Rachel McLean

– Thrillers That Make You Think

My Plan to Write a #novelinaweek

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I managed to write 25,000 words in two days. I found the process energising and it got me thinking about whether I could sustain this kind of productivity over a longer period of time.

To be precise, would it be possible to write a novel in a week? A first draft of an entire novel?

This may sound like a mad idea (I have my doubters) but I found that writing a lot in a small space of time made me more efficient – and that I really enjoyed it. I got into a flow where the story poured out of me. And I didn’t have to keep going back to earlier parts of the story to remind myself of what had happened – I only wrote it yesterday, so it was still in my head!

So I’ve challenged myself to write the first draft of a novel in a week, at the end of March. The starting gun will fire on 24 March and I’ll have nine days to write a 80-85k word novel. Yes, I know nine days is cheating (I get the weekends either side) – but come on, give a challenged writer a break ;).

So here’s how I plan to get it done.

Speed Doesn’t mean Sacrificing Quality

This is important. One person on Facebook suggested that if I could write a first draft this fast ‘only if you’re going to spend months editing it’.

No. First off, how does a complete stranger think he can tell me how to write? (Rant over) Secondly, if I sacrifice quality for speed, I’m wasting my time. If I have to rewrite everything, I may as well not do anything in my first week.

I actually believe that a novel written fast will (for me) need less editing than one I write slowly. This is because there will be less structural issues to resolve, thanks to that flow. My second book, A House Divided, which I’m still working on after starting it 14 years ago, has taken HUGE amounts of work knocking it into structural shape. It’s due out in September and I’m still not sure I have the structure quite right. (I will do before it’s published though, with the help of my editor!)

This is going to be a solid first draft, with a great story that flows and will pull me along as much as it will pull any reader along. If it doesn’t, I won’t be able to write fast. And I’ll do plenty of planning in advance to make sure of that.

This is a First Draft

As I say, this is a first draft. Some writers refer to the first draft as the ‘vomit draft’, meaning that it’s bad. The idea is that editing will polish it until it’s a gleaming diamond.

I’m not quite in agreement with that – I think a first draft has to have a good story, characters with real potential, and some decent writing – but I’m aware that I don’t need to spend hours getting every word perfect. I’m already thinking about my characters a lot, and I’ll play the plot beforehand. Then I’ll let it spill out of me.

Plotting, Not Pantsing

Plan your story - a notebook to help you write your novelWith my first novel, I was a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of their pants, not planning in advance but seeing where the story takes them.

Fourteen years later, that damn novel still isn’t finished. I’m never writing like that again.

Since then, I’ve become a plotter. I plot my books meticulously beforehand, using my Plan Your Story notebook and Scrivener.

Every chapter will be created (empty) in a Scrivener project before I start, with a brief overview of what happens in it – just a few words, no more. But that way, I don’t have to stop and think.

Of course if the characters or story take me off on another tangent, I’ll have to rejig my plan. But that’s half the fun.

Setting a Schedule

I’ve been logging all my writing time in recent months and identifying the times of day and locations where I work best. The verdict is that mornings in coffee shops work for me. I even have a regular table in my local branch of Coffee #1:

Being away from the house means no distractions, and in the morning my mind is fresh. But I won’t be able to write a full novel if I stick to mornings.

So I’m going to write between 9am (after dropping my son at school) and 3pm (before picking him up again). Any work I do in the evening won’t be writing, but thinking and planning – making those story revisions if I need them, and thinking about my characters.

Finding Time to Rest

When I wrote 25k words in two days, I was very tired at the end of it. I wrote longer and faster on those two days than I will for this.

Resting will be important.

I work best when I can take a break every hour or so. Which fits quite well with the time it takes me to write a chapter. If I’m in a coffee shop, that’s the perfect opportunity to stretch my legs and go get a coffee. I won’t stay in the same coffee shop the whole time, meaning I get some fresh air as I move around.

My Amazon Echo is set to tell me to go to bed at 10pm every night so I get enough sleep, and I’ll make sure my evenings aren’t completely filled with story planning. Although I may bore my family to death with progress updates!

Looking After My Health

This is a tricky one. Aside from sleeping and resting, I’m aware that my hands and arms will take a beating from all of the typing. I went on a touch typing course a few weeks ago and I can now touch type. The only problem is, I’m slow. Way too slow to meet my daily word count targets.

I’m going to carve out as much time as I can next week (in between plotting) to practise, in the hope that I’ll be able touch type the novel.

Wish me luck with that one, I’ll need it!

I also plan to do fifteen minutes of yoga every morning, in the time when I would normally be checking Facebook (see below). That will help me keep my back in shape.

What I’ll be Giving Up to Get it Done

Carving out the time to write a whole novel in one week when you have a job, a social life and a family is a challenge. So I’m going to have to give up a few things:

  • Social media. Right now I spend an hour on social media every morning. That’ll have to go. I’ll be warning all my friends on Facebook, and I will post daily updates on twitter and Facebook with my word count progress – but I’ll be doing those using buffer, so I can share but can’t get sucked into reading updates and replies.¬†Please urge me on and share/retweet my updates – give as much encouragement as you can. But please also accept my apologies for the fact that you won’t get a response till I’m done.
  • The day job. My day job is very flexible – I’m a freelance technical writer and trainer. I can already work my writing around that and am able to find about 15 hours to write every week, which is a lot more than most people with a day job can. But I’m going to need about 50 hours for this. So I’m taking a week off the day job. Again, I’ve warned my key clients and I hope they’ll be following my progress.
  • A social life. Evenings will be spent resting and planning the story – so no trips to the pub to meet up with friends. Luckily my writers’ group isn’t meeting that week, so I’ll be able to catch up with them the week after.
  • Reading. Yes, you read that right. I’m going to have to drop a lot of the time I use for reading, particularly in the morning when I tend to read for half an hour before getting up (I’ll need my yoga time). The time I gained by giving up most social media last year means I read for about two to three hours a day, and get through eight to ten books a month. In my novel in a week week, I’ll be lucky if I read one book. I plan for it to be nothing whatsoever to do with my own writing!

Why I Believe I Can Do It

Hopefully having read this you’ll be confident that I can do this.

I’ve put a plan in place, I’ve had a dry run (those 25k words) and I’m excited by the challenge! I think I can do this.

Follow My Progress!

Whether or not you think I can do this, I’d be really pleased if you followed along with me and shared my progress with your friends.

Here’s how you can follow:

Join Me!

If you’re a writer who likes a challenge, join me! I’ll be starting on 24 March and working through till 1 April (No, this is NOT and April Fool). I’ll be tweeting on the #novelinaweek hashtag and posting a daily update here – largely pre-written, as all my words will be taken up by my challenge.

I’d love to have company!






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