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How to finish your book in 35 days

Andy Boyle
Apr 21, 2016 · 4 min read

I started the first shitty rough draft of my upcoming book, “Nobody Knows Anything, And Other Adulthood Secrets,” on March 16th. Last night I finally hit my goal of 60,000 words. Hell yeah.

When I last checked in, I had hit 30,000 words after 15 days. I learned a few things along the way, and now that I’ve got a full damned rough draft, I thought I’d share more of what I’ve learned.

Goals push you more than you realize

My initial goal was to write 3,000 words a day and finish up my first terrible rough draft in 20 days. It was a pretty insane pace, and it only took about two weeks for me to realize I couldn’t keep it up.

I later settled on telling myself to get 2,000 words a day. Much more manageable. Therefore, it should take me 30 days to finish. I was a bit off the mark.

Life happens, whether you want it to or not. I got pleurisy, so I was out of commission for about five days. I was working regular hours at my awesome job (download our app, please), I was teaching a class at Columbia College Chicago and I was occasionally still performing, doing stand-up and storytelling shows.

But I still had this goal in my mind that I would get my 2,000 words a day. Which kept pushing me until I got this bad boy to the first of many finish lines.

A lot of what you write is crap

I didn’t spend much time looking back on what I wrote the previous day, because I knew it would bum me out. My rough draft is about getting my ideas on paper, not being the greatest writer who’s ever lived. That’s what editing is for.

But knowing that what I was writing was crap made it easier to purge my ideas onto the page. I know I have time to edit everything, make the words suck less. But I can’t edit what I haven’t thrown onto the page.

Outlines lead to success

In my book proposal, I included not only sample chapters, but also an entire outline of the book, including what each chapter would be about. This was a lifesaver while trying to hit 60,000 words.

When I sat down each day, I already knew what I had to get done. I followed the outline, writing each chapter as it came up, occasionally adding new ones that I realized I needed, and dismissing a few that became redundant.

For each chapter, I also quickly jotted down an outline, too. I would just put down the basic bigger-level ideas, or subheadings for each chapter, which also helped me realize what needed to be written.

Without the outline, I couldn’t have finished this sucker in 35 days.

Even when you don’t wanna, sit down and write

The only reason I got this goober finished was by putting my butt in the seat. Everything else I would do before “getting in the mood to write” was just bullshit procrastination. Here’s a list of things I would sometimes do before writing:

  • Go to the gym
  • Make a snack
  • Clean my workspace
  • Play with my cat
  • Read a book on writing books
  • Go for a walk

All of these things weren’t writing. Sure, maybe a few of them got my brain going. But you know what actually got me to 60,000 words? Writing the damn thing.

Stop talking about writing and actually do it

One of the biggest issues I’ve had in my life is talking about doing things instead of actually doing them. I said I was a writer instead of doing the things one does that actually makes you one: write words on a goddamn page, repeatedly.

For this project, I didn’t discuss the chapters I was writing with anyone, for the most part. Sometimes I would ask people for suggestions on certain subjects, but I wouldn’t talk about writing.

Instead I wrote. And I got this bastard done.

Next comes even more hard work

I’m not going to look at what I wrote for a few weeks. I need to distance myself from the bad words I’ve written, so when I put my editor hat on I can view my own work objectively.

I’m going to make sure those ideas I spat out are worth rewriting. Maybe I’ll come up with some better ideas along the way. Then I’ll retype the whole damn thing, fixing my grammar and poor language along the way.

Then, I’ll line edit, punch up my language, add more jokes, stop saying “badass” so often (16 times). I’ll share it with a few friends, get their thoughts, edit it again. Then it’ll be time to share it with my agent, get his thoughts, and rewrite it again.

Just maybe by that point it won’t be the worst thing in the world. And I’ll hand it into my publisher and await even more rewriting.

I can’t wait.

Photo by Ginny.

Dig this piece? Click the heart down there, and maybe share it with some friends. I’d love to hear how you got through your own first drafts, so leave a comment below. Or message me on Twitter.

You should also sign up for my occasional mailing list. It’s fun and contains at least one photo of my cat.

You can also pre-order my book, “Adulthood for Beginners: All the Life Secrets Nobody Bothered To Tell You,” from Amazon, or from Penguin Random House. Hooray!

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