Yesterday, we finished looking at the big picture of writing a novel. Today, it’s time to delve into the details.
Exactly HOW do you finish writing a novel in 3 months?
Let’s take a look:
Writing Novels isn’t for Sissies
Novel writing isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Coming up with a decent idea is hard enough. Getting started and continuing is yet another challenge. And finding your way through the “muddle in the middle” to get to the glorious end is the granddaddy of all fiction writing challenges.
(And let’s not even talk about editing. That is a story for another time)
So how do you dodge the procrastination bullets, escape the plot bunny poachers, and navigate your way through to Happily Ever After/aka The End?
You use an outline.
The outline has been called several different things. Story Cards, by Lisa Cron. Stepsheets, by James N. Frey. Beats, by Blake Snyder.
The point is, you need to have a written plan for writing your novel.
What? You mean you don’t keep the plan only in your mind? You mean you actually have to pre-write your novel before you write your novel?
Yes. That is exactly what I mean. You need to write out a plan for your novel, and the more detailed it is, the better.
Your outline/beat sheet/story cards/plan is CRITICAL to a successful novel writing journey…
…Especially when you get to the dangerous middle section of the novel, when you’re running low on steam and ideas, and vulnerable to half-baked ideas that will lead you into the desert and leave you out to dry.
But what if my outline is so detailed I get bored while writing? You ask. What if someone sees my detailed notes and steals my idea?
Don’t worry about it:
First, no matter how detailed your outline is, your mind (and your characters) will still find ways to surprise you and keep the story-writing journey interesting and novel (pun totally intended).
Second: Even if someone finds your outline, they’ll never be able to write the story that YOU will write, because you have a unique voice and unique relationship with your characters that no one on the face of the planet can steal. I promise.
(Besides, if you’re that worried about plagiarism, then hide your outline somewhere safe. Or write it in code, like Leonardo da Vinci. That sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?)
So how do you write an effective outline?
Check this out:
How to Write a Spiffy (and Successful) Novel Outline-Plan
As I said, your novel outline is the key to successfully starting and finishing your novel.
There are few, if any (good) writers in the world who are able to whip up an entire novel without ANY form of prior planning.
Writing a novel is like building a tower. If you start without calculating costs and drawing up an architectural plan, you’re going to end up with an eyesore of a half-completed building.
If you want to take on a task as grand as writing a novel, you will likewise have to plan it out first.
But when you write an outline, for heaven’s sake, DO NOT get trapped by the idea of writing a list of “things that happen.”
According to author and creative writing teacher Lisa Cron, a compelling story is driven by a character’s internal problems, not a string of random plot events.
Your character’s internal struggle — his greatest fears and desires — is the secret power source that drives your story.
So ask yourself:
- Who is your main character?
- What does she want and why can’t she get it?
- What false beliefs does he have that keeps him from getting that thing?
- What revelation is she going to have by the time she gets to the end of the novel?
- What plot events will trigger and highlight his internal struggle the most?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you can begin to sketch out the skeleton of your story, a list of scenes that are linked, like daisies in a daisy chain, not by the words “and then” but by the word “therefore.”*
Each one of these scenes will build on and deepen the overall theme, help your character to grow, and lead to a satisfying conclusion.
If you write completely by the seat of your pants without using the internal conflict to sketch out your scenes, it’s too easy to run off after plot bunnies, get lost, lose steam, and quit.
But when you know your story’s goal, which is derived from your character’s goal, you can craft each scene with purpose and take your story from start to finish without getting derailed.
The Nitty-Gritty: How to Finish Your Novel in 3 Months
Now that we’ve covered the core principles of novel writing, let’s take a look at how to get it done in 90 days.
Note: These day numbers are approximations. You may choose to subtract or add days, as needed…
Day 1: Test your novel idea.
Run it through the idea tests — does it have a compelling theme, complex problem, and character with lots of potential to grow and change? If so, congrats, you’ve got a strong story idea.
Day 2: Get to know your character.
Answer the questions above about who your character is, what she wants, and what misbeliefs are getting in her way.
Just pull up a blank page or journal and write out whatever you think. Focus on your character’s internal conflict.
Day 3: Sketch a skeleton.
By that, I’m talking about the skeleton of your story, going from the end to the beginning.
Given who your character is and where he’ll be by the end of the book, what are major plot twists that must occur in between to get him there?
Day 4–29: Fill in the blanks.
Once you have the skeleton, it’s time to “flesh it out.” You can use any system you want–Story Cards, beat sheets, Snowflakes, etc.
Just remember to keep your character’s internal conflict in mind as you do this, and make sure each scene flows logically and is related to the overall structure you’ve pre-determined.
This is actually the most mentally taxing part of the writing process, so give yourself plenty of time and TLC.
Day 30: Clean your room. And calendar.
Schedule when you are going to do your writing. Block out chunks of time, make a commitment to write every day.
Decide on a daily word count and/or time count, and decide when and where you are going to write. Get together a group of friends to keep yourself accountable.
Day 31–59: Write.
Follow the plan you set for yourself.
Keep your story outline open next to you and follow that road map.
Day 60: Assess.
Where are you now?
Congratulate yourself on all the words you’ve written. Throw a mini-party. Then look at your manuscript and your roadmap — are you on track? Do you need to revise your writing schedule? If so, do that, and keep going.
Day 61–90: Keep writing.
Channel your inner Dory: Just keep swimming…just keep swimming…what do we do? We swim, swim…
Day 90: Finish! Have a BIG party.
Put your draft away and promise not to look at it for at least a month or two. You need time to let it sit before you attempt to edit.
Keep This in Mind
First: Depending on the scope of your novel, and your writing pace, you MIGHT take a little more or less than 90 days. But the process is the same, no matter how long it takes.
Second: The key is to keep going. Know that you WILL get bored and frustrated and uninspired at some point during the writing process. That’s why it is so important to invest a week or two before you start in outlining. Remember, “steady wins the race.”
It’s kind of like setting out your outfit the night before. When you’re groggy and cranky in the morning, it’s so much easier to have an outfit laid out for you than to expend brain power trying to CHOOSE what to wear today.
Likewise, it’s much easier to write when you know WHAT you are writing about ahead of time, in as much detail as possible.
With a solid novel outline and life plan in place, you WILL finish that novel, and in 90 days, or less.
It’s Time to Bring Your Novel Into the World
Somewhere inside you, you know that you need to write a novel. You want to, desperately. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this.
You’ve got a great story idea knocking around in your head, trying to get your attention. It’s been clawing at your mind, eager to reveal itself to the world.
It is time for you to let it out.
When you FINALLY write that novel you’ve been waiting years, even decades, to write, you will see what you are truly capable of.
You will have a highly personal, hard-earned project to show friends and family.
You will give your greatest ideas a powerful vehicle to tap into others’ lives and even change them for the better.
You will change your own life.
So what are you waiting for?
It’s time to write that novel!
Your Next Step:
*Of course, there’s a lot more to life-planning and novel-outlining, character development and plot development than I can cover in three short mini courses.
This is, after all, a mini course on how to write your own novel, so I don’t want to overwhelm you with all the details all at once.
But if you are SERIOUS about writing your novel and want more, check this out:
Starting next month, I will be leading a group of dedicated novel writers who will spend 3 months–90 days–planning, writing, and FINISHING their novels.
Imagine, how would you feel if you made this year the year that you finally finish your first novel?
How would you feel if this first novel became the launching pad to an entirely new and different life, a life as a legitimate, professional writer?
If that sounds like something you want, join us! We’ve saved a spot just for you 😉