the secret to writing a novel

Would you like to know the secret to writing a novel? I’ve written over a dozen of them so far, so this is a secret I know well. Except it’s not really a secret. Actually, it’s something pretty simple when you think about it.

For Lily’s Song. my latest novel, I kept a progress sheet. I don’t always do this, but sometimes it helps me see how much I’m getting done so I can hold myself accountable. For those of you who might be interested, I reproduced it below. But that’s not the secret either, although it can definitely help.

I typically write 5 mornings a week, from 9 or 9:30 until lunchtime (12:30 or 1). At this point, I write full time. After twenty years, writing has finally become my day job. Yay! I write Monday – Friday, and not just when the muse calls. I’ve been known to say that I don’t get writer’s block, I have a mortgage.

the secret to writing a novel

So here’s my Progress Sheet, which reveals the secret. See if you can find it:

The Sequel to Wildflower. Working title: Lily’s Song

Fall of 2014: reread The Secret Sense of Wildflower and took notes; researched 1956, when the sequel takes place. Wrote 5,000 words.

January 2015 resolution: keep a progress sheet on my novels.

Wednesday, 1/7/2015  9-12:30; have 5077 words total
Thursday, 1/8/2015  7170 words (wrote approx. 2000 words)
Friday, 1/9/2015  9154 words
Tuesday,  1/13/2015  created genogram from WF notes
Wed,  1/14/2015  9943 words
Thursday,  1/15/2015  9985; tweaked some
Friday,  1/19/2015  10,923
Thursday,  2/18/2015  13,438
Monday, 2/23/2015 16,060
Tuesday,  2/24/2015  18,000
Wednesday,  2/25/2015  19,899
Thursday,  2/26/2015  23,184
Friday,  2/27/2015  24,500
Monday,  3/2/2015  25,862
Tuesday,  3/3/2015  27,673
Wednesday,  3/4/2015  30,247
Friday,  3/6/2015  31,114
Monday/Tuesday,  32,401  (restructuring)
Wednesday,  3/11/2015  34,311
Friday,  3/13/2015  36,463
Monday,  3/16/2015  37,143
Tuesday,  3/17/2015  38,800
Wed,  3/18/2015  39,400
Thursday,  3/19/2015 42,505
Friday,  3/20/2015  43,319
Tuesday,  3/24/2015  44,445
Wednesday,  2/25/2015  46,000 (wrote chapter 20, one scene)

(switched to Trueluck novel to let the sequel breathe for a while)

Monday,  4/6/2015  47,695 (clarifying conflict)
Tuesday, 4/7/2015  48,600
Wednesday,  4/8/2015  49,296
Thursday,  4/9/2015  50,310
Friday  4/10/2015  50,559
Monday,  4/13/2015  51,166
Tuesday,  4/14/2015  51,295 (didn’t write, but revised)
Wednesday,  4/15/2015  51,346
Thursday,  4/16/2015  52,594
Friday,  4/17/2015  53,527
Saturday,  4/18/2015  55,300
Monday,  4/20/2015  57,158
Tuesday,  4/21/2015  57,486
Thursday,  4/23/2015  57,566 (revision)
Wednesday,  4/29/2015  58,157
Thursday, 4/30/2015  59,512
Friday,  5/1/2015  60,888
Monday,  5/4/2015  62,385
Tuesday,  5/5/2015  63,074 (added a chapter and then deleted a chapter that didn’t work)
Wednesday,  5/6/2015  66,107
Thursday,  5/7/2015  68,077
Friday,  5/8/2015  70,039 (finished first draft!!!)
Tuesday,  5/26/2015  71,163 (going back over last chapters)
Wednesday,  5/27/2015  72,351
Thursday,  5/28/2015  72,539 (finishing touches on first draft—will now print out to edit)


I revised this novel 3 more times, and read it aloud to myself the final time to catch any rhythm issues. I finished the final draft in early February of 2016. Final word count was 72,300 words. So it took well over a year to complete Lily’s Song.

If you still want to know the secret to writing a novel, here it is: write a little bit every day, or one afternoon a week, or any amount of time, consistently, until it’s finished. Even if you’re writing in stolen moments, 20 minutes a day, it all adds up. If you keep doing this, eventually you will have the first draft of a book or a novel. That’s the secret. It’s the secret of everyone who has written a book. Writing. Consistently. Setting aside the time. Keeping going.

I wish the secret to writing a novel was more glamorous. But that’s the simple truth of it. And like most truths, it’s simple, but not the least bit easy.


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