Finishing The Lucky Escape ... or ... how to write a novel in 5.5 weeks with graphs and stuff

Thirty-eight days ago, I started the draft of "The Lucky Escape", which is due out in about 15 months (timelines are longish in publishing, so I'm usually working on something that won't be out for months, for good reasons, like editing ;)). Writers come in all flavours and I'm the type who does "project-orientated" writing - bursts of intense activity that achieves a particular milestone. I can't hold the story in my mind if I write it slowly over a long period, so I write fast over a short time, and then I edit later when I can see the whole story as it is.

I also like to keep track of what I do. Having data on what I've done before helps me for future deadlines (like, can I do an edit in four weeks? Can I write a book in two months?). I find that very necessary if I'm trying to juggle writing with other activities (let's face it, most of us writers are). So, here's some essential information about writing "The Lucky Escape".

Note: Often before, I've made a higher weekday target but taken the weekends off writing. But I've found those higher word goals stressful. So this time, I made a target of 2000 words per day, every day. I'm shooting for 90,000 words for the final book, but I tend to add words when I edit, so I write the draft short (closer to 80k) so that I don't panic at the rising wordcount when I edit.

  • Total days to write: 38 (5.5 weeks)
  • Most number of words per day: 3800
  • Fewest words per day: 500
  • Average words per day: 2131
  • Average words per day in first half of the book: 2368
  • Average words per day in the second half: 1894
 Writing progress of "The Lucky Escape" - red dashed line was the required rate of 2000 words per day. Blue solid line is my actual progress (plotted on the left axis). The green line (plotted on the right axis) is how my words per day varied.

Writing progress of "The Lucky Escape" - red dashed line was the required rate of 2000 words per day. Blue solid line is my actual progress (plotted on the left axis). The green line (plotted on the right axis) is how my words per day varied.

What's the point of all this?

A few things. Firstly, that big things are accomplished in writing (like in all things) little by little (basically the point of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird). Motivation is often high early in the book when I'm playing with the bright shiny new idea. That enthusiasm often comes to a crashing halt in the middle. You can see that in the much higher average daily word counts in the first half of the book (they're higher again in the first quarter, 2570 per day, compared to the third quarter, 1800 per day). What carries through those hard slog parts are the habit and discipline of the work, and having a clear plan and goal in mind. I can't work without that.

Secondly, that writing (again, like all things) has bad days. Very bad days. You can write even when that's happening. My extremely difficult PhD confirmation process happened during the writing of this book, and a conference trip with the toddler to Melbourne. I referenced the plan. I didn't have to worry about when I'd be done, because I knew what I had to do today. One day at a time can be really powerful. I got ahead when I could, and used up the credit when I had to. If you want to write (or anything) don't be waiting to be in the mood. The mood is fickle. Some days, you get shit sandwichs to eat.

Finally, first drafts are not the end of the process. Like all books, this book needs editing. Now that it's a complete manuscript, however, I know exactly what I'm working with.

That's it for this! Whatever you're doing today, if it's a bad day, remember little by little, and work out what you have to do today to survive. I'm now going to celebrate by pausing to do some cathartic cleaning before planning the next thing. Onward :)