How to Write a Novel in 58 Days

Catchy headline, huh? Actually, I have no idea how you can write a novel in 58 days. But having just achieved that myself, I can tell you how I did it. I don’t know yet whether my novel is any good, so it’s possible that this is how you write a bad novel in that time period. Time will tell.

[Update: It’s got 4.8/5 stars on Amazon, so I guess people think it’s good.]

The novel is called “Entropy” and I think the genre is called “Erotic Romance Fiction.” I looked at a list of genres in Wikipedia and that one seemed like a really good fit. There’s a plot and characters and stuff, but there is also a lot of sex, and the sex is important to the plot. My first draft was about 81,000 words. When I started writing, I decided I wanted to write a novel, so I looked at articles on the web to find out how long a novel is. I found several sources that all had a pretty consistent answer: 80-90 thousand words.

So I set out to write 85,000 words figuring it would go up and down a bit after I finished. When things started to wrap themselves up at the end, I decided anything over 80K was fine.

When I started out, I only had a very basic idea: Middle-aged woman in a loveless marriage gets involved in an online romance. I figured that was a good thing to write about because judging from my Twitter feed, that’s a really common thing that happens. I wrote my opening scene, and then I fell into the writing process I’m about to describe. None of this was planned. It just happened this way.

I worked in “scenes” not chapters. I define a scene as a single place, group of characters, and plot point. I would think about what I want the next scene to be. Where should it happen? Who should be there? What’s the gist of it? That’s all I planned in advance. It turns out, that planning takes about a half a day. Sometimes in that planning, I’d come up with the next two scenes, but usually I’d just come up with one. I’d play with different ideas while I planned the scene: things people might say; key things that needed to happen. I would do all this planning while I walked the dog, or drove to work, or slept. I do a lot of my best thinking when I’m asleep.

Then I would look for a chance to steal an hour to write. I’d sit at my laptop and start typing. A lot of my scenes are dialog, and that was particularly easy. I just let my characters decide what to say. I guess it is kind of like improv theater. If you are true to the characters, you can just write what comes naturally. I would go back and forth, and see what happened. This is also the process I used when people were deciding what to do next. I just let my characters decide on their own.

Since I was completely out of the loop on decision making, I honestly could not possibly plan more than a scene in advance. I needed the characters to tell me how to move the plot forward. Then I would look at what happened, and start thinking about the next scene. There are 116 scenes in the book. That works out to exactly two per day. The average length of a scene is 700 words. That’s about how long a short blog article is. So you can see how banging that out in one sitting is not really a big deal. I always finished the scene in the same sitting I started.

There were some things I needed to research, and I did that in that between-typing time. But since this book is mostly about interpersonal relationships, there wasn’t too much research required.

I wrote using TextEdit on my mac, because it understands all the keyboard shortcuts from an old text editor called Emacs that I use in my job (I’m a computer programmer, mostly). I would write the draft in TextEdit, and then I’d email it to my cheerleader. My cheerleader is a person who would read my scene and tell me it was wonderful. This was key to my motivation. I was not looking for constructive feedback at this point. I was looking for someone to keep me going. And my cheerleader did a fantastic job of that.

TextEdit doesn’t tell you word count, but it saves files in a format called RTF that I could read with a little program I wrote to give me word count. So after I saved my scene, I’d run my program and it would tell me my new word count, and what percentage of my  85K word goal I’d reached. The percentage generally went up about 1% each time I saved a scene, so that was good motivation as well.

Periodically I would take all these scenes, each in its own RTF file, and copy/paste them into Microsoft Word. I hate MS Word. I find it impossible to compose in, but it’s good at managing books. I would proofread there, taking advantage of the green grammar squiggles and the red typo squiggles. Once I was comfortable that my doc was in good shape, I’d save a PDF and send it to my reader. This person’s job was supposed to be to help identify plot holes, raise questions I might answer going forward, etc. In fact, my reader turned out to mostly be another cheerleader.

A couple days after I started writing I had an idea for how to end the book. So I wrote that and set it aside. I had no idea if I’d end up using that ending, but it did give me a compass heading. If it worked out, I thought that would be a decent way to end. Other than that, I had no plot in mind when I started. Since I’ve finished the draft and given it to more people, several have told me they like the plot. So I guess there is a plot. I don’t see it. But they do, so shrug. I did have an existential crisis at about the 33% mark when I realized I was writing a book without a plot, and I had to decided whether that was okay. But I’ve read a lot of great books that had no plot, so what the hell.

But I guess there is a plot, and I know that I wrote a lot of great scenes that I really liked. I fell in love with my characters. They made me cry on more than one occasion, which frankly I find a little disturbing.

I’m not sure what happens next. I’ve given the draft to a few people for feedback, and I’ll tweak and tune the book to fix problems they find. And I’ve given it to a person in the book industry to help me figure out if it belongs in tradition publishing, or indie publishing, or self publishing. Once I figure that out, I’ll do another blog post, no doubt!

Update: I edited it.