Writing Your First Novel: Make a Plan

Before you sit down and start cranking out pages, it’s good to have a plan. Ask yourself these questions:

1) On average, how long does it take you to write 1,000 words? This measurement is important, because it gives you a way to calculate your writing time. For me, if I’m just writing a first draft, I can typically get 1,000 words (around 3 pages) done in about 2 to 3 hours. Of course, your time will vary depending on which part of your book you’re working on, but just knowing your average is a good start.

2) Ideally, how long would you like for it to take you to finish your book? I’m trying to write mine in 6 months, but there’s no right or wrong answer to this question. One of my graduate school professors, the celebrated Adam Levin, took 10 years to write The Instructions.

3) What is the average word count for the genre you’re writing in? My novel is a young-adult adventure, and YA novels typically clock in at around 70k-100k.

Using the numbers above, you can do a little math to figure out your weekly writing goals. I’ve decided to aim for 4,000 words per week for the next six months, which would put me at 96,000 by June. A bit long for a young-adult novel, but a good goal to have.

If you spend a few hours a day, as many days as you can per week, 4,000 words isn’t impossible. But it’s challenging. Challenging yourself is a good motivator, just don’t make it impossible, or you’ll find yourself discouraged after a few weeks when you don’t even get close to your goals.

Once you’ve come up with a plan, the most important thing to do during your writing hours (be they before dawn, late at night, or during your lunch break), is to simply get your first draft on the page as quickly as possible. Don’t worry about pacing, or structure, or how good or bad your writing sounds during the first draft. Just get the story written. You will have plenty of time to revise, expand, cut, and improve your first draft later. You can add more description, clean up your sentences, further develop your characters, and streamline your plot later, after you’ve finished your first draft.

For now, just get your story onto the page. Give yourself permission to write poorly. If you try to make every page perfect before you move on to the next, it’ll take you a much longer time to get to the final page, and you’re more likely to get discouraged with how long the writing process is taking. You don’t have to show this draft to anyone, so it doesn’t have to be great. It is much easier to revise bad work than to create something perfect out of a blank page. So just plow right through your first draft as quickly as you can.

And don’t get upset if you don’t make your weekly goals. They are guidelines, not necessities. They give you something to shoot for. You can make up for low word counts later.

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