The 100,000 Word Project

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.

Actual spreadsheet from the beginning of my novel. I called this the “100,000 Word Project.”

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.

Whoo-hoo! Made it to 100,000 words!

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.

Published by Jill Witty

Jill Witty received an honors degree in English from Yale and an MBA from UCLA. She won the Flash Fiction prize from Writer Advice and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2021, Best Microfiction 2022 and Best Small Fictions 2022. Her work has recently been published in Baltimore Review, CRAFT Literary, Catapult, Pithead Chapel, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. To learn more and see links to published work, visit She is currently seeking representation for her debut novel, a book-club tale of revenge in the wake of assault.

One thought on “The 100,000 Word Project

  1. Wow! I love this. I also struggle to write consistently and have always reached to write a novel. I’ve even had an idea in my head for years, but never sat down and worked on it consistently. Bookmarked this and I’m going to try this method. Thanks for sharing!


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