Only-1-hour-day-500pxMany people dream of writing a novel. Very few actually do. Why?

One of the reasons is that many writers don’t believe they have the time. If you find yourself waiting for the “right time” to write, or endlessly putting off your writing goals because of your busy schedule, consider this:

You do have the time. But you need to change the way you think about writing a novel.

A student once asked me if it’s possible to write a novel with only an hour a day to write.

Yes.

Truth is, it’s difficult, but it can be done. Many, if not most, writers shoehorn their prose between a primary job, the laundry, and driving the kids to soccer practice. They manage this by learning some secrets about what it actually takes to write:

1. Remember that you’re after a rough draft, not a finished draft. Rough = bad. Ask yourself, Is one hour a day enough time to write a bad first draft of a chapter? Probably it is. As someone once told me, “Don’t get it right, get it written.”

The more you write, the better you will become at writing first drafts, but they will always be rough. You must give yourself permission to write badly.

2. Don’t try to write a complete (as in fleshed-out) first chapter. Instead, write a skeletal first chapter with the main action and the main dialogue in black and white. To do this, sit down and imagine what you see and hear as you live the events of the story. Try to capture conflict and unexpected details through the senses (what your hero sees, hears, feels, tastes smells—and thinks.)

3. Find a pace that matches your time. If you can only put five hours into the rough draft of each chapter, then pare down what you put onto paper so that you are writing 20% of the chapter every day.

Sure it will feel rough and incomplete. Yes, you will probably hate it, and it will take practice learning to discipline yourself in this way. But when you are done you will have something to work with that can be revised.

And I think you will find that the story is more compelling–even in this skeletal stage–than you thought it would be.

If it isn’t, then no amount of fleshing out will fix it, and your problem isn’t one of time, but of a flawed story. In which case the less time you spend on it, the better.

Overhaul your preconceived ideas of what it looks like to write and be a writer. Try the real thing.

What is the most important “secret” you have learned about what it takes to write a novel? I would really like to know. Leave a comment.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Alex Carter

    Often, I find that the rough draft process is difficult because I want so badly for the story to be perfect the first time and that is simply not possible. When I look over the rough draft I’ll want to burn the whole manuscript because I think it’s no good and it’s not the way I want it. At that point, I have to push myself to keep on writing or at least stare at the screen as I think on the story. Sometimes I’ll take breaks for weeks at a time before I am able to come back and work on the story. I’ll also pray for ideas. The secret is to not give up even when you want to kill off all your characters because you’re frustrated.

  2. Angie

    The most important secret I discovered to writing a novel? I think its sheer, bloody perseverance. Just never never, never, never, never giving up – as Churchill said. When I write a novel I feel like a tortoise; the process feels amazingly slow, often very tedious and discouraging. But I’ve proved that if I keep on keeping on, I’ll hit the finish line! Is that a secret or does everybody know that?!

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