Writing Wednesdays: 5 habits that helped me write a book in five weeks

This year I managed to write a 75,000 word first draft in just five weeks. In this post, I talk about some of the writing habits and hacks that helped me do that.

If you’ve been following my Instagram and Twitter over the last few weeks, you’ll already know that I was on a mission (and a deadline) to write a book in five weeks. An entire first draft. (Well, minus the 3,000 words I’d written earlier in the summer…)

You’ll probably also already know by now that I love a deadline, so of course, I didn’t miss it. Not counting the one day in the summer I spent writing the first 3,000 words, I started writing the book on October 12th, and finished it on November 14th.

I spent (including the day in the summer), 17 days or evenings working on this book. It came in at just over 75,000 words.

(This is also the part where I confess I also wrote 55,000 words of a fanfiction in mid-October while I was supposed to be working on this book, that I definitely did not need to be working on. Eek.)

Writing pretty much the entire book in just five weeks was a feat. And honestly, it wasn’t how I would normally write – but I was on a deadline, and it had to get done.

Before any of you think I was just procrastinating this whole time and rushing the book at the end… in my defence, I wasn’t given a deadline until September, when I was busy looking for houses, popping to Rio for the weekend, and working on edits on another book. I asked when they’d need the book, was told early October, and pushed back to mid-November, thinking that sounded more reasonable. Which, I guess, it was.

In this post, I’m going to talk about writing habits that helped me to write a book in just five weeks.

1. Setting word count goals and planning when I could write

Normally, I’d just write as and when the mood took me. If I’m on deadline, I’ll set aside time to write and make a more focused effort. But for this book, I knew it was going to require a lot of discipline – especially since I work a regular 9-5, five days a week, too. (Well, 8.30 – 4.30.)

I sat down and went through my calendar each week until my deadline. Taking out any time I already had planned in to spend with family or friends on a weekend, or days in London for some meetings, and giving myself the evening off whenever it would be ‘housework and grocery shopping’ after work.

Once I had my list of days/evenings after work that I could spend writing, I went through and set myself word count goals. Sometimes this would be 8,000 on a Saturday. Others, 1,000 on a Wednesday evening – mostly so I could give myself some space to catch back up if I was falling behind.

I wouldn’t normally set word count goals. I’d celebrate when I hit a ‘milestone’ and I’d Tweet about how many words I’d written that day, but I wouldn’t be strict about trying to hit a certain number of words on a certain day.

It rarely ever went to plan, but I reviewed the goals on pretty much a weekly basis, so I’d know how much catching up I’d have to do (or where I could allow myself a couple of nights off). I actually liked how accountable and focused this made me, so might even try it again at some point.

2. Writing to a brief

I am not a plotter. Last time I had to write a synopsis for a book, my agents did most of the leg work. I was awful at it – especially as I’d not finished the book. I will forever remain someone who can’t plot in advance and just sees where the characters take me, but this book was a little different. I was basically writing it to a brief, or at least pre-agreed storyline, so I’d spent some time mapping out each of the story points and how the story would flow. I won't say too much more about the book at this stage, but hopefully if it gets published, I can talk more about this another time.

This was weird but kind of fun, and it definitely helped to mitigate any writers block, when I could sit down and open the document up and say, ‘Oh, okay, it’s that scene with these two characters that’ll come next. And I need to fit in something about that event, too, to help set that up.’

3. Having a deadline and other commitments

I never would’ve managed to do this if I hadn’t been given a deadline and didn’t know people would be expecting this book at a certain time. It also helped that in mid-November, I had a weekend at home planned to do some Christmas shopping with my family – so I’d wanted to make sure I finished it ahead of that weekend. (Which I did, yay!) Having a few weekends with my friends or family already in the diary made my time to write a little more limited, and made procrastinating that bit harder. (Although the previously mentioned 55,000 word fanfiction would suggest otherwise…)

4. Using my days off work to… work

My leave year runs out at the end of the year, and it turned out I had a bunch of holiday days I had to use up before the end of the year or I’d lose them. I booked a couple off to go to London for some meetings (and treat myself to some shows while I was there!) but also booked two days off at the end of October to spend working on this book.

On those holiday days, and on my weekends, I did my best to treat it like a working day. I’d get up, have breakfast, get dressed, and get to work. A couple of times, I went to a café in town for several hours, not letting myself leave until I’d hit some kind of milestone on my word count.

Although I will confess: I’m not always great at this. Sometimes it’s 1pm when I’m starting work on my book, and I consider that successful. I’m much more of a night owl, and way more productive in the evenings – which definitely came in handy when I spent so many evenings after my day job working on the book.

5. Organising my evenings after the day job

Speaking of evenings after my day job working on the book – this sounds exhausting, and it kind of was, but it really helps that writing this book was something I genuinely loved doing, so it didn’t always feel like work. But it was, and it needed to be done.

I’ve learnt that the only way I’ll be productive in the evenings is to get everything out the way as soon as I get in from work. Washing my hair, tidying up, putting on some laundry, cooking dinner, calling my family to talk – any and all of it, I do it as soon as I get in from work. I’m luckily only a short commute from the office, so can be home by 5pm, and free to write from 7pm. On the rare occasion I try to do things the other way around… it never works. But this is a routine that works for me, and helps me work better.

So there you have it – five things that helped me to write a book in just five weeks!

Have you ever written anything to a tight deadline, or maybe you took part in NaNoWriMo this year? I’d love to hear what writing habits help you in those situations – share in the comments below, or let me know over on Twitter whereyou can find me @Reekles.

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