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

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

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