Note: This is part 9 in a series of 25 articles from my upcoming 'Writing for Success' series.
9. Writing Your First Novel: Words & Routine
Writing a novel is all about getting into a routine and churning out the words on a daily basis. So what is the correct number of words that you need to write each day? This is an answer that I can’t give you. Everyone has their own speed and method. Some writer’s churn our 3,000 words a day, while others stick to 1,000. You’re going to have to experiment and see what works for you.
The important thing though is to set yourself a target. Without a target you’re not going to be successful. This is one thing I will guarantee! If you write a novel like you approach a summer garden project and just get a bit done now and again, you’ll always find an excuse not to get the novel written. You’ll start off well enough but as soon as something comes up, the dedication will stop and suddenly your novel will be languishing on the computer, waiting for you to open it up again.
Writing a novel requires a dedicated routine. Do you work at your best in the mornings, afternoons or evenings? I am at my most creative in the mornings and so that’s when I try and write. I have written at other times of the day (even all day long), but that’s not my norm. So when I am writing a novel I make sure I get up early, and get started before 6am. That way I can write when I am at my best. You need to set yourself up for success.
And what about the number of words? Do you know how many words you write an hour? Try it. Write a simple story. Make it up as you go, but try and write for an hour without stopping for a break. Then count the number of words you’ve written. Then do it again the next day. And the next. After you’ve done this for four or five days, count up your words and see what you average. I average about 1,300 words an hour when I’m in normal mode and I can churn out 1,600 words an hour if I’m feeling very creative and everything is just flowing.
When I’m writing a novel I always set myself a target for each day. It’s normally somewhere around the 3,000 word mark – or about two to two and a half hours. I usually split that into two segments, and take a short break in between. Sometimes I will write more, but that’s about my norm.
The other thing I try and do is to split my chapters at about the length of my writing sessions. That way I know that each day I’m writing a chapter (or two if they’re 1,500 to 1,800 words in length). My targets are very defined and I don't allow myself to stop writing until I achieve what I’ve promised. There’s nothing worse than having to start the next day halfway through a chapter because I was too lazy to finish it the day before. Therefore this works as a good motivator for me.
Returning to other things we’ve discussed before about story points, etc., you should have an idea of how your novel is going to be split up and written. Let’s say you have your 200 story points and you’re writing a novel of 80,000 words at 2,000 words a day, that’s forty days of writing. Each day you’re going to get through about five story points. Therefore it probably makes sense to split your novel into about forty chapters and each story point is going to be expanded to about 400 words. Seems fairly straightforward, eh? Not at all. As you begin to write, so the book will start to find its voice and new ideas will come and new story points will be created. Maybe whole new sub-plots will be developed. Maybe whole new chapters. That doesn’t matter. The point is that your plan is to write 2,000 words every day and those 2,000 words should try to map to a complete chapter. There may be days when you finish a chapter at 1,500 words, or another day when a chapter overruns to 3,000. That’s okay too. The important thing is to do what you promised yourself you would do and get the chapter completed. The finished book may turn out at 78,000 words or maybe 82,000 words and it may have 39 chapters or 42 chapters, but either way you know it’s what it should be.
Finally, I want to touch on the topic of how often do you need to write? Is it every day, including weekends? Is it just Monday to Friday? Or is it okay to only write Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays? This is something you’re going to have to answer for yourself. My only comment is that the more ad hoc your writing time is, the less likely you will stick to it. If you force yourself to write every day, including weekends, you will be successful. It’s very easy after a day off to be late the following day, or just not get to it. Discipline is your friend. Discipline is my friend too. I set out to write about 800 words in each of these articles and I write until I have done so, making sure I cover the points I wanted. Lo and behold, my 800 words are written and it’s time to start the next article. How about you? How’s your routine?