Is it possible to draft a 100,000-word fantasy novel in less than three months?
Short answer: yes, it’s totally possible!
In my last blog post, I talked about how I wrote over 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo in November 2019. I’ve never won NaNoWriMo before, and this is the first novel-length draft I’ve finished for myself in a very long time. To say I’m proud of myself is an understatement.
I’m always curious about how other writers work, so I thought I’d break down my process for this manuscript draft. I hope it helps you on your writing journey.
A Word of Warning
Although many authors can churn out drafts they’re satisfied with in short times, it’s not for everyone.
Please do not feel like you’re doing something wrong if you take longer to write your drafts. Everyone works differently, and I encourage you to embrace the process that works for you.
Before we begin, let me be transparent in telling you that this is my third draft of this novel.
The first draft was so different. Like, my character had pink hair and one of the now-adult characters had only been twelve in that first draft.
That first draft was also only 20,000 words and I scrapped the whole thing.
I wrote that one back in early 2018, then didn’t touch my idea for close to a year. I tinkered with it in the back of my mind as I tried to find the real story I wanted to tell.
In my second draft, started in early 2019, I had a much better idea of the plot, but I still wasn’t clear on what my story actually was. I worked on another skeleton draft to reshape my story and get my ideas on paper.
That second draft was only around 30,000 words. Like the first draft, I scrapped many of those words. I was writing from two different first person POVs, while this draft I’ve now completed is written in third person.
I wasn’t able to reuse many words, if any at all. Whatever I wanted to keep from the second draft had to be completely reworked to fit into one of my (new) four third person POVs.
Lesson: It’s okay to go through a few drafts, big or small, before you find ‘the one’ story you’re trying to tell. Storytelling is complex, and there’s no reason you can’t try a few things out before you find what works!
The Third Draft
After scrapping most of my second draft, I knew I’d finally found the story I was trying to tell. In the first week of September 2019, I created a 20-page outline detailing the scenes I knew I needed to write to move my plot(s) forward.
(For the record, the three months mentioned in the title of this blog start in September 2019. I outlined and wrote the entirety of this draft between September and November 2019.)
Once I had my outline in place, I knew I needed to create a project plan. If you’ve read my book about productivity for creative writers, you can probably guess what I’m about to tell you.
After completing my outline, I took a few steps away from the story to look at the bigger picture. I knew my draft needed to be around the 100,000-word mark, both for genre and for the plot. I also knew I wanted to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, so I allocated 50,000 of my total words to November.
That left 50,000 words to write between September and October.
Not as easy as you’d think!
Lesson: Even if you aren’t a typical ‘planner,’ setting a flexible deadline for yourself can be helpful when you want (or need) to finish a draft in a certain timeframe. Just remember that as important as art and entertainment are, it’s not the end of the world if you ‘miss’ that self-imposed deadline. Treat yourself with kindness and grace through the drafting process.
If this is your first time reading my blog, you may not be familiar with my work.
So before we go any further, let me introduce myself.
I’m Hannah, a freelance book editor and writing coach. Without bogging you down in too many details (which you can find on my about page), all you need to know is I freelance full-time. That means most of my days are more than eight hours thanks to administrative tasks I do myself. I’m a one-woman show over here!
Because I know my work schedule, it was a little easier to adapt my writing process to accommodate my business hours.
My basic writing schedule for this draft looked like this:
- September: Outline + write 25k
- October: Write 25k
- November: Write 50k
Thanks to my job–which I adore–I edit and read all day. Sometimes my brain doesn’t want to look at words after a very long day.
When trying to plan my first 50k, I knew I had to set realistic goals and internal expectations. There was no way I was going to write every single day for the two months preceding NaNoWriMo. Heck, I didn’t even write every day during NaNo!
I decided I’d have roughly 30 days between September and October to work on my novel. If you do some quick math, that means writing approximately 1,666 words per writing day.
1,666 words isn’t that much! At least not when that’s spread out over days that are more convenient for writing.
Lesson: Dreaming big is awesome, but shutting yourself into a box isn’t. Be realistic about when you’ll be able to make time for writing to reduce your stress while drafting. You can and should draft at a pace that’s comfortable for you.
I run a small writing group here in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, and we meet between two and four times each month to hang out and write. Writing groups can provide inspiration and accountability. That’s why, as I planned out my writing schedule, I knew I needed to utilize those meetings to work on this project.
Besides my writing group, I also knew I was going on a writing retreat in October. One of my clients organized the trip, which included part of her indie publishing team going to the North Carolina mountains for a long weekend. Another perfect time to get some writing done!
Overall, only 14,000 of my 50,000 words were written at that writing retreat. You do not need to go on a trip to write your novel! However, if you ever have the means to do so, it’s a fantastic opportunity to write without the distractions of home.
Besides my allotted writing group days and my short writing retreat, I did all of my writing at my desk at home. In fact, most of my writing took place either on work days during lunch or on weekend afternoons.
Lesson: Sometimes you have to make time for writing, and that might mean prioritizing writing over something else. When I write on weekends, I’m choosing writing over vegging out on the couch and watching Netflix. Balance is good, though, so give yourself permission to still do your other favorite activities!
What Helped Me the Most
Getting clear on your story, having an outline (even a vague one), and being realistic about your writing time are important.
But I do that for every project I work on. So, why was I able to write so much for this draft and meet my goals?
I attribute my success to writing sprints. I’ve tried them before, but this time, I did something a little different.
First, a writing sprint is an allotted time to either a) write as many words as you can or b) try to hit a certain word count. For example, you might try to write as much as you can in fifteen minutes.
Ideally, a writing sprint is a tool that gets you in the writing mindset so you can find your flow, ignore the timer, and keep writing.
So, what did I do differently this time?
I tried several different sprint lengths to see what felt the best for me and what helped me get into that coveted writing flow.
First, I tried 15-minute sprints. Those were great when I was tight on time, but they didn’t help me find my flow.
Then, I tried 45-minute sprints. Those felt a little too long and gave me that “I don’t want to be on the treadmill at the gym” feeling.
Finally, I tried 35-minute sprints. Those were the winner for me! They felt short enough that I wasn’t dreading the writing session, and not dreading the writing session helped me focus on my words instead of the timer. Most of my 35-minute sprints ended up turning into a full hour of writing each time.
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to try adding a new tactic to your writing process. Playing around with the length of sprints helped me find my perfect flow spot for this project.
My Next Steps
Although my current draft is around 100,000 words, I know I need to revise. Some scenes are going to change, with some expanding, some shrinking, and some being cut entirely.
Most importantly, whatever I do cut isn’t going to get permanently deleted. When I remove scenes from my work (or sections in nonfiction), I put them in a “junk” file associated with that project. Sometimes you cut something only to later realize it fits well somewhere else or that you want part of that scene back.
I’m keeping an open mind as I head into my first round of self-editing. After that, I’ll decide if I want to pursue publishing this book.
How You Can Write More
This post was about my experience and strategies. Everyone has their own unique writing process and needs, but that doesn’t mean my process (or some version of it) won’t work for you.
If you’re keen to write more or hit a certain word count in a set time period, try utilizing some of the tips and lessons I’ve shared from my experience meeting my big writing goal.
What works for one person doesn’t always work for another, but trying new techniques is always worth a shot!
And remember: you’re defined by so much more than your productivity. Wanting to utilize your time wisely and reach your goals is great, but there’s also more to life.
If you find you’re still struggling to find a process that works for you, need help identifying your goals, or have finished a draft and want to work with an editor, please see my services page for more information about how I can help you.
You can also read more about how to find your own process in my book, Productivity for Creative Writers: Finding Your Process and Building a System That Works for You.