Writing a novel in 3 months – pt1

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” — Mark Twain

I was recently listening to one of the exponential wisdom podcasts (always great, in a world of depression and despair, Peter Diamandis and Dan Sullivan are focused on the positive) and Dan mentioned something about writing a book every quarter. So I thought it’d be a good though exercise to go through. How would I write a novel in 3 months?

Working with targets and guidelines helps, because when you think of how big and complex a novel is, it’s overwhelming. But the more you break it down, the easier it gets. For example, middle grade fiction is often 40,000-60,000 words. If we have a final target word count and a timescale, we can work out how much we’d have to write per day and per week:

Word Count Words per day Words per week
40,000 440 3,077
45,000 495 3,462
50,000 549 3,846
55,000 604 4,231
60,000 659 4,615

Bear in mind that these word counts are final draft quality. It’s not always going to be possible to write final draft quality, especially from the start. Polishing delivery should only really come once the content has been finalised. But on a per day basis, those word counts aren’t too intimidated! Even if you extrapolate upwards for a 100,000 word adult novel, you’re looking at 1,100 words per day.

Getting ahead with a project like this would require some preparation. This is precisely what Michael Moorcock outlined in his how to write a book in three days article. To do an article in 3 days he:

  • Has an overall story structure in mind (stories vary far less than you might think and, when they do, they often fail, because the structure doesn’t make sense to our minds and we lose interest)
  • Understands how to pace the book
    • An event every 4 pages
    • Taking a 60k word count novel, splitting this into 4 sections of 15k words – these sections have goals and time constraints
    • Splitting the 15k sections into 6 chapters, each of which must move the goal forward
  • Lists of images, themes, stock characters etc – he would also draw inspiration from what he had around him in his room

There’s more, of course, but what it boils down to is understanding that your story is comprised of elements. The characters, the plot and subplot, the structure and so on. And much as you’d like to think that everything you spin out is pure gold, the majority is very derivative. Characters take on characteristics for the roles they play in the story, and these roles can change. Sometimes you’ll see the most superficial similarities: Gandalf and Dumbledore, for example. But on a deeper level, Dumbledore is an extremely flawed human, whilst Gandalf is some semi-deity. They both serve similar roles in their story and it’d be easy to take either of them as a basis for a mentor, making a couple of adjustments and coming out with someone new. For example, what if Gandalf was small and green, “and speak in a strange manner, he did?” Exchange Glamdring for a lightsabre and you’ve got Yoda.

Understanding patterns and structures, using stock characters as starting points, all of these serve the purpose of giving you less decisions to make. If you’re not stuck on the basics, you can really excel on what actually defines your story and makes it different. And it all feeds in to writing a novel in 3 days, or 3 months.