80s sadly led to divorce from Celia, but I respect their wishes not to give any further details about this event."

If the issue contains very personal information about someone you may have to leave it out altogether. Remember, your book may be read by the children and grandchildren of the individual.

Do you have any questions from this section? Please email me and I will try to help you.