About ten years ago (or maybe longer), I wrote an article about writing a novel in six months. No, this doesn’t mean writing a perfect, well-polished manuscript to send to the printers, but it does mean that you, as the writer, can produce a solid first draft which can then be edited and polished for eventual publication. Do you think you can do it?
Writing a novel can be difficult, of course, but it doesn’t mean you need to or should expend years on that first draft. Write your draft, perfect it later. That’s the message of today’s post. But also, writers are notorious for coming up with their own excuses of why their book is still “in the works,” so I’m going to get tough about those excuses.
As always, feel free to shoot me an email with any questions, comments, or concerns you may have.
If a story is in you, it has to come out. – William Faulkner
The first point that most writers should look at is the actual word count of their book. So, knowing genre specific word counts can really come in handy. Do your research on about how long (word count) a typical book in your genre is and aim for that many words to write. Frankly, you should write 5,000—10,000 more words than that number as you’ll end up cutting words during the editing process. A typical word count for an adult novel is around 80,000 words, so be in that ballpark. Also note that some publishing houses have a minimum word count for submission. So if you have a specific publisher in mind, cater the length to that publisher. Don’t use more, or less words than you need to tell your full story. Have a general idea of how long your book should be going in.
One of the most important skills necessary to write a book, and write a book quickly, is to know about time management. That is, you must be able to organize your day in a way that you can fit in the time to write. Check out some apps that help with this to effectively manage your time. If you need to write in the morning or afternoon, go ahead and make that your writing time. If your schedule isn’t the same every day, make a calendar of some sort. Create timeslots to follow. It can be done.
If you really want to write your novel in six months, you must be realistic about it. Set a goal. Write down I want to finish my book in six months. If you work full-time or have other responsibilities, it's going to be difficult. Writing is physically and mentally draining just like working at your job. But also set those daily goals as well. How many words do you want to write each day? Can you write during your lunch break? Can you write during your kid’s soccer practice? Get creative in working to achieve the goals you set for yourself.
In order to reach the goals you set for yourself, you’ll need a distraction-free environment. Writing requires focus and concentration, so it’s probably not best to write when everyone is home, kids are running around, and the dog is begging for food. Go to a coffee shop or co-working space, or your own dedicated space to write. Turn off your apps, disconnect the WiFi, and write until you can’t write anymore.
Take a look at the graphic below, a sample writing schedule. For your warm-up, go ahead and create one for yourself. Think of the times when you are free of distraction and make those dedicated to writing. If you don’t work weekends, carve out some time in the morning while the kids are asleep to write. Put the times in your calendar as a reminder.
8:00AM - 12:00PM
8:00AM - 12:00PM
2:00PM - 5:00PM
3:00PM - 5:00PM
4:00PM - 6:00PM
5:00PM - 8:00PM
5:00PM - 8:00PM
9:00PM - 11:00PM
Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer. – Barbara Kingsolver
What’s Holding Up Your Progress
Expectations play a role in keeping writers from finishing their drafts. They go in believing that the writing part will be a breeze, but do you know how long it takes to write an 80,000-word novel? Are you aware of the time and energy required to get it all done? Before beginning your project, set the expectation that it will take your best effort to get all the words onto the page. Even a strong writer who can shell out 2,000 words in a day works at their best to get those 2,000 words onto the page. Don’t underestimate the amount of work needed to get the writing down. If you have school, a full-time job, a family, sports, or any other activities, it's going to take time, so you must be adamant about giving yourself a reasonable time span to write your novel. Set goals with room for deviation. If you set expectations too high and not meet them, then you may hurt yourself in the future, edging towards a time to give up the project altogether. Give yourself a break every now and then.
Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you cannot write because of things going on in your life. Don’t beat yourself up about things out of your control. If meeting your goal is difficult right now, that’s okay. Pick things back up after major events. Some of the following can a deterrence to your writing goals:
A Major Move: This could be a move from one state to the other, a major career change, or even something like a divorce or separation. When you’re going through these types of things, it’s best to take time before coming back to the writing table. Focus on the things around you. And then, pick back up with your goal.
Illness: Yours or that of a loved one. Illness can prevent you from writing for a time and caring for another is of the utmost importance. Take care of yourself and others before devoting time and energy to your project.
Death In The Family: When you're mourning a loss it's difficult to do anything enjoyable. When you're ready, head back to the desk.
Stress At Home or At Work: Stress can prevent anyone from doing something they love. Stress inhibits all things and it's understandable that writing is the last thing on your mind. Find means to combat stressful moments in your life and then, come back to the writing. Maybe that stress can be channeled into your next book.
Too Much Responsibility: If you've got a family and two jobs, mortgage, car insurance, bills, bills, bills. That can bog you down. Once you've been able to get things done, come back to the desk. Too much responsibility happens a lot to single parents and even parents who have a spouse and a nice house. The family is more important, so take care of them first.
Sometimes writers want so badly to finish their book that they can neglect the things that matter. Perhaps their marriage needs work or their kids need attention or maybe they haven’t taken enough time to mourn a loss. Yes, write your book in six months or less, but make sure you’re mentally and physically well before you do so.
Not Simplifying The Goal
A lot of time, writers overcomplicate the goal. Saying that you want to finish your book in six months is broad and makes it hard to follow since you might not write every day. The best way to do this is this analyze the desired length of your book. If you want to write 100,000 words in 6 months, then you'll have to figure out how many words per week or per day (whichever you prefer) you need to write to meet this goal. Let's use 100,000 words in six months. Does that sound hard? It kinda does because that's a lot of words. How about we break it up a bit?
100,000 Words/6 Months = 16,667 words per month
16,667 Words/30 Days = 555 words per day
If you want to know how many in a week, just multiply 555 X 7. That number is 3,887 Words per week.
Once you've broken this down, 555 words a day doesn't sound that bad. It's less than an essay you'd write at school! Once you've hit your daily goal, you're golden. If you get behind, just try to catch up a little bit each day to reach that goal. As a writer, be true to your goals and reach them to the best of your ability.
Take another look at the graphic above. Without a clear schedule, some calendar notifications, and reminders, it’s difficult to stick to your writing goals. Buy a calendar or set up an app on your phone to keep up with your schedule. That’s the best way to keep going forward. Without a schedule to follow, your goal of writing your draft within six months will be nearly impossible.
Not Being Smart
There are several reasons it’s taking you a long time to complete your first draft. Sometimes you don't know what you're doing until it's too late. The following is a list of things you can do to inhibit your progress and prolong the time it takes to write your book.
Editing and Writing Simultaneously: Most writers don't realize that when they stop to edit things they have previously written, it halts the writing itself. The best way to solve this is to not edit your draft until you have finished writing it. You will finish a whole lot faster. After six months you've forgotten what you wrote. This can come to your advantage. It can help you pick up grammatical errors and typos a lot easier.
If you feel inclined to go back and change something in your plot or rearrange a scene, make a note of it, come back to it once you've finished your draft. Also consider that some scenes may be dropped during the editing process. There's no point in editing something that won't be there in the future.
Losing Interest: Sometimes a work is not so exhilarating and it's very difficult to write about it. If you have no passion or excitement for the work at the current time, put it down for a moment. Think hard about whether you want to write the novel and examine your true intent on the work. If you find that you're just burnt out, take a break, and come back when you're ready. Perhaps you're losing interest because you're tired or cranky.
Find something to excite you again, watch a good movie or read a book. When you feel revved up, come back to the laptop.
Procrastination: Don't leave your book unattended. It's like a baby. It needs constant nurturing and you must not put it off longer than you should. Work was hard last night and you're exhausted, but if you know you have no other time to write but after work, so write. Always write when you have time. If you keep putting it off, you'll never finish within your goal time.
Saying Yes: Saying yes to activities with friends and family is okay most of the time, but if it begins to get in the way of your writing goals, say no. If you're truly dedicated to your writing, don't let your friends distract you from this. Yes they are your friends and they will be there once you've finished. If you find that they keep you away from your goals, tell them you'll be away for a while. Also it's good to have friends who will help you attain those goals as well, keep you accountable. They will probably ask you, "Aren't you supposed to be writing?" Those are awesome friends.
As a writer, you must experience life to the fullest. That is how characters get depth and it helps you unwind from the stiffness of the computer chair. Go out, have a good time, then get back to writing!
Misplacing Files and Hard Copies: Guess what? Your writing is important. Every writer should keep their files in order and their hard copies in a safe place. If you lose your things, it'll be more work on your part. Not only will you have to go back and rewrite it, but also you'll scramble to get back to where you want to be. Keep your book files in a flash drive or online with Dropbox or Google Drive. Keep your hard copies in a safe place as well. If you lose your book information and files, you'll have the worst time trying to recap and remember what you wrote. It may or may not be as good the second time around.
Unable or Unwilling to Outline
Writing without an outline can cause a stall effect. Without a clear vision or direction, you run into the possibility of “writers block.” You don’t have to write out a school paper outline but have a rough idea of your direction when you start writing. That way, there will be little to keep you from moving forward.
Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. – Zora Neale Hurston
Start somewhere. Set your goal, know your word count, and understand when you can and cannot write. These are important things to know about writing in a timely manner. Be realistic about your goals and understand that no one can write faster than their life can allow it. If you work full-time, give yourself a year. If you work part-time or unemployed, six months is a great goal.
These goals will vary from person to person as everyone writes at a different pace. I’ve written a 114,000-word book in four months. However, I'd written three before that one. Once you've written more books, the process won't be nearly as long. Also add a month or two to your goal for preliminary and final edits for your work. Take your time, work at a good pace, and reach your goals if possible.
If you want to further the discussion, put a comment down below!
How to Knock Out Your First Novel in Six Months - Lisa Calhoun outlines fives steps on how to get writing and knock that novel out.
How to Write a Novel in Six Months - Monica M. Clark offers another process of steps on how to complete a novel in six months.
The Six Month Novel Writing Plan - Caitlin Jans gives insight into her daily life and how she implemented a writing plan to write her novel in six months.
How to Create a Consistent Writing Schedule: 10 Tips for Writers - The Masterclass Staff outlines how to create a writing schedule that is attainable and achievable.
7 Useful Tips for Establishing a Writing Routine - Claire Bradshaw highlights the difference between having a writing schedule and a writing routine, and how to establish a routine.