On Writing

This is a new section to the blog where I’m going to discuss various aspects of writing a novel.

Over the last few months I’ve been writing a novel. In fact over the last twenty years or so I’ve been writing a novel.

Writing a book is something I’ve attempted many times. I’ve got at least half a dozen good ideas I’d like to do more with. There’s a crime novel, a thriller, several children’s books, at least two non fiction books on memory techniques, some very bad erotica, and I’m sure things I’ve forgotten about too. Most of those have a few thousand words somewhere on my computer or wandering around the cloud. And there they remain. Waiting.

This time though I’ve taken a different approach to the process. Rather than type up a few pages and leave it for inspiration to strike, I’ve taken a different tack. It’s the bum-on-seat approach of turning up every single day. And more than that, it’s the approach of recording if I’ve succeeded, then not breaking the chain.

I have a spreadsheet, a Google Doc, and in it I am tracking what I do on various fronts. I’m also using a simple Goal Tracker app. Between the app and the spreadsheet I’m recording work hours, steps I’ve walked, progress with writing, and more. In some future post I’ll discuss how I’m tracking the various tasks / goals. And how I’m tackling them as it’s not a one size fits all strategy. The goals and data vary for each and so warrant some further discussion, but for now let’s concentrate on the writing.

The book I’m currently writing, The Ghost Writer, I started in 2013. That’s six years ago. I have an early version of it at 6,217 words. And then it was mostly dormant for five more years.

In April 2019 a friend who I had told the story many years previously asked me about it, so I resurrected the book to see where it had got up to. Somehow I had 10,112 words in the document where I had added bits here and there, and then abandoned it again for months or years.

So I created a goal for myself in the Goal Tracker app, one I could do regardless of everything else going on in my life. To have a successful day and get a tick mark, all I had to do was write for ten minutes, or add 200 words. To do either was a success. I could open the Scrivener file, for ten minutes and walk away giving myself a tick in the app knowing that I’d put my bum in the seat and tried to write.

What’s happened though is every day I add a few hundred words. The ten minutes I have to write is usually 25 minutes as I will complete a “Pom“. Most days I average 500 words. As I write this article I’m at 68,000 words, and have been writing every day for 116 days.

I chose 200 words deliberately, some careful analysis (okay, a quick internet search) indicated that an average book was 90,000 words. 200 words a day would mean you’d have a novel in about a year and a half, assuming you take a month off to let it lie (or fester), and a couple of months to edit the first draft.

200 words would be, very roughly, about half a page. Long enough to actually take some effort, but short enough that given a little effort I could do it. The ten minutes was simply the minimum period where it felt like it was still a period worth counting.

The actual writing now seems pretty painless. I am apparently a pantser, just making it up as I go along. I have a rough idea of where the story is going, but as I write I discover how I get there.

In another post I’ll talk about how my writing process has changed this time, for now it’s enough to say if you want to write your book, get your bum on your seat, and make sure you don’t break the chain.