The fear that I might never write a book led me to develop a practical system of writing by numbers.
1500 words per day, every day, for one month
There is no time limit, no obligation to write at the same time each day, and writing can be done all at once or broken up into multiple sessions. I must reach 1500 words between 12:01 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. I chose August this year, which meant thirty-one days of writing. February, however, is always an option.
2.Do whatever it takes to get the work done
At the end of this past month, André and I moved from Toronto to Fredericton. The majority of my writing days happened in the midst of packing up our apartment and the final two days took place on the road during his driving shifts. There is never a right time to write, and sometimes it has to happen at the wrong time.
3.Do not edit
I try not to distract myself with the work that’s already been done. The editing will happen at the next stage. I’m a purist about this process and I have a “no notes” and “no summarizing scenes” policy in my document. If I want to remember something for later, I make a note of it on paper and save it for when I edit. Otherwise, I write the whole draft from beginning to end.
There are a few reasons this method works so well for me. For one thing, it gets me working. When I’m thinking about starting a new project, I often find myself thinking long-term. I’ll think about what I might write next year or after I quit my job, and so on—which delays the time I’ll start, if I ever do. With this method, I have to choose a calendar month and commit to it.
Writing a novel in thirty days is, in many ways, simple. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy or perfect process. In the span of any month, there are going to be some busy days, or emotional days. Life is unpredictable and we have jobs and partners and friends and we have to sweep the kitchen floor and walk the dog and figure out what kind of jeans everyone is wearing now. Writing itself is hard. It’s hard to believe in our own ideas and it’s hard to even have ideas. Sometimes the most daunting part of writing is the looming fear that we might be no good at all, that all of this work is for nothing.
Writing a novel in thirty days is, in many ways, simple. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy or perfect process.
But it’s never for nothing. Writing a novel is a humbling and beautiful thing to do. You are making time to write and committing to yourself and your practice. It’s okay to have a bad writing day, or to wonder if the project is what you even want to be working on. Repetition and routine are draining, and not every day is going to feel good. You only have to sit with it for thirty days and then you can even throw it out if you want to.
When a first draft is finished is the point when I feel most excited about a project. There’s no more anxiety about what might happen, or about whether or not I’ll get to the end. The idea feels solid in my mind and I’ve gotten a sense of its shape. For me, facing a first draft and beginning the editing process is the clearest and most straightforward part of writing. Of course, edits are complicated, and a first draft can be very far from a last one. There’s something about an ending, however, that allows me to finally take a breath and prepare to dive back in again. A draft is full of places to go, with partly-furnished rooms and blurry characters who need to be brought into focus.
Having completed this exercise twice, I will close with a piece of advice that has guided me through both times: do not pass the baby around the room.Earlier I recommended talking to people about this exercise, which I do, but there is a difference between talking about the exercise and talking about your project. Just as you would not pass a newborn child around a party, be gentle with your idea-in-progress. Some things need time to strengthen and fill out before they are ready to be shared.
Fawn Parker is a novelist from Toronto, currently based in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Her most recent novel, What We Both Know, came out with McClelland & Stewart in May 2022. Her forthcoming release, an auto-fictional memoir called Hi, it's me, will be out in the spring of 2024. Fawn is a PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick. She is represented by Ron Eckel at CookeMcDermid Agency.