Novel Writing

Can you really Write your First Draft in Three Months?

Any of you who have read Stephen King’s book “On Writing” will know that he makes some bold statements in this fascinating book. It’s a cross between an autobiography and advice on how to write well, it’s an entertaining read, and I’d recommend it to anyone, aspiring author or not.

One part of the book which left me opened mouthed was his advice on how long it should take to write the first draft. He advises that it should take no more than three months to write.

 

Three months? That’s impossible!

I’ve been working on my first draft since August, so I’m coming up to the ten month mark, nearly three times over the advice that Steven King gives.

Does this make me a failed author before I have even finished my first draft? I thought so when I first read that advice, but since then, I’ve realised it probably doesn’t. A huge proportion of the last ten months has been spent learning how to write. I don’t mean the basic skill of putting pen to paper, but the ability to weave a, hopefully, interesting story out of words.

So, why would Stephen King give this advice? Here are some the reasons I think this could be a brilliant strategy –

  1. You don’t get bogged down by technique.  It’s easy to forget that you are telling a story when your mind is constantly focused on adverbs, or passive voice, or sentence starters. It’s exhausting! So getting stuck up to your elbows in the story and barreling on without regard to technique could be the key to unlocking a cracking story.
  2. It prevents self-reflection. I often find that partway through a writing session a thought will pop into my head telling me I am a rubbish writer and no one will ever want to read what I have to say. If the purpose of your first draft is to get it down on paper in whatever format it comes in, as quickly as possible, then you don’t have time to worry about whether or not you are good enough. You are simply telling the story to yourself, and hopefully loving the process.
  3. If something doesn’t work, it is easier to say goodbye. I am on the last version of my first book idea. I have written it in so many different tenses, points of view, and orders yet I have never finished it because each time I can see it’s not working. If this current POV and tense structure don’t work, I will have to say goodbye and start on a new fresh idea. If I had been working on this for a month, rather than ten, the process of goodbye would be a whole lot easier.
  4. No more boredom. I think most authors get bored of their books at some point. It’s blinking hard work, and pretty repetitive too. This approach will keep the boredom at bay, at least for the first three months.

What are your opinions on this strategy? Have you written a draft in three months before? If so I would love to hear from you in the comments session.

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36 thoughts on “Can you really Write your First Draft in Three Months?

  1. I did my latest one in just over 10 weeks however here are a couple of big caveats to this.
    I spent a long time planning and plotting the whole thing out so I knew exactly what I would be writing each day.
    Secondly, it is rubbish. This isn’t something that concerns me at the moment, it is a first draft and there are many revisions to come.
    I know the basic plot is there, all the key events are in the right place and the major characters are behaving just about how I want them to. I now need to inject a bit more humour, improve the dialogue and iron out all of the usual grammar and general writing issues that we all go through when editing.
    This is my fourth novel and I’ve used four different approaches. This is the most productive but I do think you lose some creativity when purely aiming at a word count and not allowing yourself to stray from the plot.
    Time will tell if it is my best one but at the moment I’m happy to have 80,000 words that I can mould into a novel rather than 500 perfect words that need another 79,500 before I’m finished.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Amazing! Well done you. How many hours a day did you write, or did it vary? Did you enjoy the process more as a whole or did you prefer another method? Thanks for the comment, I love a good bit of wisdom 🙂

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      1. It varied but usually about two hours. I use Scrivener which has a simple but effective tool for setting word count targets. I wanted to write 80,000 words and I set a deadline of the day before my birthday. I wish I could claim to be more scientific but it was just an arbitrary line in the sand.
        This worked out at about 1,500 words a day (assuming I worked 5 days a week) which I found was an achievable target. I sometimes over achieved so it brought my daily target down and I eventually finished a week ahead of schedule.
        Not sure I enjoyed it as such but it was a big sense of achievement each day hitting the target.
        My first novel was the most enjoyable to write but that was because there was no planning and I was just writing scenes I liked with no real idea how they fitted together. It was a nightmare to edit into something readable.
        I believe my new approach is the most productive method and I’m confident that I can shape it into my best novel yet although that will be for others to judge.😬

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve done the Nanowrimo (National Novel Writers Month) and finished a fifty thousand word manuscript in a month. I even published it. It can be done. You have to type fast, keep your eye on the word count, and write like the wind.

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  3. I think it’s definitely possible to write a first draft in three months. I did NaNoWriMo a couple of times and then completed the book within that time span. Does that mean every book should be written in three months? No, I don’t think so. I think it depends on the book. Some need more time than others. Also, not every writer is the same. But I agree with the reasons you said the three month time frama could be beneficial.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so encouraged to hear of others completing NaNoWriMo. I unfortunately failed it the first time I tried, it was first go at the novel writing malarkey and it got on top of me. I realized I was writing a load of drivel (mixed POVs and no clear structure) so I stopped. Perhaps one day I will manage it 🙂 Thank you for your comment.

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  4. I completed my first NaNoWriMo last year but it was really a forced mishmash of disconnected stories, which I think is best left alone now. I had this idea that I was a pantser, but it rather left me a bit lost halfway through. I’m now tackling a new novel and averaging around 2,000 words a day with the benefit of a little outlining.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 2,000 words a day is impressive! I’m only managing about a 1000 on average. But every little helps as they say. I tried NaNoWriMo and it was so bad for me. I completely stopped trying to improve my writing and just smashed words down on the page without much thought. Not good.

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      1. The important thing is you’re writing. Worrying about word counts can be detrimental as you probably found out too during NaNoWriMo! Trying to hit a quota without purpose can be soul destroying. 😦 I tend to aim for 1K and keep writing if I have the energy and inspiration.

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  5. Writing is a lot less stressful if you don’t worry about meeting a deadline. When I started writing my novel I initially aimed to get the first draft done in 8 weeks. Unfortunately, the closer I got to the deadline the more frustrated I became because I was nowhere near 80,000 word count goal I had set myself. However, once the deadline elapsed I was able to just concentrate on the writing.

    I can’t tell you how happy I was 11 months later when my story was complete, and the final word count was 150,000 words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad to hear that you found what works for you. I have a feeling it will take me longer than the time I’ve allocated, so I’m not going to worry about it. Thank you for reading

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  6. Finding what works for you is key: if it helps you get the words down, it doesn’t matter if it conforms to anybody else’s idea of process. Creative “sprints” like doing Nanowrimo can be excellent for getting past writer’s block and discovering you can indeed maintain a discipline and a flow. You can also end up with usable drafts that build confidence and — more importantly — give you a solid foundation to revise from. “There’s an actual story there!” All good things!

    Congrats on launching your blog and finding out how many others want to write just as much as you do. (I know more than one blogger who blogs publicly and writes a separate private blog that becomes the next novel. One person has done this with five books so far. Best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s possible, probably not required. I did my first book in about that time. As has already been suggested by other commenters, I had a lot of leg work invested in research and story development before I ever started writing it; I knew everything that needed to happen at each point, so it was a breeze. That’s, like, a year of on-again off-again planning, though. If I was trying to figure that stuff out in the process of writing, I’m sure it would have taken much longer.

    I agree that getting it out fast helps to combat the boredom. I’ve read and re-read the thing so many times now in the process of editing, rewriting, etc that I never want to see the damned thing again. If it had taken me any longer than three or four months to get out, who knows where it would be right now?

    King suggests some arbitrary rules in that book that I find questionable but I think it also has to do with the fact that his audience is the average Joe/Jane who may or may not be a gifted writer. For example, his decree that ten percent shall be cut from the story after writing is absolutely nuts to me. I spend a lot of time planning these things out; I’m not about to remove 10% just to hit an arbitrary number. On the other hand, a lot of preparation goes into my writing, my stories tend to be very tight and focused, and everything I put in (down to scene, description, or dialogue) is in service of developing character or plot. Most times, I try to do both simultaneously for the sake of economy and not wasting my reader’s time. If I cut ten percent from that, the book would be unintelligible.

    King tends to be more of a rambler. I’ve read statements from him on several occasions that he never knows where a story is going to go when he starts writing, and this shows often in his work. The biggest example of this were his last four entries in the Dark Tower series. Wizard and Glass was a great Roland story, yet ultimately unnecessary – it would have worked out as a prequel after he had finished the main story line. It just felt like the guy was stalling for time while trying to figure out where the hell he was going to go with the main plot. This became more apparent as we got into the fifth, sixth, and seventh books where it became pretty clear that he had painted himself into a corner. As a reader who loved how the story started, it felt to me like the author was flailing wildly at the end. Missteps like these are apparent in some of his other works, which I believe are usually attributable to a lack of planning on his part. For these (and other reasons that I won’t go into here), I take his advice with a grain of salt.

    When you’re starting out and you don’t have any finished, published work under your belt, I think it’s easier to assign a lot of weight to what the other pros say but you must remember, everyone wants to see another book of similar styling written by “Popular Author Clone X”…until someone comes out of nowhere and completely blows the lid of, redefining the art form. More often than not, this new guy that shocks the hell out of everyone did so because he or she didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what other “experts” were saying – they just wrote what they had to write. Of course, if you’re going to be that guy, you need to be ridiculously lucky and gifted to hit…it’s a crowded market now more than ever.

    I suggest you check out what Keith C. Blackmore has to say on the state of the industry. He spent years trying to do things the way the industry told him he should, to no avail. As soon as he decided to ignore all the conflicting advice and just do the job of telling the story the way he wanted, he hit and got some serious traction:

    http://keithcblackmore.com/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this comment! It is so full of advice, that I will be taking on board. I like your point about King and his lack of planing. It shocked me that he is a pantser. I prefer to plan, although I’m having to keep the ending flexible. I know what the outcome is, but I’m still working out how to get there. Thank you again, for your detailed and valued comment. Amy

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  8. Don’t – I repeat – DON’T get bogged down by word count. A first draft is just what it sounds like…a fleshed out outline! Yes, it can be done. First drafts can run anywhere from 30,000 words to the realm of my first ever first draft (think the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy without the hot elves). That behemoth took 5 years. My latest took just two months, and I’m now three months in to the second draft. Hoping to have this draft complete in two weeks, and then I can let it rest for a month or more before going for a third draft. I did complete a skeleton outline for this manuscript…unlike all my others…so that definitely helped. I also work a regular 9-to-5 and raise a tiny human, so it can be done. I get up at 4am to write, or stay up until 3am. I eat it, breathe it, love it, and can’t live without it. Steal an hour whenever you can, and don’t worry about the wordcount. What IS interesting though, is Mr King has some very valid points. One of the worst thing a writer can do is revise ‘in the moment’. Jot down the changes you have to make, as you go, and continue writing as if you’ve already made those changes. I think you’ll find that your first draft will go much faster, and you won’t get bogged down/bored as easily.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. His advice works for me, I just finished my first draft in about two months, but the re-write will take a lot longer as the draft is very rough 😂 But getting the basic story on paper really quickly worked really well for me. Lovely blog btw!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s great to hear that it’s working for you, I have to say that so far, 12,000 words in, I’m finding it’s working for me too. Thank you for your comment and for stopping by 🙂

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  10. Hello Amy!

    Great post. I wrote my first novel in three months (first draft), with a ‘completion’ of 100,000 words by then end of November 2015 (NaNoWriMo). I accomplished the feat, even went over by 15K. I think the most important thing I did, was have a session with my own coach to establish a ‘best time’ to write, then commit to doing so and present work the following week. So, there is an accountability aspect there.

    Second, I kept a word count on a note pad beside my laptop. I would log in, then log out – watching the progression build. More than seeing the number at the bottom of the .doc, physically writing the log felt powerful. That was exciting to experience. I celebrated milestones, such as 10K words, 25K, 50K, 75K with a glass of wine, knowing a shot of 18 year old, unopened scotch was waiting at the finish line. I think this helped get past the doldrums of mid novel, that area where interest wanes and doubt creeps in.

    So, what I found most powerful about such a ‘restricted’ deadline, was being consistent and connected to the story. I never lost touch with the characters, the locations, the plot and subplots. They were always there, begging me to write – never feeling thin, faded or lost.

    Consistency builds connection, which leads to a strong, concise completion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great advice, thank you so much for commenting. I really like the idea of celebrating milestones, wine and a chocolate bar for every 10,000 would certainly spur me on! Also this concept – “Consistency builds connection, which leads to a strong, concise completion.” is genius. Thank you again for your wisdom, it is very much appreciated.

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  11. Good advice. I love ‘on writing’ got the audiobook read by the master himself for my walk to work. I always have 2 or 3 projects going at once. This way I can hop between them and never have to worry about running out of steam. My perfectionism is more of a problem. 😉

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    1. Ah that sounds like a great idea. I have my current WIP and an idea I am stewing over and over ready to be outlined in a few months. Hopefully, one that’s done, I will be able to flit between the two. Thank you for commenting

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  12. I think it’s definitely possible. I loved ‘On Writing’ and all of King’s advice. My first draft is around 33,000 words in. I started it over a year ago, but took a year out of writing for a few reasons (see blog). I now would like to from here finish that first draft in a couple of months, so hopefully King’s advice will ring true for me – great post!

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  13. I am going through the exact same thing with my first book right now. I have actually taken a break on my novel to focus on created a blog and getting followers. What would your advice be on that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would say, don’t be too hard on yourself and make sure you love what you do. When it comes to blogging if you start to get bogged down, schedule some posts and then take a bit of a break. Find people who share your passion and enjoy them. Don’t blog as a way to sell your book, blog to learn and connect 🙂

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  14. I wrote my first self-published novel in six weeks, followed by four weeks of revising, two weeks of not looking at it, and four more weeks revising again. I wrote that book from a one page outline that took two days to write and the characters as they came to me in my head.
    My current project…well, I’m having trouble with stopping and rewriting it, which I know is a big no-no. So far, I’ve invested…
    8 weeks developing characters, a four page plot outline, and outlines for its 50 main scenes.
    8 weeks writing the draft. I am at 20,000 words and about 100 pages in. I estimate the first draft to be about 60,000 words, final draft will be a little longer, I’d imagine.
    At this rate, I estimate a total time from having the light bulb go off in my head to completion of the rough draft at 6 months. However, I don’t think it will take as much work on the revision side when I get there.
    My biggest issues this time around:
    1. I love my characters so much I want to make sure I capture them just right.
    2. I let my characters do whatever they want and sometimes I can’t control where the story goes. It doesn’t matter that I spent all this time planning, they don’t care. They just go and decide to solve a murder mystery! It’s not even a murder mystery! Very thoughtless troupe, they are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I know the feeling, characters tend to have a life of their own don’t they? That is a very impressive timeline there 🙂 Oh to have your commitment! May I ask how long you wrote for each day? 🙂

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