or: how I found time to write a novel, and you can too
I’m one of those lifelong aspiring novelists. Ever since I read “Anne of Green Gables” as a 4th grader (and then the other seven books in the series, and then reread them, and then watched the film adaptations… you get the picture), I’ve thought I would write a novel. Someday.
The problem: I didn’t have time. There was college, there were “real” jobs, there was grad school, there were more “real” jobs. Throw in the mix marriage, kids, moves- the usual stuff. Life. Who was I kidding? I was never going to write a novel.
But folks, I did it. I wrote my novel. Despite my excuses; despite life. Want to know how?
I reframed the big, massive project as a series of small steps. And you can do the same. I’ll teach you how!
First, I researched typical word counts, and I learned that literary novels (the kind of book I hoped to write) usually clock in at 70,000-100,000 words. I decided to put three, 2-hour blocks on the calendar each week. That would be my writing time. My goal would be to write 1,000 words in each 2-hour block.
At that rate, even allowing the occasional week of vacation, I could complete the first draft of my novel in fewer than nine months. When I figured that out, I was blown away. I had always imagined I’d need several years to write a novel. To think that the timeline could be reduced to months, without too onerous a time commitment, astonished me.
Next, I held myself accountable. I created a spreadsheet with just a few columns: the date, my starting word count, ending word count, and total words. Then, in the times that I had carved out on my calendar, I sat down with my computer, switched off my wifi, opened Word, and started writing.
I didn’t judge the words themselves. And if I look back, very few of the words I wrote in those days have survived to the current version of my novel. But I never could have known that at the time. All I knew was: get the words down. This is how you build a novel. If I hadn’t taken these first steps, I never would have written it.
You’ll notice that some days I wrote more, and others less. As long as I was averaging 1k words per session, I was making the kind of progress I needed to make. Roughly 12,000 new words each month, roughly 9 months. To repeat: by writing only 6 hours per week, I could start and finish the first draft of my novel in 9 months.
Friends, despite taking a month off from the novel after my Dad died (pause after writing that phrase; deep breath), despite taking most of the summer off (because selling the house + 6-week cross-country road trip with 3 kids and a dog + moving internationally = overwhelming), I reached my goal in 10.5 months. Check out the final few rows of my spreadsheet.
Moral of the story? You, too, can do this. Want to write a novel? Break the work down into small chunks. Commit to regular writing periods and a word count goal. Hold yourself accountable. Even if you’re busy with life, you’ve got this in you.