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.

The Creative Momentum of Concentrated Time

I wrote this post just a little over a year ago. Since that big writing weekend at Gun Lake, I’ve taken a few blocks of concentrated time off of work in order to write. The first week of this year I did this and managed to write over 13,000 words and the first five chapters of a new novel. And I felt pretty swell about that.

I managed to write here and there in the weeks following, ending up with twelve chapters and nearly 28,000 words by the first week of February. At this rate I thought maybe I could be done by Easter.

Then this past week I took another writing vacation that was capped with another weekend at Gun Lake. Two weeks of vacation already used up in February?! Why would I do such a thing? How foolish!

Actually, it’s not a big problem. One of the perks of staying with one company for twelve years is accumulated paid time off. So I’m not worried about needing more vacation time later in the year.

And you know what? I wrote more than 36,000 words this week and am now on chapter 29. That’s called momentum. Almost 65,000 words into a novel that I started just six weeks ago.

How did I manage it? I took control of my time. I directed my life instead of letting it direct me. And everyone, everyone can do that.

On Wednesday I’ll be guest blogging over at author Susie Finkbeiner’s blog. I’ll be talking about time. If you’re having trouble finding the time to create, whether you’re writing or quilting or painting or making music, I encourage you to check it out.

You’ve got 24 hours today. Are you going to set aside a few of them to do what you love?

Making Peace with February

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAh, February. You’ve brought with you several more inches of snow. How embarrassing for you. Didn’t anyone tell you that’s what January brought too? In fact, she brought so much that front loaders have been spied filling dump trucks with the stuff to cart it off to wherever such things get carted off to. I do wish you’d instead decided to bring some sunshine. Though, admittedly, the warmer temperature has been pleasant. So thanks for that.

Friends, February has historically been my least favorite month (and I’m sure if you are from snowy regions, it’s your least favorite as well). Winter marches on so gray and dreary. We are at our most vitamin D deficient. Our pale, dry, chapped skin ages us so severely.

But in recent years I’ve worked on making peace with it. Honestly, the fresh snow helps. The days that are reaching for just a little more light each evening. The birds that are starting to sing a little louder.

And one more week off to write, capped with a three-day writing retreat for me and my husband at our friend’s house on Gun Lake. No Internet, no TV, no restaurants, no laundry, no kid. Just a fireplace, two laptops, and nothing but wide open time.

I can’t wait.

The Disappearing Week

You ever have one of those weeks where you’re utterly spent and you can’t believe it’s already nearly over? It’s been one of those weeks for me. I haven’t gotten much writing done, most of my clothes are in the laundry, and my house is a disaster due to neglect.

On the other hand, I did make white sauce from scratch out of Julia Child’s cookbook and I have managed to fill the dishwasher. Small victories.

Sometimes you have to accept a week where not much gets done. But I find they are often followed by incredibly productive times. Hoping to get back in the swing of the novel this weekend. And I’m pretty sure I should start chipping away at the mountain of boots and shoes that is slowly encroaching on the living room as soon as possible.

Then again, there’s always next week . . .

Measuring My Life in Woodpiles and Cucumbers

Despite the fact that our Midwestern home is kept warm in the cold months with a furnace that runs on natural gas, we are the happy beneficiaries of the many lovely aspects of a wood-burning fireplace. In the winter months, we often have a fire roaring and crackling away, with the whole family (animal members included) lolling around in the living room, basking in its warm glow. By the time spring came around this year, we’d burned through our woodpile and were on to the odious task of buying wood from grocery and hardware stores–wood that was never quite dry enough and since we burned it, it really did fell as though we were burning money.

This year, however, our fireplace fuel needs have been taken care of thanks to an enormous dead sugar maple that we finally decided to dispose of before it crushed our house during a windstorm. It’s a good thing we acted when we did, as the modern-day lumberjack who took it down informed us that about half the trunk was hollow (including the root system).

NovFirst2The guys cut the big branches down to fireplace log size and stacked them up on the driveway along the fence. And, as I requested, they left an enormous pile of smaller branches for me to break down into kindling, which is what has occupied a fair bit of my weekend already.

There is something so ancient-Anglo-Saxon-peasant about breaking up sticks and bunching them together in containers. Not that my Germanic and British ancestors would have used plastic flowerpots to store their kindling, but…you get the idea. As I cracked and hacked and sawed and snipped each branch into size and created my bouquets of branches, I felt I was doing good work. Work that had a practical application in life. Necessary work.

I took a break for a while to collect ripe tomatoes and cucumbers from the vegetable garden and thought about chopping them up along with some onion to make a cucumber salad, another act of breaking something down into useful parts.

I think about the apricot/plum and blueberry jam I just made, about the impending autumn chores of raking and cutting back the perennials, of the winter chores of shoveling snow and scraping the car. And I find myself very much looking forward to spending the cold months in my cozy house as we somehow cope with the fact that my son is now in kindergarten and we wait to see the tangible results of much time spent writing and editing.

Life marches inexorably on without our permission in some ways and cannot move fast enough to please us in others. So we practice contentment in all things and carry on with the tasks at hand.

Time to get back to my woodpile.

One Chapter Leads to the Next

As season gives way to season, so the ending of one chapter of life is the beginning of another. There are the obvious transitions–graduations, weddings, births, deaths, divorces, jobs begun and jobs ended–those abrupt moments that change everything. But unlike in books, when white space and large numerals indicate the next chapter, sometimes in life we only recognize the ending of one thing and the beginning of another in hindsight. The change is so gradual–the drifting apart of spouses, the slow fizzle of friendship, the long development of a talent until it finally defines us.

I have been through many a hobby and many an interest, as you have, I’m sure. At one point or another I have filled up my free time with stamping, painting, making jewelry, selling Pampered Chef, taking care of pet lizards and mice and tree frogs, making mosaics, developing my gardens, leading nature walks, making quilts, sewing a closet full of clothes, decoupage, seeing nearly every movie in the theaters, making paper, going to the gym…and I could go on. (You may notice the glaring absence of housework from that long list. This was not an accident.)

One hobby that I have been particularly proud of over the past six years is being a docent at Potter Park Zoo. 50+ hours of every year since 2006 I have given over to educating people about our zoo, conservation, ecology, and many different kinds of animals. I have worked firsthand with some amazing animals and some amazing people. And I have loved each moment of it. But I find that this is a chapter that is ending for the time being. Those precious hours need to be put to a different use.

I have also, for the past several years, been sewing steadily, creating around 75 items of clothing (more than 40 of those in just the last year as a regular contributor to The Sew Weekly) and more than 30 quilts. It garners me a lot of compliments and it is a fun and rewarding hobby. I have committed to finishing a quilt for my son next year and I’ll do some more outfits for the Sew Weekly to close out 2012. But I find that this is a chapter that is sort of ending for the time being.  Those precious hours need to be put to a different use.

What use? Why would I voluntarily end activities that pleased me and often helped others? For the simple reason that I need to use that time to write.

People often ask me how I find time to do all the things I do. We all get 24 hours a day. Most of us have to work to make a living. Many of us have spouses and children to care for. When I was feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities as a young mother going back to work I made a schedule for my days, not to follow exactly, but simply to see if it was possible to do all that I had to do. I filled up my 24 hours quickly and sat back to look at my work, amazed and feeling pretty satisfied that I had fit everything in. Then I noticed that I had forgotten to allow any time for showering, dressing, making meals, or even eating. So I had to reprioritize. I couldn’t make more time. I had to cut things out and cut things back. I had to reclaim time.

And at this point in my life I must reclaim time again. I must sacrifice some good things in favor of something better. Writing. In November I am doing National Novel Writing Month, devoting my extra time to writing about 2000 words each day. Beyond that, in 2013, I am devoting the time I would have used for sewing or tramping around the zoo to finishing and revising my second novel. And starting a third.

To find the kind of time one needs in order to really make a go at writing, to make it more than a hobby, one must be willing to let go of other things, even if they are good things. Because even I can’t do it all (even if to some people it seems that I can). And you can’t either.

Is one chapter of your life slowly and perniciously turning into the whole story of your life? Maybe it’s time to wrap that chapter up and start on a fresh page. If you want to write…then maybe it’s time to write.