At the start of the year I wrote about my goal to write a novel in a year. I’ve just finished the first draft, all in the space of nine months. I’m not the world’s fastest writer, nor am I the slowest. But the point is, I have 250 pages of work which make sense from start to finish.
I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned in the last nine months of writing.
No writing is ever wasted
This book is my fourth manuscript. The first two are unpublished, the third became my novella Double Exposure. I’m feeling good about it; there’s a certain confidence in the words that previous books haven’t had. Partly this is to do with having Double Exposure in the world. It’s amazing what a little bit of confidence can do to your writing. There’s less doubt in the attempt.
The reason I mention this is that the previous manuscripts all count as work towards this fourth manuscript. I had a better idea of how to go about it. My writing has improved so much since the first book, but I could never have got to this point without the previous attempts. Even if you write a book and it never gets published, you’ve grown as a writer through the process. Be proud.
Plot your novel
I spent three months plotting the novel, before I even put pen to paper. I wrote 90 index cards out, stuck them all over my wardrobe door, then transferred this to a spreadsheet. From the spreadsheet, I wrote out a 30 page document which summarised each scene, including what needed to happen in dot points, and what clues each character should take away from each scene. This was invaluable when it came to the writing process as it allowed the work to flow.
Writing time is sacred
I have two days a week to write, and found my optimum schedule is to work from 8am-1pm, and write until I have at least 1500 words. No exceptions. My carrot on the stick is lunch. I can’t eat lunch until I’ve met my quota. I have a bottle of water on my desk so I’m not getting up unless I need to. I’ll usually take a break at 10am for a snack and to stretch my legs. During this time, I’m not surfing social media, procrastinating, doodling, whatever, I am writing. If I need to research something, if it’s a short thing I’ll do it then and there, but often I’d leave research to the afternoon.
Under no circumstances should you let anyone interfere with your sacred writing time. I have heard this advice from so many authors and it’s TRUE! I got in a much better flow with my work when I could dedicate that time, no exceptions. Even if I’m on holidays or away for a long weekend, I will still write at that time.
Make a schedule for delivery
I like using the space of a year to schedule projects. You kick off in the New Year when everyone is making plans to get fit and eat less donuts. You celebrate your success at the end when everyone is drinking bubbles and eating Christmas cake. You get to brag to all your relatives that you’ve ‘written a novel’ when they ask you what you’ve been doing for the last year. My plan for writing the book was this:
- 3 months plotting/researching
- Start writing at Easter
- Write 3000 words a week
- Finish by September.
- Take a month break
- Edit the book in Nov-Dec.
It’s okay to take time to plan the book, as long as you have a timeline for it and don’t spend the next thirty years figuring out every detail of world-building. Pick a date to start writing and stick to it.
Keep a word count chart
This is about as technical as I get with Excel. It is a grand mystery to me other than punching in numbers for my word count document.
The word count doc keeps you accountable to yourself. You can also see when you haven’t been as productive as you should… as you can see, there was a big drop in June when I was working on the Continuum convention and had hours of freelance work backed up. But I love watching that word count go up and up and up! It’s encouraging, even if you only write 500 words a day. That’s how I wrote my first novel, and when you add up the numbers, how much I write a day at the moment. My preference is to do it in chunks though.
Take time off to kickstart your novel
If you work full-time or even part-time, I recommend taking a week off your day job to start writing my novel. I tied this in with a staycation, having relaxing afternoons and long lunches, but I wrote 10,000 words in that week which kicked off the book in a big way. Don’t spend weeks languishing on the opening chapter; it will change. Of that you can be sure.
Get your cheer-leading squad in action
Every 10,000 words I would post a note on social media, and so many people would write back and encourage me to keep going. I can’t tell you how encouraging that was, just a little “keep going” here and there. Tell your friends about your project so they will ask you about it when you see them. I made a pact with two other friends that we would all finish our novels by the end of the year and hold each other accountable to it.