How to Write Your Novel’s First Draft in Just 2 Months

Late Tuesday night, I happily typed the final words of the first draft of a novel that I began 65 days before. 92,615 words, averaging out to 1,425 per day, though if you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that I don’t write every single day, and I don’t even advocate writing daily (though, if that’s your thing, more power to you).

Beyond writing, I do work full time Monday through Friday; attend church and teach Sunday school on Sundays; take my son to karate on Mondays and Fridays; teach ESL and attend choir practice and Bible study on Wednesdays; commute halfway across the state on Thursdays; and make halfhearted attempts to keep up on housework (well, sometimes).

So how? How can someone with a full life still find the time to write the draft of a full length work of fiction in a little over 2 months?

I’m glad you asked. Because I bet you can do it too–if you want to.

First, spend an entire year thinking about, researching, and sketching a rough outline of the novel before writing anything. Go ahead and make notes of scenes or particular phrases or dialogue you think of, but don’t start the real writing until you are ready. Really ready. So ready that you can’t hold back any longer. I put this first not only because it comes first chronologically, but because it was so obviously the most critical factor for me this time around.

Second, build in some concentrated blocks of writing time. I probably could have managed most days to write something on my manuscript, but to write fast and in the moment, I needed to have a string of empty days where nothing was on my schedule except writing. That’s how I got momentum. I took one week of vacation at the very beginning and another six weeks later. More than 50,000 words were written in those two weeks alone–over half the book.

Third, write first. Write before you go to work, before you do the dishes at night, before you collapse in bed and binge on House of Cards. Put the writing first for this limited amount of time while you’re working hard to get that first draft done. Now I have the whole rest of the year to relax a bit and enjoy life more while I edit at a far more leisurely pace. But if you don’t put it first for awhile, it will always get pushed back down the priorities list until it’s the last thing you do with the dregs of your energy–or it may fall off entirely.

Fourth, resist getting bogged down. There were times, especially near the end, when I had to slow down and look at the big picture again before I could see the way forward. But if you stand still too long in the muck in the middle of your book, you may find that you’re cemented there. Leave it too long, and you might give up on it. Push forward whenever you can.

Fifth, eliminate your biggest distractions. TV? Facebook? Video games? Friends? They’re all crouching on the sidelines waiting to devour your time and brain cells. Do whatever it takes to control these distractions. Have a friend take your TV and your X-box for a while. Go Cold Turkey on time-sucking Internet sites. Have your mom dog-sit for a couple months. Schedule some special times with your friends for a few months from now so you have something to look forward to.

I want to stress that I didn’t set out to write this draft at breakneck speed. I was fully expecting it to take at least twice as long as it did. The speed happened because the story wanted so badly to be told after my copious research. It was all wound up inside my brain and once I let it go, there was no stopping it. But along the way I had ample opportunities for it to get derailed. And that’s where the last three pieces of advice come in.

You have to want it. And you have to be willing to sacrifice for it, if only for a time.

I’m a pretty firm believer that a person can do almost anything for set amount of time. When I was running a lot, I convinced myself to go further and run longer by forcing myself to “at least get to the end of this song” and then “at least get to the chorus of this next song” and then “at least go one more minute.”

Can you give yourself a time frame and tell yourself that you can write for “at least this one hour today” or “every day for just this next week” or “1000 words a day for just this one month?” If you can do that, push yourself a little harder. Give yourself a deadline. Then beat it.

3 Easy Ways to Get Back into Writing Your Book

Ideally, we would all have time to work regularly on our writing projects, never allowing the fire to cool or the story to get stale. But reality is rarely ideal. It’s reality. It’s busy times at work, kids who need love, meals that need making. Those clothes won’t wash themselves, you know. So we often find ourselves torn away from our works-in-progress for a time and they turn into works-in-the-backs-of-our-minds. Sometimes we wander away from our writing fairly purposefully when we aren’t sure what comes next.

Either way, how do you get back in the groove after an absence? Here are three easy ways…

Reread. If it’s been just a few days, reread the last chapter. If it’s been more than a week or so, read what you have written so far, from the first to the last page, to get yourself not only back into the story, but also to reorient yourself to the flow of the story thus far. It’s more than simply figuring out where to go next. It’s recapturing the flow, the voice, the tension, the characters, the setting. Immerse yourself in it as a first-time reader would and you’ll be propelled forward in the story by the momentum you’ve hopefully built up. Plus you’ll see if what you’ve written thus far still holds up after letting it rest. You can also listen to what you’ve written, which gives the story another dimension altogether.

Outline. After that, see if you can outline what happens in the next few chapters. It helps to have at least a small idea of the road ahead. Just seeing a paragraph of synopsis (which I tend to write before an actual chapter is written) can almost trick you into thinking you’ve already written that chapter and give you a small feeling of accomplishment, which you can then ride into the actual writing of that chapter. Then, when it’s written, you can go back and tweak your synopsis to match what you actually wrote. In this way you are also finishing a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to put into your book proposal later. Two birds, one stone.

Research. Read over any research notes you may have taken to put you back into that world and spark your imagination with possibilities for your characters. If you are writing anything besides contemporary fiction that is set in a city like your own, you need to put yourself back in the right place, the right time period, and the right clothes. You need to pick up those speech patterns you’ve given your characters. You need to reorient yourself to that world, reintroduce yourself to its problems.

Now stop fooling around on the internet and get back to work!