Thursday, May 14, 2009

DAY 14: Write a Novel in Two Weeks

When I was working on my first novel, I made a daily visit to a Website that promised anyone (yes, you, too, if only you weren't such a loser!) could write a book in two weeks. I don't remember whether they were selling software, or self-hypnosis or maybe even a book that they themselves had whipped out in a 14 day orgy of caffeine and typing. It didn't matter. Whatever it was, I had no intention of buying it.

And yet, for me, there was an inexplicable magic in their overheated pitch, and every morning before I began to work, I reread it. It became my personal writing ritual. Though I knew it was manipulative, and I didn't believe it, it worked anyway. It didn't matter if I was exhausted or riddled with the doubts that stopped me so many times in the past, I only had to read their page of hype and the tap opened.

Did I finish a novel in two weeks? Nope. Nor did I ever believe I could--though we all know it can be done. (Tish Cohen wrote Town House a novel so good that it was nominated for the prestigious Commonweath Prize in that time period.) But using my magic ritual, I had a draft in 90 days. A record for me.

Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to write my second novel, the Website had disappeared, taking its mysterious voodoo with it. I was crushed. I was also forced to think about what their pep talk had done for me, how it had released energies I never knew I had. Since I never bought the product, I never learned the secret they were selling.

But I learned something about myself. I learned that I could do more than I thought I could, more than I was allowing myself to do. I might not be able to write 20 pages a day; or have the resilience to stare at my laptop for twelve hours at a stretch, but if I tried, if I challenged my self-defined limits, if I set out in the morning with a sense of expanded possibility, I surprised myself almost every time.

Now I designate every Tuesday as "blitz day." Most days I'm happy with my normally slow, but steady pace, but on Tuesday, I get up earlier than usual and give myself my version of the "pitch" in the mirror. (Fortunately, my family already knows I'm crazy.) Then I go to my room and write as if I really could finish a novel in two weeks.


  1. I loved this. Thanks for an inspiring post, Patry.

  2. Great post. The best advice I've gotten about how to schedule time for writing was in a great letter I got from David McCullough; in discussing how he, too, had led an extremely busy life with kids and a job, and he needed a system when he started his first book. He wrote one page a day - only one page day - and by the end of the year he said you have a 365-page book. I've always loved that, and even though my short story/essay writing lately hasn't gone according to a set schedule, this is a great system for me.

  3. Therese: Thank you! Now if I could just remember the magic words that got me through book 1...

    Matt: McCullough's steady, disciplined approach is probably more productive than the blitz method, but I think the common element is building routine. Step by step and block by block.

  4. Blitz Tuesdays? I LOVE it. And I'd love to see that website today.

    Thanks for the cheer, but it was more like four. And that was from a 30 page outline and followed by seven months of rework...

    Blitz Tuesdays. You should patent that.


  5. Yes, I want the magic words, please.

    Could you write the words a magic huckster MIGHT say? Kind of a fiction project? If you were a slimy internet marketer, selling hope, promise and inspiration in a $39.95 DVD, what would you say?

  6. Nulla dies sine linea. And on Tuesdays, rock on! :)

  7. Patry,

    I love this post! I wrote my novel in 90 days as well and my magic potion was watching a TEV talk by Elizabeth Gilbert that I found on the talented, Sandra Novack's, blog.

    I like your idea of designating one day as blitz day!


  8. I love the idea of a blitz day, Patry! I have attempted to write a novel in a month, or two weeks, etc, but can't write that fast. (Well I can, but it all turns out to be crap I have to cut anyway--not even editable.) But I agree that pushing yourself, telling yourself you're doing a marathon or a blitz or whatever, can really help. We can almost always do more than we think we can.

    Recently I had a day on a train--all by myself, no child, dog, husband, telephone, internet, etc--and I wrote 4000 new words that day plus edited another 2000. It was CRAZY! I was fried afterward but it I was amazed at how much I accomplished.

    Keep writing, keep posting--I love this!

  9. Danielle: 4000 words plus edits. Wow! I think I need to train trip. Or maybe we should start a writers' train. It wouldn't even have to go anywhere. We could board in the morning, and then disembark late in the afternoon.No cell phones or internet allowed.

  10. P.S. to Danielle: I love your comments, too!

  11. Aww...thanks!

    I'm thinking...Blitz Tuesday, Take the Train Thursday...Guerilla Friday...good times.

  12. I'm always most productive when I have a generous chunk of uninterrupted time ahead of me. I like your idea of setting a whole day aside. It may not be quite as exotic as a day-long train trip, but it might be more feasible.

    For me it may not necessarily be a Tuesday -- my weeks' schedules aren't consistent -- but your idea inspires me to work at finding a day, any day. Maybe I'll take time at the beginning of each week to select a specific day in that week and put it on the calendar so that my family is forewarned. It would be something to look forward to, like a delicious candy waiting to be unwrapped and savoured. :)

  13. I love this post, Patry! I'm right there with you. Too late today for a blitz. Blitz Wednesday?

    Liz Kahrs

  14. This blog is going to be my magic, voodoo inspiration--allowing myself to do more. Brilliant reframing!

  15. Hmmm...the touting of speedily written novels has always struck me as a kind of kick in the pants, a motivational tool to get things—anything—done without over-thinking the end result. But it also strikes me as akin to crash dieting—not something you can maintain for any length of time without losing all of your hair and teeth and developing a strange grayish tinge to your extremities. Unless you're as prolific as, say, any of the monthly-published romance novelists of our day who seem to run on an endless supply of magically powerful bodily fluids, burnout seems inevitable.

    For me, I find that simply getting up early, sometimes even before the sun, when the house and the entire world is still, and everyone—including the dog—is sound asleep, and before my brain can formulate any discouraging words, is the best way to get a daily (realistic) goal of words written. With my head still in half-dream state, with the aroma of a fresh cup of coffee at my side, the words come more easily than at any time of the day. Sometimes, it can be like pulling teeth, pulling those words out of my head, but forcing the words, nonetheless, can lead to an unintentional blitz the next day…and maybe even the day after that.

    Consistency is key (who said that originally?)—and it’s just a matter of finding that perfect time and (head)space to get things—anything—done.

  16. Yes. Yes. Yes. Patsy! You are such a master at sharing your own experience and launching a wave of inspiration. How pleased I am to get back here at last. I've been hiding in my writing shed, and yes, writing.

  17. I've just discovered this blog and I love it. Thank you; I'll be back!