Thursday, July 19

Forget NaNoWriMo: How To Write A Novel In A Weekend

Writing 85,000 words in a weekend gives a new meaning to the phrase "weekend novelist". Honestly, I hadn't thought it possible to write that many words in three days. I'm reminded of the scene in The Shining where Jack Nickleson writes oodles of pages a day but they all say the same thing: All work and no play makes Jack an dull boy.

I could do that. Of course I'd probably develop an unnatural affection for kitchen knives by the end.

Brian Keene did just this, he holed up in his house and wrote 85,000 words over the span of three consecutive days. No, it wasn't a publicity stunt, he had deadlines looming and he needed to write 85,000 words in three days. And, miraculously, he did.

Here's how he did it:

1) No distractions
Pretty much the only thing Brian did for the entire weekend was sleep, eat and write. He didn't do housework, he didn't visit friends, he just wrote. He writes:
All I did was write. And when I got tired, I slept. And when I woke up, I wrote some more. Did my wrists hurt? Sure. Did I give myself carpal tunnel? It certainly seems like it. Do I feel bad that I missed out on things? Of course. But did I accomplish what I set out to do? Absolutely.
2) Know exactly where the story is going
Brian didn't have an outline, but he knew exactly where the story was going. He writes:
Had these been novels I was starting from scratch, or had the subject matter been something I didn’t feel as intimate or close to (Sundancing), or simply frivolous and fun to write (The Lost Level) there’s no way I would have written that many words in a day. Indeed, there have been times (Dark Hollow, Ghoul, and Take the Long Way Home come to mind) when the subject matter was heavy enough that I was lucky if I wrote 1,000 words a day. And you’ll have novels and stories like that. But you’ll also have ones that you absolutely can’t wait to get down on paper (or onto a laptop screen), and it is my personal experience that those types of tales seem to write themselves a lot faster.
3) Quantity over quality
The 85,000 words were for two first drafts. 40,000 words went to the first draft of a novel and 20,000 were of a novella. They are just "the basic foundations of the books to come."
Consider the words I wrote this weekend to be a just-built house. Now, I’ll go back and start the second draft, which is when I’ll run the electrical wires and the plumbing, and hang the drywall and the vinyl siding. Then I’ll do a third draft, which is when we pick out carpet and furniture, and make it ready to show to buyers. But what I did this weekend is just unpainted lumber. It’s raw materials. It looks like a house, but you wouldn’t want to live there… yet.
Brian concludes with some excellent adivce we can all follow:
The important thing to remember is this — writers get too hung up on word counts. It doesn’t matter if you produce 1,000 words per day or 10,000 words per day. What matters is that you produce words. Novels and stories don’t write themselves. Ass in chair, fingers on keyboard, repeat as necessary is the best method I know. If you’ve written 1,000 words today and someone else has written twice that amount, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve written. Be proud of what you’ve produced.

And now I’m off to dip my hands and wrists in a big vat of Ben Gay…
Basically Brian did NaNoWriMo in a weekend, plus 35,000 words. I stand in awe.

Read Brian's account of his harrowing experience here: How To Write 80,000 Words In A Weekend. Thanks to David Gaughran for the link.

Related reading:
- NaNoWriMo: Why write a 50,000 word manuscript in a month?
- NaNoWriMo: Write A Novel In 30 Days
- SiWC 2011: Character and POV: The Voice of Your Story, by Bob Mayer


  1. I don't think I could do that. My personal best is 12,000 words in a day. If I really buckled down, I could stretch that to 20,000, but I don't think I'd get out good quality. :-P

  2. I don't think I could do it either! 12,000 words, wow. I think the most I've ever done is 6,000 words of fiction in a day. My hat is off to you.

    1. I wouldn't tip it too much - I was in Iraq on a rare day off. Not like I could stroll down to the mall, so what else was there to do? ;-)

    2. lol Well, when you put it like that!

      Seriously, 12,000 words is an accomplishment; even without anything else to do. I mean, even if a person was stuck in an elevator with a pads of writing paper and enough pens to stock an office supply store, most folks wouldn't write 12,000 words.


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