It’s easy to make resolutions. I won’t drink as much. I’ll cut out carbs. I’ll go to the gym three times a week. I’ll finally write my novel. But the truth is, not many of us do it. Research from a Forbes Health/One Poll survey found that resolutions, on average, last less than four months. From that, 8% last one month, 22% two months, 22% three months, and 13% four months. The odds aren’t in your favor. In this post, we'll talk about YOUR 2024 WRITING RESOLUTIONS – FIRST DRAFTS edition.
So what. Is keeping a new year’s resolution difficult? Yes. Can you do it when it comes to your writing? Absolutely. Remember the old adage, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I hope you aren’t eating elephant, but you can meet and exceed the goals you set for yourself when it comes to writing your novel. There are plenty of ways to do it. But think about it this way:
If you write 1 page a day of your novel for a year, you’ll have 365 pages of that novel at the end of the year.
If you write 2 pages a day of your novel for 6 months, you’ll have approximately 360 pages.
If you write 3 pages a day of your novel for 3 months, you’ll have roughly 270 pages.
Get the gist? Eat that elephant one bite at a time. Here’s what I do that works for me (but you figure out what works for you, because it’s you that has to stick to it to get your novel done):
I write every day, 6-7 days a week. When I’m writing a first draft of a novel, I try to go as fast as I can, because I believe it helps me keep the same voice throughout the novel. Most days, I write 3-4 hours a day, though there are days when I only get one hour in and days when I get 8 hours (or more) in. When I was working in corporate America, I traveled a lot, I had two young children, a dog, I worked out, did yard work, and all of the wonderful things you have to do when you’re a homeowner. But I still made my writing quota, because I got up at three in the morning and wrote. I was tired, certainly, but that’s how badly I wanted to write. You don’t have to do that (I hope), but my point is this: If you want something badly enough, you do what it takes, no excuses.
In those 3–4-hour days of writing, I just write. I don’t go for page count, nor do I spend more than a couple minutes revising. That’ll come later, after I have my first draft and know, roughly, what the novel is about. I’ve written entire first drafts of novels in three weeks (that’s my record), and other novels have taken me six months or a year. Again, I’m only talking about first drafts. The editing process, for me, can take years. Currently, I have one novel with my agent, one novel I’m editing, and three novels in various states of the revision process. And I have the seed of a novel bouncing around my head that I’m hoping to start and complete a first draft for by May, when I can hopefully join a writing group I’ve participated in for the past 15 years or so, give or take. Your process is your process, and however you do it is fine, as long as you do it.
Here's how long it took a few famous writers to write their novels (not necessarily first drafts):
Jack Kerouac took 3 weeks to write On the Road (which he did on one continuous roll of paper)
Margaret Mitchell took 10 years to write Gone with the Wind
William Golding took 5 years to write Lord of the Flies
Gillian Flynn took 3 years to write Gone Girl
Stephanie Meyer took 3 months to write Twilight
Mary Shelley took 1 year to write Frankenstein
Emily Brontë took 9 months to write Wuthering Heights
Victor Hugo took 12 years to write Les Misérables
George Orwell took 1 year to write Nineteen Eighty-Four
Ernest Hemingway took 3 months to write The Sun Also Rises
Stephen King takes about 2 months to write a first draft of a novel
As you can see, the numbers are all over the place. Not all of the above times are for first drafts, but one thing is for certain: the authors listed above are closers. They write, and they ensure they finish what they started. What that means to you isn’t what that means to me, either in time, satisfaction level in terms of how you feel about your first draft (or completed novel), nor whether or not your novel is any good or worthy of publication. Personally, I try to write the best novel I can, meaning the novel I want to read. But I also know that sometimes the novels I write just don’t work out. I have, I believe, 4 novels that’ll never see the light of day. They were practice novels and novels that just don’t have the oomph I’m looking for in my work. But it doesn’t matter—I had to write through them to get to where I needed to get for my next attempt.
It's January 2, 2024. It’s a new year. You’re a writer, or you want to write. The number one thing you should do is write. The second thing is to not let yourself get overwhelmed by the elephant that is your novel. Take one bite at a time. But stick to it. One page a day. Two. Ten. Whatever you can handle, be consistent. Remember, some days will be better than others. Some days you’ll want to quit. But if you want to write a novel, at least a first draft of one, you’ll have to carry on when carrying on is the last thing you want to do. So, get to it. You’ve already missed a day. Don’t miss another.
Cully Perlman is a Substantive Editor and a novelist. Have a novel ready to edit? He can be reached at Cully@novelmasterclass.com