How To Push Past The Bullshit And Write That Goddamn Novel: A Very Simple No-Fuckery Writing Plan To Get Shit Done

Life will never be kind to the writer. Particularly those who stay at home. You go to a full-time job outside the house, everyone gives you a wide berth to let you do what you need to do. Stay at home to write a book and everybody interrupts you like all you’re doing is watching a Teen Mom marathon on MTV while chowing down on pizza-flavored Combos and Haagen-Daaz.

Life intrudes upon you. It kicks down the door and stomps all over a writer’s practical aspirations to write. Kids. Dogs. A full-time job. A part-time job. Cleaning. Cooking. Pubic grooming. Xenomorph invasion. Hallucinations. Masturbation. LIQUOR AND MONKEY WRESTLING.

As your shoulders bear the burden of carrying the multiple shit-sacks of life’s daily ordure output, it gets easier and easier to push writing aside: “I’ll do that tomorrow,” you say, and next thing you know you’re in diapers once more, this time at an old folks’ home gumming chocolate pudding topped with a skin so thick you need scissors to cut it. Procrastination is the affirmation of an unpleasant and unwelcome but all-too-easy status quo. You merely need to do nothing and yet at the same time feel productive because you’ve promised no really I’ll pinky swear to put down some words tomorrow. You know what I want to say to that?

Tomorrow can guzzle a bucket of vulture barf.

Yesterday’s gone the way of the dodo. You have one day, and it is today.

Your promises are as hollow as a cheap-ass dollar-store chocolate Easter Bunny.

I’m going to give you literally no excuse at all to write and finish that novel. You know the one. The one that lives in your head and your heart but not on the page. The one you always say, “I’m going to write that book someday.” The one you talk about. But not the one you write. The one that makes you blah blah blah “aspiring” rather than the “real deal.” I’m going to give you a prescription for a writing plan that is simple, straightforward, and contains zero heinous fuckery. It’s so easy, a determined ten-year-old could do it. You will have no excuse. None. Zip.

Fuck-all.

Because if you come back to me and say, “I can’t do that,” you might as well have told me, “I can’t pick myself up out of this pile of mule poop I accidentally rolled in. I’m literally just bound to lay here in this once-warm now-cold heap of mule turds. Forever. Until I die. I have no self-capability and I am less motivated than your average sea cucumber. Please kick dirt on me, and if the word writer ever comes out of my mouth again, just slap my face.”

Further, if someone tells you they aren’t able to write a novel — “I don’t have time! My life is too busy!” — just send them a link to this post with my blessing.

Ready? Here’s the rules:

The Big 350

You’re going to write and finish the first draft of a novel in one year’s time.

You are going to do this by writing five days out of the week, or 260 days out of the year.

You are going to write 350 words on each of those 260 days.

That means, at the end of one year, you will have written 91,000 words.

More than enough for an average novel length.

To be clear, 350 words? Not a lot. At this point in your reading, this post is already 500 words long. You can sneeze 350 words. It’s like a word appetizer every day. Some days it’ll take you 15 minutes, other days two hours — but you’re going to commit to those 350 words every day, whether you type them out, or scrawl them in a notebook, or chisel them into the wall of your prison cell. You will carve these words out of the time you are given.

You get 24 hours a day. As do I. As do we all.

Grab a little time to write a little bit every day.

The Goal

The goal is not to write a masterpiece. It’s not to sprint. This ain’t NaNoWriMo. The goal is to finish a novel despite a life that seems hell-bent to let you do no such thing. It is you snatching snippets of word count from the air and smooshing them together until they form a cohesive (if not coherent) whole. It assumes a “slow and steady wins the race” approach to this book.

A finished first draft. That is the brass ring, the crown jewels, the Cup of the Dead Hippie God.

The Other Rules

No other rules exist. Next question.

Things To Consider

Wanna do an outline? Great, go for it. Edit as you go or all in one lump? I don’t give a monkey’s poop-caked paw how you approach it. Do as you like. Just hit your target of 350 words per day.

Let me say that again: Just hit your target. Don’t turn off your targeting computer. Don’t listen to that weird old man. Use your targeting computer, Luke. The Force is some flimsy hoo-haw made by a bunch of loveless space cenobites. No, not those cenobites, goddamnit you’re confusing your movies. Stop fiddling with that ornate-looking puzzle box. CRIMINY.

Wrote more than your allotted and expected count in one day? Fuck yeah. High-five. Fist-bump. Slap-and-tickle. Give unto yourself the pleasures of the flesh and celebrate that you’re this much closer to the end goal. Didn’t write today? Well, goddamnit. Fine. Guess what? It’s only 350 words. Cram it into tomorrow’s word-hole. That’s still only 700 words. It’s not even a 1000 words. Some writers write that much before they wake up in the morning.

Make a spreadsheet if you have to. Track your 350 words per day (you’ll probably end up writing more than that consistently and hitting your tally quicker, particularly with a spreadsheet to remind you — you will discover it’s actually hard to stop at 350 words).

The word count is small enough and steady enough where you can comfortably fuck doubt right in the ear. You’re creeping through the draft like a burglar. One step at a time. Relax. Breathe. Like that one fish says to that other fish in the movie about all the fucking fish: Just keep swimming. Or for a differnt metaphor, you know how you eat an elephant? ONE BITE AT A TIME.

Contains Zero Fuckery

This is easy! You can do this! You can do better than this! This is a plan on par with, “Do one push-up every day.” This is, “Don’t pee on the salad bar.” This is a bare minimum, common denominator, common sense, zero fuckery writing plan. You can’t do this, you don’t want to be a writer. You don’t get to be a writer. Not least of all because you can’t carve just a little bit of fat from your day to sizzle up 350 words in your story-skillet.

Lend this plan a little bit of your time.

Give this plan a little bit of your effort.

And in one year’s time, you will have a novel.

It won’t be a masterpiece.

It will need editing.

But it’ll be a first draft of something real.

Something many so-called “writers” never achieve.

One year.

Weekends off.

Just 350 words for 260 days.

Shut up and write.

(EDIT: Did a graphic for this:)

(Feel free to share!)

252 comments

  • Omg! This had me laughing! Randomly came on this blog. I feel determined but still stuck. I have this great idea several mo.’s ago but scrapped it and wanted to make it new and even more refreshing. I want to write!

  • Your plan works, for sure! I did it myself in 2002-2003. I wrote a 480 page novel, at 3 pages a day except weekends, but it took me about a year and a half because I was waylaid by doubt and some major stresses in my life halfway through. Now the problem is that the finished draft has been sitting on my computer for 10 years! My goal this year is to edit and revise, and so far I’m done with 34 chapters out of 50. NaNoWriMo is helping to spur me on to revise it before year end. Of course I want to punish myself for not revising before now, and for letting 10 years lapse before writing again. But I just have to pick myself up and get busy again. I’m ready to finish this project and start a new one. Thanks so much for your inspirational post. :-)

  • Having just retired with the idea of finally writing full-time I can relate! At this point I would like to throw the phone into a chasm of limitless dimensions. I have installed a ringtone that lets me distinguish between calls I might answer and platypus diarrhea. Na’tha’less there is still a door in every wall of my house save one and people seem to think they are there for egress as well as escape. FMARUICLAB! (trust me, you don’t want to know!) Ok, I’m better now, thanks.

  • I got here by Googling “how to finish your novel in a year.” Fantastic post! Thank you for the solid advice and encouragement. I’m buying your books as a tribute.

  • This is awesome. I have a goal in mind of what kind of story I want to write and it’s gonna be a shorter-length novel. This post is a genius!

  • Thanks for being the very rare writer (you’re in good company, because I think this of Stephen King, too) who can talk writing process in any way without sounding like a pretentious tool. You are truly the only guy I read for this kind of thing, outside the occasional essay or interview with a handful of others.

  • Great post, Chuck. Sometimes you just have to think about the numbers, and how it all breaks down, to know how to get where you want to go. 350 words a day is totally attainable, no matter how busy you may be, and I feel like this post really helps me give myself permission to write “only” 350 words a day instead of beating myself up about not writing enough, or not writing at all. Kind of a “don’t break the chain” without all the guilt when you do break the chain!

  • I reposted this on my blog, with some comments too. They’re a little longwinded to paste in here. To summarize, if you have to force yourself to write 350 words a day, you’re not enjoying your work, and you don’t really want to work as a writer if you’re not going to enjoy your work. At least with a shitty day job you can get home and curse out the boss over a few beers. Being a writer, you have to write over those few beers and curse yourself next morning as you try to edit what you wrote while drunk. (that’s not actually a summary but a whole different point… hmmm) http://davidjmobrien.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/how-to-write-a-novel-in-a-year/

  • Thanks for your inspiring post … and specially for the oh so slight dig at Nanowrimo, I found that bit particularly apt. Nano is a good exercise but there is something sinister about it in my opinion. I don’t believe that the practice of bashing out a few thousand words every day and getting a load of stuff down in a month is necessarily the right way to go about writing a novel – most times you just end up with a load of gibberish. Word count (in my experience) does not a good book make. Quality not Quantity is what counts. Slow and steady is the way to go, I totally agree with that. The message here is plain and simple and it DOES WORK. Kick procrastination in the butt, write your well thought out 350 words a day and feel bloody proud of yourself. .

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