The Baby-Steps Method to Writing a Novel

by Suzannah Windsor Freeman

Baby wearing pink hat

It’s said that most people think they have a story in them–a novel-sized story.

Writing a novel is a huge task, but looking at the big picture makes it appear much larger than it needs to be. Think of writing as a process, rather than an end product.

Don’t tell yourself you must write 300 pages–today, you need only write one.

Let’s presume you want to write a novel in the ballpark of 80,000-90,000 words, within a reasonable time frame of one year. Here are just a few examples of the many different ways you can accomplish just that, by writing 500 words or less, in 30-60 minutes per day:

Baby-Steps Method #1: First Draft Only

Before you start writing, take 4 weeks to plan your story. You don’t need to know all the particulars, but you should have a good idea of your story’s beginning, ending, major plot points, and characters. Keep some notes to refer to later on in the process.

Once you know where you’re going, maintain the following schedule, or something similar:

250 (words per day) x 7 (days per week) x 48 (weeks)= 84,000

OR

350 (words per day) x 5 (days per week) x 48 (weeks)=84,000

By writing  250-350 words, 5 to 7 days per week, you will have written 84,000 words in a year.

The downfall of this method is that you will have only finished a first draft, so you’ll need to allot several more months for revision.

Baby-Steps Method #2: First Draft and Revision

Begin with the same 4 weeks for story planning as for method #1. Then write:

450 (words per day) x 7 (days per week) x 26 (weeks)= 81,900

OR

500 (words per day) x 5 (days per week) x 33 (weeks)= 82,500

Depending on which you choose, you’ll have anywhere between 15 and 22 weeks left in the year to revise your novel.

These equations are only guidelines. Choose whatever frequency suits you, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t meet your quota every single day. Having a writing schedule is meant to empower, not restrict.

Although it may seem like this plan reduces novel writing to a sort of paint-by-numbers approach, having a ballpark quota of words to write each day helps break down the big picture into smaller, more manageable chunks.

So, when you’re tempted to look at how overwhelming the task seems, you can remind yourself it’s not so impossible after all.

It only takes baby steps.

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