There is some math involved in writing. For instance: The most popular number of words in fiction books today is 80,000. In a single-spaced typewritten page, there are about 500 words. This means an 80,000-word book will have about 160 pages (80,000 ÷ 500). Add about 10 pages for short, end of chapter pages and the book will now be about 170 pages, give-or-take 10 pages. When you add the front and back matter (Copyright, dedication, table of contents, author bio, information on the next in the series, or possibly an excerpt for another book) and you will be somewhere close to 200 pages.
Want to know how long will it take you to write that book? It depends on so many things but once you know your output for each day or week it is easy. Remember that there are 500 words on a typed page. Well, if you can do one page a day it will take you 160 days to write a rough draft with 80,000 words. (80,000 ÷ 500) One page a day, and you will have a rough draft in just a little over five months! (160 ÷ 30)
Using the Math
My goal this month is to average 2500 words a day. In a week that is 17,700 words (2500 x 7) or 35ish pages (2500 ÷ 500= 5 x 7 = 35) If I meet that goal I can have 80,000 words finished in about 32 days. Theoretically this means I could have a rough draft done in about a month.
Notice I keep saying rough draft. The goal when you start a book is to get the story down. You just write… write the story, flush out the characters… and really try hard not to edit anything at this point. Because editing and rewriting will cut down on your word count for the day. So, write without changing things. (This is VERY difficult.) And get the entire story on paper.
Then you can edit and enhance, flush out the story-line and fill in the setting, and add more on the characters. You will probably go through several revisions before you are ready to have someone do formal edits on the book.
Do you want to know about the science of writing a book? Well, there are several ways to do it. Some people write “by the seat of their pants” which means they just start writing and work the story out as they go along. I do some of this. A lot of times when I’m searching for story ideas, I will just write with a few “what ifs” in mind and no specific plan. I think this could be labeled the Chaos Method.
The exact opposite of the Chaos Method is that some writers will spend days, weeks, and yes even months—plotting out their story before they start writing. This way they know exactly what is going to happen from one page to the next or one chapter to the next before they start writing. We’ll call this the Structured Method.
I fall somewhere in between and do a little of both. I’m going to name this the Flip Flop Method. ;)
A Slightly Different Approach
One of my all-time favorite books on writing is called the Writer’s little Helper, by James V Smith, Jr. This book came out in 2005 and is simple and yet very helpful. I have one of the first publication hardbacks and I refer to it quite a bit.
One of the first chapter’s in this book is titled Organizing Ten Easy Scenes. Using this tool, you sketch out the ten most important scenes in the book and write down just a couple lines about what you want to happen in each scene. Maybe even just a headline for each scene.
Then following another one of the writer’s tips from later in the book—you write the entire scene titled Point X (The closer), which is technically the climax and the second to the last scene in the book. Writing this scene first, you will know how the story ends, and as you write the rest of the book, you are simply working towards getting to the end.
I’m calling the ten scenes, write the end first plan the MapIT Method. Because that is what it feels like to me. You map out the story from start to finish and now you follow the map to finish the rest of the story.
Using the Science
If you write the end first, the theory is you know exactly where you are going. While this has worked well for me in the past, I still flip flop from time to time. But something is different for me this year. This year I have 3 books with a central theme. They each have their own happily-ever-after and at the end of each book a part of the story ends—but the overall story line continues throughout all three books. I NEED to end each book at a specific place for the next book to work.
So, I’ve already planned all ten scenes for the first two books and have three of the scenes for the third book planned. I know exactly where the first book ends, so book two can begin, and the same with where book two ends so three can start. For the first book I finished writing the climax scene and have been going strong ever since.
Start At The End
I believe the most important part of his advice is to start at the end. I started writing my current WIP (work in progress) by the seat of my pants. I did the prologue and a full chapter before my muse went to sleep. (about 15,000 words worth.) The book sat for a month or so before I picked up Writer’s little Helper again and decided to hammer out the 10 scenes. That helped me write a couple more chapters, but it was still going a little slow.
A few weeks later I reread in the Little Helper… “Write the climax of the novel first, even if its in sketch form. The moment you do you have a destination.”
And that was it. The light bulb moment I’d obviously read before and ignored (because hey…its highlighted).
Now the book is flowing fast. I’ve had an incredible two weeks where every time I sit down at the computer I know exactly what to write next, with no hesitation or worry. This method is something I plan to utilize not only with these next three books, but with several other books I have sitting at 20,000 or more words with no direction or end in sight.
Brain Fog Cure?
One of my biggest issues is that I have a life. I have a husband, kids, grand kids, a mother and sister, a house, a huge yard, and vacation plans… etc. Which means that while I would love to turn off my phone and be a hermit for a couple months to write a book—it doesn’t work like that. (Oh please… Just one time. Me, a cottage in the highlands, and a brawny houseman to see to my every need.) Yeah. That is so not happening.
I start writing and get in a couple hours…or five minutes, 😉 and need to switch to something else. Someone get’s sick or hurt or goes out of town and I’m needed to fill in. Then I may not write for several days. Sometimes when I finally have time to write—I’ve forgotten what comes next. That is my life.
You know what… with the MapIT Method, maybe I won’t forget. It worked this week. It’s spring break and I have a couple of my grand kids. These kids are self-entertaining, but I did have some movies and projects lined up to do together. Each morning I had my coffee while they ate breakfast—and I wrote the scene that came next. If I wasn’t done, I wrote out a few thoughts and later in the day when quiet time came, I finished the scene.
Monday 2085 words, Tuesday 1326 words, and Wednesday 3684 words. I really feel like this is working well for me. The week ended with over 10,000 words and I’m still going strong. In a couple months I’ll let you know how this works. Heck… if I keep having weeks like this you will know how its going because I’ll have a couple new books out!
As always, if you have any questions or comments you can always contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Have a great April!