Writing a Novel in a Year?
Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Odds are if you’re reading this, you’re a writer. If you have finished a novel, don’t yell at me if my methods aren’t your methods. We can’t all be carbon copies. If you’re writing or want to write a novel though, consider this a good place to sit down and start. I’ve written eleven manuscripts from start to finish, so I’d hope I’ve learned a couple things in my writing “career.”
Of course it’s all subjective as well. There’s no right amount of time to write a book. I wrote a 110,000-word book in six months and a 56,000-word book over the course of two years.
Okay, here we go.
There are some genres that do not lend well to shorter time periods. Luckily, a year is actually quite a bit of time to finish a novel (we will get into the numbers below). So, what I recommend is you allot yourself at least a year the following works:
The first book of a fantasy series.
The first book of a science fiction series.
A book requiring extensive research (historical fictions, mythological stories, etc)
Books over 100,000 words (epics, fantasy, sci-fi)
Pretty much every novel and genre, really
Why only the first books in fantasy or sci-fi series? Because you need that time to build the world in story and to plan it properly. In subsequent books, it’s not unthinkable to write in an established world from the first book. This is why I would say the first book needs to take a longer time as a rule of thumb.
From that point, any genre can be written in a year. Depending on how much planning and research goes into it, and based on other factors that we’ll touch on below. Most writers take between six months to a year to finish a novel, so our year timeframe here is on the higher end of the average estimates.
Plan It Out
These books likely need a lot of planning. You can’t pants a sci-fi novel. Well, I suppose you could, but in a place where you’re building new tech and a new world, you shouldn’t pants. It leaves the door open for a lot of inconsistencies and plot holes and straight-up plot errors.
Any book that needs a lot of researching ought to be planned out as well. Spending the first week of your year planning out the story leaves you with 51 weeks of pointed writing. You’ll be much more focused if the outline is done.
What I do? I set it up and break it down on a chapter by chapter basis. I start with chapter one, write a paragraph about what happens in the chapter. Then I keep going until I reach what I want to be my ending and then tweak them from there. My 110,000-word novel has 48 chapters, for instance, and they were planned out and I knew roughly where the story would take me, making adjustments as I needed to with new ideas.
By the Numbers
Time for math. Please don’t click away. I know you like words, but we gotta do some numbers now.
For this exercise, let’s assume we’re trying to write a 120,000-word novel. And keep in mind that you do some trimming in editing! So that original 120k might come down to 95k with a rewrite or two.
120,000 / 365 days of the years means we have to write at a pace of roughly 329 words a day. That doesn’t seem so bad, now does it? For these longer works, it’s mostly the world-building and research that draws it out.
For comparison, as of writing this, my lifetime writing daily average since I started writing is just under 500 words per day for 7 published novels, 11 completed manuscripts + a couple uncompleted works. And this is over the course of 7+ years, mind you.
Words Per Minute
For the average person, they type at around 40 words per minute (WPM). A novelist can crack 80+ on typing test with ease. There’s a snag with real writing though. Your WPM suffers because you have to 1) think about what you want to write, and 2) have to write more punctuation, including quotation marks. These all hamper your writing speeds to some degree.
For example, my writing speed on typing tests is average 87WPM. The means I could write our daily word count in 4 minutes, Except I can’t do that. Because that’s not how writing stories works. Novel words per minute is a different measurement.
Let’s just go ahead and assume novel words per minute (NWPM) is 35% of your raw WPM score to account for thinking and extra punctuation. So for me that would be roughly 30NWPM, meaning I could write our daily score in just under 11 minutes. Not a terrible time commitment at all. Therefore, I think this proves that a novel can reasonably be written in a year.
This also doesn’t account for the days where all you do is research. Days without writing will quickly add up for projects needing extensive researching and then you’ll be sinking, trying to catch up to that word count.
The biggest advice for writing in general is just be consistent. Block out some time every so often to just write. Force yourself to write. If you only wrote when you felt like writing, you’d never write. That’s the paradox.
If all you need to do is write 329 words per day of your manuscript, block out that time to do it every single day! Write it on your phone if you have to!
And, finally, and perhaps most importantly: Just write the damn thing because nobody else can do it for you.
So, what do you think?
Comment your thoughts!
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And have a good wander, friend.