How to Write a Book in Months, Not Years

The following is quoted with permission, directly from a recent newsletter. It makes a lot of sense. My thanks to Marg McAlister for making this available. Be sure to check out her sites and newsletters, listed below.

How to Write a Book in Months, Not Years
by Marg McAlister

I could begin this article with a lecture about how Rome wasn’t built in a day, and writing skills take years to develop, and all good things come to those who wait, yada yada yada… but you know all that. And I’m assuming you also know that if you don’t have talent, it doesn’t matter whether you take two months to write a book or two years – it still won’t sell. (Unless you’re some kind of major celebrity, with a band of followers who’d happily hand over $19.95 just to read your grocery list.)

If you’ve got this far and you’re still reading, I take it that you have a reason for wanting to write a book FAST. If you’re talking about a 15,000 word chapter book for nine-year-olds, you could feasibly complete the first draft in a weekend. If you’re thinking more in terms of an 80,000-word thriller in, say, three months, you’d better budget 7,000 words a week – and forget about a social life if you’re working in another job as well.

Regardless of how long the book is and how many months you want to spend on it, there are a few ‘rules’ to writing the first draft of your book quickly. Here they are.

1. Have a Plan.

If you start with a blank page and no ideas you’re fighting an uphill battle to get your book written. This is true no matter how long you want to take, but even more so if you’re writing to a self-imposed deadline.

Plan your book. It doesn’t matter how rough the plan is, but please, have some idea of where you’re going with this story before you start. If you’re a right-brain person, use mind-mapping techniques (circles and lines and arrows to connect ideas).

When you sit down on Day 1, make sure you have your plan at your elbow or taped to the wall near your computer.

2. Know Your Characters

At least know TWO of them: the main character and one other. The ‘one other’ can be a sidekick, a romantic interest, the antagonist.. . it doesn’t matter. You can get the two of them interacting and the story can start rolling. Think about your characters even when you’re not at the computer.

3. Do As Much Research as Possible Before Page 1

If you’re writing to a deadline, it’s all too easy to get bogged down in research. Don’t make it too hard for yourself (for example, writing a historical novel if you don’t already have a good knowledge of the era; writing a police procedural when you know nothing about police procedure). My advice is to write something that requires NO research. Failing that, make it minimal. Use Google or whatever other sources you need to find necessary information before you start to write. And here’s a tip: set a deadline to have your research finished. You can waste months clicking from one website to another, or buried in library stacks.

If something comes up that you need to know while you’re writing, just type a row of asterisks and ‘FIND THIS OUT’: make it super-sized, red, and bold, and move on with the story. Go back and do the research on a day when you’re not feeling very creative.

4. Set a Quota.

Normally, I tell writers: “Don’t think in terms of chapters or the word count: just write in scenes. Let the scenes pile up, and your story will come together.” Writing in scenes is the best way to grow your story – but if you’re working to a tight deadline, it’s harder. Scenes are not a consistent length, and it’s hard to estimate the number of scenes in a finished book. If you’re racing against the clock, work out how many words in the book, then divide it by the number of working days you have between now and your deadline. (Note I said WORKING days. Do give yourself some down time.) When you’ve done that, work out how many words you want to complete each week. Give yourself some flexibility: if you have a good day and write two or three times the daily quota, you can take a day off if you need a break.

5. Get the Draft Done

This means ‘forget perfection’. That’s what editing is for. Your aim is to get the working draft done. Many writers find that the hardest part of writing a book is to actually finish it. Get that first draft written; then you have something to get your teeth into for the editing/polishing stage. If you never finish the first draft, you’ll never get published.

When you’ve finished, take a break before going back to edit and polish your work. I recommend at least two weeks away from the manuscript, and preferably a month. If you can hand it over to others to critique during this period, so much the better – but do distance yourself from your work.

The above tips don’t constitute everything you need to know about writing a book fast, but they provide a starting point.

You’ll find more information in a previous article called Can YOU Write a Book in a Month? in the Writing4Success Tipsheet Archives at

© Marg McAlister

(c) Marg McAlister and Writing For Success. You may pass this newsletter on to others or reproduce the content provided that the articles are not changed in any way without permission. All copyright details must be reproduced, and the following resource box included.

Marg McAlister’s writing sites and ezines are full of up-to-date, practical advice for writers. Get timely tips to ensure writing success both online and in print:

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