I’m currently hard at work on my 19th novel, a middle grade ghost story. I started writing it the day after I turned in my final grades for the fall semester at the college I currently work at, and I will finish writing the first draft soon before I begin my spring semester. I took Christmas Day off, but that’s it. Every other day I’ve been actively writing the first draft of the manuscript.
How many words a day do I write? About 2,000–2,200 words. Three days I’ve come in a bit short at around 1,800 words. Three or more days I’ve written a lot more than 2,200 words. The other day I was on a roll that I just couldn’t bring myself to stop, so I pounded out 3,200 words in just over two hours.
Why do I write these many words a day? Well, it’s what I’m used to. Since I wrote my first novel in 2010, I’ve always aimed for 2,000 words a day. It’s how I’ve written nineteen novels in nine years. It’s how I’m able to produce a complete manuscript over winter break. Yes, when many teachers like myself are taking some time off, I’m hard at work writing a new novel, one I would struggle to write with complete focus and attention during the busy teaching semester.
When I decided to commit to writing this new middle grade horror novel, I recognized a few things. First, I had exactly 28 days between turning in my fall semester grades and beginning my teaching for the spring semester. 2,000 words a day in 28 days equals 56,000 words, a perfect length for the first draft of a middle grade novel. This is my third MG book, and one thing I particularly love about drafting a book for this age market, among many, many things, is that it’s short enough that I can manage it over the short winter break window.
I write a lot of young adult novels, too, and YA is just too long to do over winter break. Unless I committed to 3,000 words a day, every day, for the four-week break, completing the first draft of a YA novel is too much to handle this time of year. And therefore, I prefer to write my YA novels in the summer, when there are months to focus on the book, not just a few weeks. (I’m already thinking about a YA book I want to write next summer, which would make for 20 novels in less than 10 years, wowza!)
But here’s the ultimate question: is writing 2,000 words or more a day the only way to write a novel?
Of course not, and last year I wrote in detail about why it’s more important to stick to a schedule than it is to find tiny windows of time (say, two weeks or less) to write and write and write. Stephen King famously wrote his book The Running Man during one of his spring breaks when he was teaching high school, just one single week. And there are those who manage to write novels strictly on the weekend, going five days without writing a single word and then writing 5,000 words or more on the weekend, making for a complete first draft in three or four months.
The truth is you can write your book any way you want, and seeing that this is my first Medium post of the new 2019 year, I couldn’t help but think how it’s entirely possible for you to write your novel this year… at only 200 words a day.
200 words a day, you say? 200 words a day is nothing. It’s a paragraph. A few sentences. A few dialogue exchanges back and forth.
You could, honestly, write 200 words on your lunch break. Or the first thing upon waking up. Or the last thing you do before you go to bed at night. 200 words a day could take ten minutes, maybe twenty. I can’t imagine any more than thirty.
But let’s say you started a novel on January 1st, writing 200 words a day, every day, all the way until December 31st of this year. It seems like 200 words day still isn’t nearly enough to make enough for an entire novel, but you know what? 200 words a day every day for the full year is 73,000 words. A superb length for most novels, including adult, including YA. If you’re writing a science fiction or fantasy epic, maybe aim for 400–500 words a day. And if you’re writing a middle grade, you could probably do 150 words a day.
The truth of the matter is, ultimately, there’s no excuse for you not to write your novel this year. The excuse that “there’s not enough time” isn’t going to fly. Whether you block out a month of time to write your novel, like I sometimes do, or the summer, when you might have more time off, like I often do, or write it only on weekends, or write a little bit each day, if you have the willpower and drive and a great idea, you can write your novel, and you should.
The world needs your stories. And I do, too!
So no excuses. Do it. If you never have any time, start today, or this weekend — soon — and write just 200 words a day, every day. It might seem like nothing for the first month or two, but you’ll be surprised how the pages will start stacking up. Just stay consistent with the amount of words you write, and don’t stop, never give up, until you reach THE END.
You’ve got this. I believe in you. Happy New Year!