For those of you keeping track, in January 2021 I started a Secret New Novel manuscript that I’d been wanting to write for a long time, and that’s a LOT more complicated than my previous work. Unfortunately, though, I ran into some snags, then took a long break. Over a year later, I hadn’t even made it to the halfway point of a rough draft—and that REALLY wasn’t where I wanted to be as a writer.
All that’s changed, though, since I left my busy Japanese university job and came back to the States. After some readjustment and setup time, I set a firm date to start working consistently on the Secret New Novel again: Tuesday, May 3rd.
It’s been nearly two months since then, so I thought I’d answer a really important question: How has it been going?
Consistency Is Key
One major factor in starting back on the manuscript when I did was that I’d finished most of the MFA Thesis Novel Launch and settled a few other projects, leaving me more time for writing. This allowed me to set aside four mornings a week to work on the Secret New Novel, where I’d have between 2 and 4 hours for brainstorming, outlining, and drafting.
While it took me a few days to get warmed up and really use that time productively, one thing I found out right away was that by working on the novel so often, not only was I spending more hours on writing per week (around 12 hours a week versus my previous 3), I was also coming back to the novel more often. This is incredibly important for a lot of reasons.
It Gets My Body Into a Rhythm of Writing Almost Every Day
While some writers like my friend Josh Bresslin say that writing every day is best for making progress and training your mind, I’ve found I can get almost the same effect by writing four days a week, especially when I need to recharge on weekends and use that fourth weekday for other tasks.
I’ve found that under this schedule, when I wake up on a writing day, I’ll know it’s time to work on the novel and immediately start thinking about what I need to write that day, while I’m in the shower, having breakfast, and making my bed. This is a kind of pre-pre-writing that gets me mentally warmed up, and gets some of the ideas rolling when I sit down at the notebook or computer.
It’s also been helpful for fending off procrastination when I sit down to write, because after doing the same writing routine for so many days, putting it off tends to feel unnecessary, or straight-up wasteful. I still have trouble getting started some days, but usually it’s because I’m either tired or stressed about something else I need to deal with, rather than a habitual issue.
It Helps Me Think About the Novel More Consistently
Because I’m now spending 12 hours a week working on the novel instead of 3, it’s become more a part of my weekly routine, rather than a special occasion. As such, I find myself thinking about the novel the same way I would a Day Job or any other weekly task.
What this boils down to is that in the afternoons, evenings, or at night I’ll often find myself getting ideas for how to improve a scene or character, and I’ll write these ideas down so I don’t forget them. Sometimes I’ll get a really good idea and just mull over it for twenty minutes or longer in a kind of productive daydream.
Sure, this can put me behind on other things I need to do, but it’s also an amazing way to put my unconscious mind to work on difficult problems throughout the week, meaning that by the next time I sit down to work, I’ll have even more of the novel mapped out.
It Gives Me More Novel Sections to Think About
This is kind of an amazing benefit, but also one I didn’t realize until sitting down to write this. By simply making more progress on the draft every week, I’m figuring out more of the novel as I go. In the process, I come across more elements that need to be improved, fixed, or just plain figured out—roughly four times as many as I did when I was only writing one day a week!
This means that my unconscious mind has more problems to mull over, and is more likely to come up with solutions to the ones I have on my plate. Instead of letting these rough draft issues overwhelm me, I try to record them, set them aside, and think about them as they come up.
Eventually, these TBD aspects of the novel start to come together in interesting ways by virtue of their simply being more of them, and the work I do on one section can more readily give me ideas about other sections too.
Steadiness is Key
I titled this post Steady, But Not Slow because that’s the way I feel now: my work habits are more about consistency than any kind of speed, and some days I’ll write far more than others. Since I’m being honest, I haven’t been able to quite keep up the four days a week pace, and some weeks I’ve only managed three days. Still, this is far better than one day a week, and about a zillion times better than zero days.
All of this consistency is really starting to add up: In less than 2 months, I’ve nearly doubled my page count! This means that in the last 2 months I’ve written almost as much as I did in the 16 months since I first started the novel, which is all kinds of astounding to me.
Again, I want to stress that this kind of pace wouldn’t be possible if I was working a full-time Day Job or dealing with major life stressors. It’s only possible because I’ve been able to organize my life in such a way that I can prioritize my writing—and I feel really happy that I’ve been able to do that.
At this rate I’m hoping to have a completed rough draft by mid- to late summer, so stay tuned for more, and I’ll keep you posted!