When I broke up my website into five different bits, I did it with the idea that each section will be allocated one day of the week. (For me, ‘week’ means five days.) I told myself that I would not play favourites and that I would treat all parts of my website with equal love, but now I see that this has fallen by the wayside a little. I could give you various reasons for it – some of which are even true – but that would just bore you. I’d much rather just get on with it.
Right, so those of you who read the first post in this series must be wondering how this would all work. The idea of it is quite simple. We will form an online novelists’ group of sorts and write our books together, maybe using this as a forum to discuss hurdles and high points. In four months, if all goes well, each of us will be holding up a manuscript. That’s all nice and pink when I say it, but what will happen, on the ground, between May and September? What does it take to finish a novel in four months?
The practical answer first: it takes 90 minutes per day in which you do nothing but work on your novel. That means no Facebook, no mobile phone, no emails, no spouse, no family; nothing but you and your novel. Whether you spend this time writing it or thinking about it, you will need to set aside 90 minutes every day (it’s okay if it is two 45-minute blocks). If that sounds impossible, consider doing what I do: wake up 45 minutes earlier than usual and go to bed 45 minutes later. That’s the easiest way; if you’re one of those people who cannot sacrifice sleep, perhaps you could look at foregoing television or the internet for those four months.
Do you think you will be able to give 90 minutes of your day to your novel everyday for four months? It will be hard going for the first week or so, but once you begin to make progress and the writing begins in earnest, you will find that you’re spending way more than 90 minutes thinking about your book. In fact, you might struggle to stop thinking of it. Some of us will get to that stage and some of us won’t, but no matter how hard it gets, I want you to make that commitment to yourself. Doing anything needs time. If you don’t have the time, it won’t get done. Simple.
One thing I must stress about this 90-minute window is that it does not accumulate. That means you cannot tell yourself that it is okay to miss one day because you will make up for it by doing extra time the next day. Nor does it mean that you can take a day off tomorrow if you’ve done more than 90 minutes today. The idea behind this rule is that writers need discipline more than anything else to finish their books. If you make it a habit to go to your desk for a set amount of time everyday, half your battle is won.
Okay, so you’re set. You’re ready to put in the 90 minutes for four months. Can I assure you that you will complete your novel come September? I can’t. I can’t give you assurances about your novel because I am not writing it. You are. What I will assure you of, thought, is that if you spend 90 minutes per day working at your novel for four months, you will have made significant progress in your writing journey. By the end of this exercise, at the very least you will have a clear idea of what your strengths and weaknesses are as a writer. Another thing I will assure you of is that I will do whatever I can (bar write the thing for you) to help you get over the finish line.
Now, say you do finish a manuscript by the end of the four months – and I really hope you do – can I guarantee it will be any good? Here’s a bitter pill. If it’s the first novel you’re writing, the odds are that it’s going to suck. My first novel sucked. Everybody’s first novel sucks. Yours will too. Accept it before you begin writing it. Think of your first novel as an apprenticeship, as a rite of passage, if you will. It is where you go from being a starter to a finisher. Only after you’ve finished a couple of books will you get any good at it.
That’s the crux of it all. There’s no pressure. Don’t worry if the plot’s all wrong or if the characters have come straight out of your favourite novel. Don’t fret if your dialogue is stilted, if your prose is clunky, if your style is bad. Of course, do try your best; I am not suggesting you should be deliberately bad, but if you think your best is not yet good enough, understand that it’s true. Your best is not yet good enough. Accept that, but don’t let it bother you. Everyone who started off doing anything was bad at it to begin with. They got better at it by doing it over and over again. By wanting to write like Dickens in your first attempt you’re not being fair to Dickens – or to you.
So let it all go – the fear, the anticipation, the doubt. And sharpen those pencils. And sit down at your desk.