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!)

328 comments

  • The first part of your post absolves me from the dinner that was served to the fam-dam-ily tonight on red paper plates. Dished. Served. Flung. Cleared. “I’m trying to finish a novel. Don’t bother me.” It was the gist of my speech. I am not alone, apparently.

  • I love this idea. If I had an idea for a novel to write, I would have started my 350 words for the day the second I finished reading this post instead of leaving this comment.

  • Fantastic. Doing it. This was the motivation I needed amidst the freaking out about my life–HOW CAN I DO ALL THE THINGS AND ALSO WRITE? That’s how. Thank you.

  • I recently came to the conclusion that I actually enjoy being a barista full-time. I want to be an author, but as of right now, Starbucks pays my bills and fighting that fact was making me manic. Changing my outlook on work surprisingly opened up so much more enthusiasm to write. Whereas before I was so set on “if I do not write a novel now, I will be a god damned barista for the rest of my fucking life,” now that I am enjoying my job, my writing time is more of a fun vacation. And who doesn’t aspire to live in their dream vacation destination?

    Your post here, about these little snippets of writing each day (weekends off) sort of coincides with my shift in mentality. I don’t have to be an author now, but if I want to be one some day, I do need to write. Every day, or damn near. I think a new zest for work (which bleeds into an overall daily zest) and the somewhat needed affirmation that it is okay to take this writing thing one tiny, determined, and consistent step at a time have really brought back my belief that I will someday be wiping Cheetos crumbs from my fingertips in an attempt to avoid crudding up the pen some fan has given me to sign their copy of whatever abysmal tome I one day publish.

    Thanks for the pick-me-up, Chuck.

  • February 20, 2013 at 1:12 AM // Reply

    Thank You very much, sir!
    Good and sound advise, indeed. And also, it’s impressive how you find the time yourself to both kepp this blog on this high level, while at the same time write books. Amazing.

    (I have another problem than this though; I write a little too much. Have problems finishing my book now. Rewriting, rewriting. There seem to be no end. But no, this is not true. I only have 145 pages more to go. And that’s what sares me. Because then I have to send it to this publisher.)

    Thank You for all your inspiring and highly entertaining writings!
    You have a reader in Stockholm, Sweden.

  • I love your no bullshit writing. I just finished my first draft yesterday — 5 days a week, 5 pages a day. 118,521 words in 6 months. Did an outline — shit, did two outlines. Got a wipe board and did a schedule every month. Missed days and caught up. Just kept going. One step at a time. Fuck yeah. I’m a writer.

    • Or in the immortal words of Master Oogway: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”

  • Thanks for this post, which will be shared on my page. I think people should stop setting unachievble goals like writing at least 5000 words a day and instead do something like this. Slow and steady wins the race as you say and maybe for the next 365 days after that you can up your word count to 500 pr day and probably sail through it!

  • I love this post as it’s hilariously written. And sounds as if it should work. Should. What if I’m for realz lying around in the mud-poop though, and have indeed given up on the writing thing except for one small part if my brain? What if I tried that writing-minuscule-amounts per day and it worked for a bit but then it didn’t and then 10 years went by? I might give it another go. Might. But with no great hopes. Still: this is a dab post.

        • It seems to me that doing this is a bit of mind trickery to convince yourself you’re not actually working, so you don’t get scared of not succeeding. You’re writing what is equivalent to a quarter of a blog post per day.

          That’s trickery in my book.

  • You know what is stopping me from writing right now…, right this very moment… you! Up until now I was suckered in the wise word quick-sand that is you, Chuck Wendig, spewing awesome kick-ass pull-your-finger-out-and-stop-snivelling wisdom. But now I stop. Now I have 350 words to pluck out of my a-hole so I can be a writer. A real one! Thanks Chuck.

  • Challenge accepted! I will take time between my other projects, work, life, etc, and pen down 369 words a day on THAT NOVEL, the one that I have in my head (and some 5,000 words worth of on digital paper, not counting the half-assed outline).

    I will start this tomorrow! (just kidding, just kidding…I’ll start today!)

  • This has really motivated me! I’m not going to eat until i write at least …(oooh mars bar!) some words today. I’m terrible at scheduling but 350 words is a doddle. Until it comes to writing them, of course. Thanks again!

    Star xx

  • Very good post. I started something similar when I got my job in January, but I started with the goal of 500 words a day, every day. Once I’ve settled into this and am getting those out at a decent clip, I might up it to 750 or 1000. But the idea of picking a smallish starting point and going from there is a good one. It’s certainly worked for me.

  • Oh, so on board. I can write 350 words five days a week, even the ones when I’ve kids at home. More on the ones when they’re not BUT if I do, it doesn’t count. It doesn’t get me a day off. Because fuck it, I want this thing finished.

  • First bit of writing advice I’ve read that doesn’t make me want to bang my head against the wall. 350 words is something that I could crank out over lunch break at work.

  • Somebody should actually write a book titled “That Novel”. It seems like a fitting title for a writing advice book, bold, yet to the point, and definately makes the reader give it the title a second glance.

  • My biggest, heart pounding fear? Humiliation and being judged! I don’t come from an English Literiture studying background or a Diploma from Oxford….But the desire to write is overwhelming. My confidence is low. I look for any excuse, not to write…because of the aforementioned reasons….There are so many writers to huddle up to. My fear again , that they will see me as an uneducated, boring, waffling, idiot. Please help ?

    • We’re not all watching you write it. What you write here is a first draft. Grant yourself the permission to suck, at least temporarily. Many writers begin as (and sometimes remain at times) uneducated, boring, or waffling. You get through it by writing your way through. GO FORTH AND WRITE. Screw fear. Screw what other writers think, especially.

      — c.

      • Thank you. You’re absolutely right of course ! I did feel a bit of an arse, airing my laundry in public. But I had to get it out of my system.
        Again thank you. 🙂

        • Hey! I have that fear also. So I’ll stand here with you, bare-arsed to the wind, airing my laundry. Ooops, not bare-arsed…”bit of an arse”! Hmmm, well, put more simply: You are not alone. 😉

  • Yes. Okay. Just let me figure out the plot details before— No, you’re absolutely right. I have the time. I will print this out and stick it on the wall right behind my laptop.

  • Love. Love. Love. Started novel in July. Full-time job, a couple of life crises, 3-week hiatus and eight months later: 85,000 words, all written between 4:45-5:30 a.m., M-F, 350-450 words, longhand, transcribed into Scrivener at weekend. Goal is 105,000 by April. First Draft, in the bag. Fuck, yeah.

  • I made a grand – for me – resolution for 2012: I would write six hours a week. Crashed and burned on that one. This year, I’m aiming for a modest word count per week, and it’s been kind of liberating. Great post.

  • I love this. I start writing again today. My kids are finally both out of the house at uni. I’m too unreliably ill to work for someone else so, theoretically, I have lots of time. Time that gets lost on the web. So, Scrivener re-installed, spreadsheet ready. Aaaand…. go!

  • Interestingly enough something much like this has been my strategy since the beginning of the year (at least 250 words a day). At the moment I’m sitting at over 18000, not even two months in. I’m happy!

  • I like this very much, but there is no way I can get intoxicated in 350 words. Everyday is another thing that might be an issue…, but again I like this idea very much.

  • Just read. Coffee nearly spewed from nostrils trying so hard not to laugh (open plan office…gaffawfing frowned upon). Effing-A post and very good advice! Cheers!

  • Ha! I love your metaphors. I think the main thing to blast through the procrastination is passion, which is oozing out of this post. Lately I have been trying to get in an ‘open’ state. As advised by famous comic actor John Cleese http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VShmtsLhkQg. This is where you just create and don’t edit or criticise. You have the attitude that you can’t make any mistakes. Then, the next day, I get into ‘closed’ mode and actually decide what to keep, what to change and what to ditch.

  • I am a published novelist, and I wanted to say that this method works. it really, really works. I adopted a version of it with my first book, only slightly more punishing: 1200 words a day, every day (no weekends off). I had a first draft in four months. I’m now on book 6. The reason it works is threefold. One: you live in your story – you get to know your characters and you inhabit it all the time, If you can’t solve a problem you write around it. Two: linked to #1, if you commit to keeping going, fear and inertia, a writer’s biggest enemies, can’t stop you. And three: it adds up. Fast. And once you have 20,00, 30,000 words, you have a body of work, and that in turn gives you courage to keep going. Finishing a first draft smashes an enormous psychological barrier. I began like this, knowing nothing. I’ve written five, have a proper publishing deal and now know a little more. Do it. it works.

    • Do you really write around unsolved problems? I’ve got unsolved problems totally paralyzing me. I keep thinking if I write around them, something bad will happen, like a scientist in the basement of a laboratory in Sweden will accidentally generate a black hole with a particle accelerator and the universe will cease to exist. Huh.

      • Not to answer for the OP, but I can tell you what I do when I hit one of these. I increase the font to about 24 bold and type in FIX THIS BIT LATER and blow right past it.

        The reason I use the big font is because … well, it bugs you. Everything else is in nice double spaced TNR 12, and there’s that godawful mass right in the middle of the page.

        And even if you start a new chapter and a new doc, you still know its there, and its gnawing at you. You’ll think about it on your commute, or in the shower, or whatever.

        It won’t stay there too long, trust me. More importantly, with this method, you don’t lose your momenetum. And oftentimes, what comes later will show you the answer to the earlier problem.

          • No, I’m much too linear for that. And especially with this frst book (inaugural tale type), I had no idea what the actual ending would be until I was almost there. With subsequnt volumes I have things more mappped out, although to be honest, I’m not sure exactly where the breaks will be there either.

            I’m sort of an outliner with latent seat of pants tendencies ..

            But there are lots of folks who say write the ending first, so you’re in good company. And what’s most important is whatever works best for you

  • I did finish a draft, in this variety of slow-creep. It was awesome. Now, I’m editing it in a similar way. So, for those who are in the same boat as me, editing and rewriting: Dude. It’s a universal concept. Already on edit/overhaul #3 and I’m still under the one year mark from that first word.

    *Pats self on back* Now, time for more editing.

  • I can attest to the wisdom of this approach. I started tracking my novel (which I will not plug here) when it was about halfway done and I was struggling with it, and it made all the difference in the world.

    I set up a sample spreadsheet that you (or anybody) can look at and copy if you need help with the spreadsheetery arts.

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ahsde4r7XPMjdEQ1cVZGbnU0V1RUSVR5bXI0b1p3clE&usp=sharing

  • Also, this: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

    ― Ira Glass

  • Love this. At the end of 2011, I made a bit of a crazy bet – to do 100 push-ups per day in 2012. Somehow, that bet got upped to 50,000 for the year. So, I broke it down. Six days per week (resting Sunday), that was about 160/day. Across five sets, it was 32 per set. Ok, that still seemed a bit daunting. Then I thought, what if I did 16 sets of 10? Or maybe 32 sets of 5? I could definitely do 5-10 push-ups.

    That’s when I started to realize that it had very little to do with strength, and everything to do with commitment. If I was willing to put int he time/effort, it could be done. I’m happy to say I did it (and not in 32 sets per day 🙂 ). I’m stronger, but more to the point, I learned I can commit to a goal for an entire year, and that’s a pretty amazing feeling.

  • I love how when I was living with the rents I would be harassed while writing like I was re-watching my favorite porno flick. “Oh you’re writing. Go to the store get some groceries, take the dog to the vet, change your nephews diapers.” At the ripe old age of 28 I finally said screw this shit and got my own place. Problem solved until I find a woman to do this to me in my free time. Until then I shall continue fucking off at work to polish my manuscript that has taken me four months to create.

  • I love you, I love you, I love you. I have 3 of your books on writing (love them). These pearls of wisdom wrapped in bile that you dose out? They keep me going. I will finish my novel this year, because of your advice and ass kicking. And it wil be good, because of your advice and ass kicking. Thank you, Chuck.

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