1,000 Words x 60 Days = 1 Manuscript

I wrote a thousands words a day for two months and finished the first draft of my manuscript — now you can, too

Ashley Burnett
Dec 23, 2015 · 7 min read
Image copyright aprillynn

The cliché is that everyone has a novel inside them, and that very may well be true — I think another truism, however, is that oftentimes that novel is going to stay inside of them. Writing a full-length manuscript is a taxing exercise in endurance. One need only to look at the discarded remains of NaNoWriMo manuscripts to realize that writing a book is tough. Forget about publishing — just getting it out of you is like wringing water from a dry sponge.

Which is why, after another abandoned attempt to complete NaNoWriMo, I set up a different challenge for myself: I would write up a 60,000 word novel* in two months. 1,000 words a day — how hard could that be?

The answer: pretty hard. But not impossible. Here’s how I did it and how you can do it, too. Remember though, the point of this exercise is not to create a full-fledged book in a month. This merely gives you something to work with. It’s a way to get all of your ideas on paper, see what works and fix what doesn’t and show yourself that you can get that novel out.

With that in mind, read on.

  1. Abandon all ideas of perfection

Would it be amazing to be the type of person who could churn out a perfect novel in two months, no second draft required? Hell yeah. Am I that type of person? Hell no. Are you? Hell, probably not.

The thing that makes writing difficult for so many people is that they want what they put down the first time to be flawless, because just writing the first draft is hard — people don’t want to think of having to do the second, the third, the fourth. But that’s the reality.

And when we aren’t great at something right away, we get frustrated and give up, which accounts for so many discarded manuscripts. We can’t stand the idea that the paragraphs and sentences we’ve labored over are amateurish, overwrought or just plain bad. So what do we do? We stop creating them.

If you want to write this many words a day, you’re going to have to persevere, no matter how sloppy the prose gets. The idea is to realize that your novel WILL NOT BE PERFECT. There will be brilliant sentences and paragraphs, great ideas, fun characters — but they’ll be surrounded by plot holes and slow-moving arcs and bad dialogue. That’s what the second draft is for.

2. Put one word in front of the other

You’re going to have days where you pull all the same stuff you tried to pull in high school: using tons of adjectives, spelling out contractions, etc. And that’s fine. Get your thousand words out the way you have to and don’t worry if it’s stilted because you decided to type out “I am” and “We are” and “They are” every time. Don’t worry if your characters have long monologues. You got out a 1,000 words and in that thousand words will be something good and true. And if there isn’t? Well, you’re still in the writing mindset.

3. Take it day by day

A professor once told me that writing short stories is much harder than writing novels, because novels don’t have to get everything right, while a short story must be near-perfect to deliver it’s intended feelings and messages.

I don’t buy it.

Short stories and novels are hard for different reasons — a novel demands that your brain be consumed by one thing. It demands endurance. It demands time. A short story may demand those things, too, but on a much smaller scale. I can juggle two or three short stories, but my manuscript dominated my brain and made it difficult to work on other long projects. It’s what my mind chewed on in every spare moment: every note jotted down, every idea recorded on my phone. They were all for my manuscript.

Despite claiming that this article is about writing 1,000 words a day — well, I lied to you. Some days you’ll pound out 3,000 words of prose. Some days you’ll choose to binge on Netflix and write nothing. With a novel, you take it one day at a time. As long as you reach your goal, who cares if you sometimes end up pulling an all-nighter like you’re back in college? Novels spring from lives, and lives are messy — accounting for your time perfectly will never work. So don’t worry about days you don’t write, and don’t let them discourage you from picking the pen back up. In short: don’t let bad days ruin good days.

4. Read while you write

A curious thing happened to me during my challenge: somewhere around the middle of my manuscript, I forgot how to do dialogue tags. My dialogue tags were incorrectly punctuated, or else attached to sentences that made no sense. As I pounded out word after word, I had lost my writing ability.

Which brings me to my next point: to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader. This is probably advice you’ve received before, but it’s absolutely 100 percent true. If I’m not reading, my writing is awful — I need to be refreshed by seeing how others write and constantly see good examples of writing. Not because I’m copying these writers, but because if the only prose you’re reading is your own, you tend to become stuck in a rut. And if the prose you’re writing isn’t very good, then all you’re reading is bad writing, which in turn leads to more bad writing.

It’s also good to do something else related to writing that isn’t actually, you know, writing. You need a mental break from chewing on your own manuscript to chew on someone else’s novel.

5. Find new inroads

Listen: if you plan on writing a manuscript in two months, unforeseen plot holes are going to spring up. Or else, parts of the plot won’t work. If you’re giving yourself a tight deadline, this doesn’t have to spell disaster. Write around the plot holes: write the scenes you know will work and spring off from there. Work through it by writing more, not taking a break.

I reached so many impasses during my challenge, but I just barreled through them. Sure, sometimes I wrote 1,000 words of nothing, but by the end of that thousand words, a kernel of idea would suddenly appear and the next day I was back in business. Keep going until it’s easy again.

6. Listen to Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway once said: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.

Always leave a scene or two to write for the next day and the impasses I talked about in four will happen a lot less. Basically: set your future self up for success. Don’t take all of her ideas!

7. Time is arbitrary

Look, two months might be too fast for some people, just as a month is too fast for me. The time constraints merely give you an end goal and let you know how much you should be writing if you want to finish by a certain date — if you find you can write 2,000 words a day, do it. If you can only do 500, only do 500. Don’t set yourself up for failure by forcing yourself to finish by a certain date if you know you probably won’t.

Time constraints will also differ by what kind of manuscript you’re writing. If you’re creating a fully fleshed-out fantasy world with it’s own language, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t finish a first draft in two months.

8. No looking back

This is probably the best advice I can give you: while you’re writing this manuscript do not go back and edit. Notice that I italicized and bold-ed that. Don’t give in to the urge to toil over a scene for days — write it and move on. Editing is for the second draft. Right now, you’re just trying to get it out.

First off, editing right after you write isn’t a great idea — you’re not far-removed enough from the process. Secondly, you will get stuck, because you’ll notice that a chapter isn’t as good as you want it to be and you won’t want to move on until it’s perfect. You’ll fall behind, get discouraged, etc. It’s just not a good idea. Keep on moving.

9. Don’t expect miracles

At the end of this exercise, are you going to have something you can immediately send off to literary agents? No. No, no, no, no. Please do them a favor and don’t. Like I said, you’ll have good sentences, good paragraphs, maybe even good chapters. The point of the exercise is to produce something you can now polish, rewrite and rework. Not something perfect. Not something publishable. Just something. And that’s enough for now.

(*For reference, I was aiming at writing a young adult novel, which typically has a shorter word count than one aimed at adults.)

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