How do you write a novel in one year?
J.R.R. Tolkien took more than 12 years to write The Lord of the Rings, while in one month NaNoWriMo writers churn out whole manuscripts. One of the top reasons would-be authors cited for failure to write is “too busy.” Okay, so maybe we can cut some slack for the following people:
People fighting illness or illness of a loved one
People dealing with the IRS or similar circumstances
For everyone else, the following 3 tools are guaranteed to help you make significant progress on that book you’ve always wanted to write or finish.
1. Get a Cat
My cat Minnie ensures I never miss a writing session—not even on weekends. Sometimes she tail-swishes me awake at 1:30 AM instead of 3 AM because she’s so excited to get started. Other times she throws up beside the bed and in the hall to launch me out of bed. And if her bowl is empty, no one is sleeping in until the situation is corrected. With treats.
Maine Coons are the “gentle giants” of the cat world. She’s a big girl. She needs to eat... now! Just saying.
Frankly, she’s a bit of a distraction when I’m on a roll, but when I’m blocked for words, she’s soft and passes the time until something comes to me.
A cat is necessary if you want to write a novel in one year.
Writing a novel in one year also requires putting your butt in the chair every day. Stare at the screen and think about the work, even if the only thing that happens is a few tweaks. Sometimes that’s it. Sometimes there’s a deluge, and sometimes there’s a sprinkle. That’s the process. Fiddling counts as writing. Research also counts. Staring counts too. Deleting 5,000 words counts—even if it hurts and you need to grieve for a few days (or weeks) about it. Just show up and do something.
Feed the cat. Sit in the chair. Write.
Every single day.
Consistency is the drumbeat of the novelist’s heart.
I began researching for my latest novel on February 23, 2018, and I wrapped it up on December 10 with 60,000 words—including the round with my editor. If you review my Twitter feed over the past year, you’ll see a journey of highs and lows through the creative process:
I alternate between confidence and doubt. Yesterday’s paragraphs were fast and furious; today, I struggled to add half a page before backtracking. This is the #writerslife (May 21)
Writing novels is like working puzzles. I fit this piece here… and then that one goes over there… I’m still a long way from seeing the whole picture. (June 21)
Creativity versus the clock: this morning the clock won. I stared and stared and stared at the screen, but minutes dribbled away without words. (July 16)
Life in the middle:
Day X: Write Great scene. Feels good.
Day Y: This book is awful. What am I doing? Reread book from page 1.
Day Z: Okay, that’s not half bad. Continue.
Day A: Write the next scene. Feels good.
Day B: This book is awful. Repeat. (August 6)
My MC finally told me how to end the book, and it’s a surprise. I have to let go of the old idea, so I have to sit with that for a few days. I don’t like being bossed around by my characters. (August 29)
For an hour and a half, I struggled to write two lousy paragraphs. Then with five minutes of my time left, these guys finally start talking and give me a page of workable dialog. Sheesh! (September 11)
What you should notice most from the year’s entries is consistency. I post every day. I write every day. Sometimes I write well, and sometimes I don’t. But I write.
As my favorite author Stephen King said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.”
In fact, over a 20-year period I’ve written at least 14 novels. It's hard to identify an exact count because I've rewritten a few so drastically that you might "count" them as new novels. Many of these early books are so terrible they must never see the light of day.
Consistency does not always equal quality.
Side note: There have been 3 cats accompanying those 14 novels.
The #5amwritersclub is an amazing support group for writers. Like many indie authors, when I joined Twitter initially, I went mainly to post annoying ads and sell books.
But instead, to my great delight, I found my tribe on Twitter! The #5amwritersclub is a group of like-minded authors of every genre who are facing similar struggles and joys.
I’m inspired by the new mothers who manage to squeeze in a few moments for writing or the writers putting in 12-hour shifts and still finding time to write. We are a passionate bunch. And funny. And wise. There’s a lot of wisdom in this group.
Sometimes the #5amwritersclub is the motivation I need to write on the weekends because I know the regulars will be there and will say hello. There might even be a game of “favorites” and tagging.
Everyone is busy. We’re so busy we don’t even want to drive our own cars anymore because we need to text and call and send email while in transit to wherever we’re going. We don’t have time to shop so we have things auto-delivered to our house on a recurring schedule. (My current favorite service is chewy.com because in addition to that giant cat, there are dogs to feed.)
In all the hustle-and-bustle of modern life, it’s hard to carve out quiet time for the simple joy of writing, especially if we don’t believe in ourselves. What if we’re just not any good? What if we can’t do it? What if, what if?
That’s why #3 #5amwritersclub is essential if you want to write a novel in one year. Honestly, I cannot guarantee that #1 Get a Cat will provide fan support because cat temperament is too hit-or-miss. Even if you feed the cat, you may have a sarcastic critic who mainly stares at you every morning with a withering expression that says, “Who do you think you are, hack?”
If the thought of this worries you in any way, you might consider substituting #1 Get a Cat with #1 Get a Dog. On the whole, dogs are notoriously more reliable as supportive fans. My Akita Terra always thinks I’m amazing.
Are you ready to make a commitment to your book in the new year? Come on, join us at #5amwritersclub. I know you want to!
And if you do, you just may find yourself writing that brilliant novel that you’ve been talking about for years.