When I started seriously writing my first novel, back in the 1980s, I was hungry for advice on how to accomplish what seemed to be an almost insurmountable goal. I mean, write a novel? Me? Apart from the big questions of what to write, who the characters would be, where to set it and so forth, was the most fundamental: How did I even begin to churn out that many cohesive words?
Some well known writers advise beginning writers to follow their example and write every day, even if you can only write an hour or even a single page. If these established writers truly write every day, even on days they’re ill or have a family crisis or when they’re on vacation, my hat’s off to them. I can’t do it.
When I was working on my first novel, the “write daily” advice was daunting to me. It made me feel like I was doomed to fail before I’d given my dream a fair shot. After holding down my day job, taking care of personal business, and writing, I just ran out of steam at the end of the week. My writing suffered.
Here’s a tip—you don’t need to write every single day in order to write a book. I’ve never done it and I’m about to publish my eleventh book (Killing Secrets, out July 21, 2015). See the photo above of me in Hawaii, where I was not writing. Granted, I’m not the most prolific writer, but I’ve found a system that works for me. You need to find a system that works for you.
Hey, you do need to be disciplined to write (and rewrite) a novel. I have gone through weeks and sometimes months of 8- and 10-hour writing days as a book nears completion (after my third draft), but that’s the exception rather than the rule for me. A lot of good work happens during those super-intense writing times, but when I’m first starting a book, I have to force myself to spend two hours a day on it. Writing a book is like starting a diet or an exercise program. You need to commit to it for the long haul and consistently work at it to see results. I wrote my first books while holding down a full-time job, rising at 4:30 each weekday morning and writing for two hours before heading into the office.
Getting that first draft done, however messy it turns out, is critical, especially for a new writer. When writing your first draft, resist doing a lot of rewriting. If the plot or characters veer off in unexpected ways that require the beginning to be rewritten, make notes about what needs to be changed and keep going. If you keep revising, you may never finish. And your revisions to a finished draft will be a lot more informed instead of making piecemeal tweaks that may not even stay in the final book. Of course there are successful writers whose methods are completely different. You’ll find your path.
When writing a first draft, I set general daily word goals, but I find it more practical to set a weekly word goal. This allows for those inevitable unproductive days. First drafts are torturous for me and I don’t write them quickly. I shoot for 7500 words a week which is about 35 pages. For an 80,000 word book, I’ll have a draft done in about 11 or 12 weeks. I avoid working on Sundays and I avoid social media on the weekends. When I’m writing, I limit how often I check email and social media. I don’t listen to music as I find all types of it distracting. TV is forbidden. I’m a morning person, so I get to work by 7:00 am or earlier. It took me a couple of books to settle into this routine. By telling you my experiences, you may find some inspiration here.
- Find a writing schedule that works for you. Try to write at least one hour a day, five days a week as a start. You need to immerse yourself in the world of your book and consistently move the story along. Setting your book aside for days or weeks at a time won’t get you there.
- Write even when you don’t feel inspired. Sometimes those days turn out to be the ones when you solve a niggling plot point or character issue.
- Avoid too much rewriting when penning your first draft. It’s important to go through the process of writing a novel that has a beginning, middle, and an end.
- Believe in yourself and avoid the naysayers (especially those in your own head).
- Have fun and rejoice! You’re on your way to becoming a novelist.