How I wrote a novel in 20 minutes a day (and you can, too!)

I just wrote “the end” today on my middle-grade science fiction novel. I wrote it over the course of forty days, with a short break in the middle to finish a novelette that was burning on me (so forty non-consecutive days.)

I’m somewhat astonished with this fact, as it didn’t feel hard. I’ve written four National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) novels, and they all felt hard. Hard to find the time, hard to catch up when I fell behind, hard to stay on top of, a race to the finish.

True, this one was shorter. It’s complete at 44k words. It’ll possibly grow to 50k words in edits, but that’s the absolute max and I’m comfortable with that length. As a middle-grade novel, it’s aimed at 3rd – 8th graders, kids aged 9 – 14. 44k = about 176 regular pages, which is a nice length. Of course since I’m indie publishing my work on ebook platforms these days, it’s however many pages show up on the ebook reader.

But I’m convinced there were some easy tricks in the way I’ve been writing this summer and I’m here to tell you that you, too can write a book in twenty minutes a day. Here are my tips/suggestions/lessons learned:

1. Increase your typing speed.  
By hook or by crook, you need to get to where your hands can somewhat keep up with your brain. This is important. This is an investment in your future. This is worth your time. Take typing tutor programs online, practice typing in things from the newspaper or favorite novels (it’s actually a great way to learn about writing, to type in another writer’s work and feel it play out under your own fingers.) Set aside 15 minutes a day every day to practice and you’ll find yourself writing speedily before long. Google typing tutors or typing test to find some options, like this site.

When I was 8 my family got our first personal computer, and my mom encouraged us all to learn to touch-type, teaching us about home keys, loading the typing tutor software (which because the computer was such a novelty was extremely motivating for us as it gave us more computer time!) I will forever be grateful to her for this encouragement, as I can now clock north of 80 wpm when I’m trying hard (and looking to perform well on a speed test) and can comfortably average 50 wpm when in that awesome “writing flow.”

2. Know what you want to write…approximately.
If you’re an outliner, go ahead and invest the time in your outline ahead of time (otherwise the whole 20 mins a day will be busted.) I’m more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. I have a general idea of what I want to write, the main themes I want to play with, the first set of main characters, etc., but I don’t over plan. Over planning has never worked well for me.

3. Aim to end each writing session on a hook. 
Because of the kind of writing I was doing (middle grade) I could comfortably write about 1000 words/day, and that’s a comfortable chapter length (4-5 pages.) By the end of a writing session, I worked toward building to some kind of hook, conflict, or something else exciting, so as to entice the reader to turn the page to read the next chapter. This is one of those general lessons you’ll hear in writing all the time, but the big bonus it played out for with me was that it gave me something to fix/resolve/solve the next day in my next writing session! Can’t emphasize enough how important that was for me.

4. Set (and keep) daily goals.  
Some kind of daily goal helped me tremendously. In my case, it was the use of the site I’ve talked about that site before, but the general premise is that you write 3 (250 words per) pages each day. “Morning pages” which turned out to be another of my tips (get your word count in early in the day, that way if you have more time for writing later in the day you’re just creating gravy!) Because the number was low, because I type fast, I knew I could manage 750 words a day, at my average clocking along 50 wpm rate, that’s fifteen minutes, sometimes less if I was really trucking. I might not have an hour a day to write right now, but I can spend fifteen minutes doing something that feeds my soul. (Arguments for giving more time to writing are put aside during kids-home-no-activities-scheduled-summers. They won’t be young forever.)

Look, I know writing is hard. The old adage “Just stare at your computer til your forehead bleeds” is true for most of us writers at some point or another in our writing journey. But what I have discovered in the course of this summer project is that sometimes what’s hard about writing are all the trappings I put in the way that make it hard. Not the actual writing, the writing part is easy (right? Because otherwise why on earth would we torture ourselves so?)

Come on, if you’re a tortured writer perhaps that’s because you either think you should be or want that for yourself. Me, I write because it’s a joyous experience when the words flow or I re-read something I wrote a different day and realize it’s not half bad. And as my bio says, I write for all the geeky young women out there because I have their stories to tell.

So no more complaining that I don’t have time to write. I wrote a freaking novel in forty days writing only about twenty minutes a day. I wrote a chapter at a time. I ended each writing session on a hook. I gave myself daily goals, and they were SMALL approachable goals. I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go. And I wrote.

Now it’s to you – can you write a novel in twenty minutes a day? If you’re writing other genres, other styles, you might need to write more days. If your typing speed is still growing, you might need to write thirty minutes to get the same output, forty perhaps. But can you do it? I did, and I’m astonished that I did. So now I think I might try to do it again and make sure it’s not a fluke!

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