As I mentioned in earlier posts, I recently managed to write a novel in one month. To this day, it surprises me. Before that, it used to take me three to six months to write 50K words. The first draft of that novel was completed at 78K. Every night I would go to bed both satisfied and incredulous about the progress I was making. And now I want to share my process with you.
- The Story
Say what you will about prolific writers, but they can’t get anything done before they find their story. Here’s a little anecdote about mine. I was lying sleepless in bed at 2:00 a.m., I had finished writing a novel a few days before, and I was homesick and plunging into depression when a tiny idea for a twitter post came to mind. It was simple and funny and I was about to post it when another thought struck me: “What if this thing is worth money?”
So I started taking notes and, needless to say, I lost sleep over that idea. The next day, I wrote a bit about it thinking that it would be a nice short story. It proved to have more substance, and I thought that I could turn it into a short story collection. But once I hit 3,000 words and it seemed that the story was far from over, I realized that the short tale was bound to become a novel. And a couple of chapters later, the novel became a book series. Obviously, I was very excited about this, which brings me to the second point.
- The Passion
A few thousand words into the book, it became clear to me that the world I was creating was very similar to the one I lived in. The idea was so organic to me and it fed off of parts of my life I was afraid to talk about. Which reminds me, that was a time when I tried to write my memoir. Yeah, I don’t know if you remember me talking about those, but I failed to finish them. Too much pain. When I translated that pain into fiction, however, words flowed, worlds were created, and pain began to heal.
This book gave me a reason to wake up in the morning and kept me up at night. I had to stop myself from writing because I wanted to conserve my energy for the next day. There was a time when I finished my writing day when my main character was in an uncomfortable situation and spent the rest of my evening blaming myself for leaving him there. It was the most passionate I had ever been about anything. But passion alone is not enough.
- The Commitment
Now we can start talking numbers. Once I realized that I was writing a novel, I noticed that I was writing a considerable number of words every day. I always thought that 2,000 words a day was ideal. But I noticed that I was writing much more. So I bumped my daily goal to 3,000. I wasn’t set out to finishing the book in one month. Honestly, I had skipped too many NaNoWriMo‘s because I didn’t want the pressure. Nevertheless, the prospect was exciting. So I made a schedule comfortable for me.
Everyday, I would wake up around 7:00 a.m., make coffee and start writing. I would get hungry around 9:00 and have breakfast then carry on with writing. By 12:00 a.m. most day, I had a 2,000 words written. I took a break for an hour or two, made lunch and sometimes extended my break for a few more hours to read or take notes. Then, I wrote some more until I reached 3,000 words. Then, I stopped.
On average, I was finishing a chapter every two or three days. I started on December 4th, and by January 4th, I was done. It was not easy, even though I make it sound such. But it made me happy which made it easier for me to commit. I had to give up a lot of things for the sake of finishing the project sooner. I stopped going to the gym for instance, I stopped watching TV because I had no more time, I even started reading less because by the time I was done writing I was too exhausted to do anything else. My schedule was brutal, and I managed to stick to it most days. But there were certain days when I wasn’t as lucky, which brings me to the next point.
- The Break
One thing people forget to learn about commitment is learning when to stop. And I’m not just talking about breaks within the day. Yes, somewhere along the way, I had created for myself an invisible, nagging boss with a strict deadline. Yes, I was enjoying writing and the task was not arduous at all. Yes, after getting used to it, 3,000 words a day became normal to me. However, I had my days as well. I stayed at home for an entire month, hands on keyboard, eyes on screen, mind occupied with people and places. Albeit those places and people provided me with an escape and solace; sometimes, however, I needed my break from them too. So I took it.
On the days I felt I had no energy or desire to write, I didn’t. This may not sound like the best idea, but when I was averaging 18K week, I let myself get away with writing no more than 200 words on certain days. There was a day when I wrote only 50 words. I had received some emotional news on that day that rendered me useless.
On days I took breaks, I went to the gym. I would advise other writers to stay active more often than I did, go out in nature and find a quiet place where they can reflect and relax without being too distracted. Also, I didn’t punish myself on the next day and I didn’t put pressure on myself to compensate for the words I haven’t written. For example, if I wrote 2,000 words on one day, I did not force myself to write 4,000 on the next. I simply stuck to my 3,000 words-a-day goal.
- The Focus
With this project, I took it day by day. Every night when I was done, I would praise myself for writing what I wrote and think about what would happen next. When a plot point revealed itself to me, I rejoiced. I was obsessed with the project. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about the characters, what they were doing and what would happen to them next in that book and in other books to come.
This was a prophylactic measure I didn’t know I was taking against writer’s block. When I was constantly thinking about the story, I knew exactly what to write the next day, and the only thing that I needed was to focus. Social media was banned. So was anything else distracting. Reaching me over the phone became impossible, having a conversation with me before 9:00 p.m. was out of the question. I was immersed in the story all day, every day. And it was the only way I could’ve finished it.
- The End
Another thing I did to keep me motivated was to reward myself. Sure the biggest reward came when I finished the book, but between every 25K I found myself rejoicing and allowed myself some room to celebrate. I actually didn’t realize that I was going to finish the book on the day I finished it. I thought it would take me a few more days but the story came to an end and surprised even me. It brought me to tears. The book made me cry many times actually but this was one of the most tearful moments. It was as though all of a sudden, all the efforts and emotions culminated and boiled inside my heart. I couldn’t fight the tears then. But surely after that I was fine and dried my cheeks with pizza and wine, metaphorically of course.
I know that it is very difficult for people who have jobs and responsibilities to follow this formula. I was fortunate enough to be unemployed at that time. Believe me, a book a month is not an average for me; I’ve been working on the sequel for that book for months and I still haven’t hit 20K. I’m sure, however, that if I followed that same formula and had the same levels of focus and dedication that I will be able to finish this new novel within an approximate time frame.
The first draft of my book was done at 78K. I knew the journey was far from over, but a major part of it was. Not only was this book the one I finished fastest, it was also the only one I edited and the one I’m most proud of now. I am happy to have shared this story with you and can only hope that one day a random reader will feel for this book a fraction of the emotion and passion I’ve put into it.
What was the fastest it ever took you to write a novel? And do you think that if you followed my method that you could finish your novel quicker?
[Photos aren’t mine unless otherwise mentioned]