Lesson 8: Treat it like a project

At this point, you will have lots of great sketches for your story and should be humming with excitement and zing. It’s now time to write your first draft. Please remember two things.

First, you are not done developing your idea.

Right now you have a number of great sketches, but as you actually fill in the details, as you draft, new ideas will come to you. So as you write, you will see new facets to the THOMR and characters and setting and the obstacles. You might imagine new and interesting characters as the need arises. You will most likely find that the plot you sketched needs to be tweaked. You will sometimes find that some of the scenes you first imagined don’t fit anymore. Or they might still fit, but you’ve come up with something far better than you first imagined. You’ll write dialogue that makes your character jump off the page and might change how you first envisioned them. You will probably see background in the setting or character that you couldn’t have in the pre-draft sketching.

Part of the joy of writing the first draft is that you’re still discovering and enjoying the discovery of the story.

None of this means your first sketches were wrong or worthless. No! It just means that the development of a story is an iterative process and doesn’t finish until you’ve gotten the whole thing out in detail. And even then, you’ll change things about it.

The second thing you need to remember is that this is a project. Novels aren’t quick things. If you write poopy-slow like me, you will finish 500-700 words of your draft in an hour. Let’s see what that means for various novel sizes.

  • 25,000 words: 50 hours
  • 50,000 words: 100 hours
  • 75,000 words: 150 hours
  • 100,000 words: 200 hours
  • 200,000 words: 400 hours

And those requirements don’t count time you might need to spend re-imagining a piece or researching some gap in your knowledge or figuring out some knotty bit you couldn’t see was problematic when you first set out.

A novel can be a big project and stretch over a few weeks, especially when you don’t have eight hours a day to write. Let’s say you’re writing a 30,000 word novel, which will probably take 60+ hours to write, but you can only make 10 hours of writing time per week. That’s going to require you stay focused for at least six weeks.

So here’s the first thing I do. I plan out my week and identify when I will write.

Will I be like Mary Higgins Clark–who wrote her first novel over the course of a year as a single mother with a job and kids to get off to school–and wake up early to get in an hour or two of writing in the morning? Or will I write during lunch breaks? Maybe it’s in the evening and on weekends. Or maybe I take three days off two or three weeks in a row and knock it out.

How you do it is up to you, but you must find time. And you must find enough of it during any given week. I’ve found that my mind is like a furnace, and if I only spend a few hours a week on a novel, I spend most of my time warming the furnace up. Keep your furnace hot. I’ve found I need at least 10 hours per week to do that.

So your next step is to identify the time you will write and calculate how many hours that is per week. Now, based on your weekly hours and your speed, identify when you want to start this project and when you expect to finish.

You now have a schedule. It’s your job to show up to work. I suggest you track your time by clocking in and out.

Next, I want you to read these four articles about production.

What did you learn from these folks?

One thing that Rachel Aaron and I both do to help us get our word count in during our working sessions is to sketch the scene before we write it. And that’s what you’ll learn to do in more detail in the next lesson.


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