A few weeks ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts. One was about how I was struggling to get going with writing the fourth book in the Hedgehog Hollow series because of the fear that it wouldn’t live up to the high bar set by the third book – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow. The other celebrated my first year anniversary as a full-time author, sharing that it hadn’t been what I expected as I hadn’t managed to get into a routine – unless you can call extreme procrastination a routine – and I still had no work:life balance.
In an attempt to combat this and get book 4 in the series written, I wondered whether I could learn from the process that one of my fellow-Boldwood authors, Shari Low, adopts of writing intensively for 1-2 weeks. I recognised that what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another but it was worth trying something different to try to get out of the rut I’d got into.
w/c 21st June looked reasonably clear in my diary so I wrote, “I’m going to come off social media for the week and see what happens if I try to blitz the book. Even if I could write half of it in a week, I’d be thrilled.”
I added the last bit in because, realistically, I knew I’d never manage to write a book in one week. This was not a belief that I’d fail; simply reality that the only way to do that would be to barely sleep. And I don’t function if I haven’t had some sleep.
I finished the post by writing, “I love the idea of an intensive fortnight to write a book”, very much seeing a fortnight as possible, by which I mean fourteen days, writing on evenings and weekends. And by writing a book, I do mean a first draft with time beyond that to edit and polish the MS (manuscript).
So I’m here to report back on that.
Is it possible to write a (first draft of a) book in a fortnight? Yes. Definitely.
Did I achieve it? No.
Let’s look at what I’ve learned because, although the book isn’t finished, it was still a valuable exercise.
Learning 1: You should do all your research before you start writing
To write a book in a fortnight, you need to do all your research prior to starting the book blitz so that you have no research distractions.
Potential problem: I’m a pantser which means I don’t plot. I have a basic idea of what the story is about and then the characters take it in the direction they want. This therefore means I don’t always know what I need to research up-front because I don’t know where the story is going to go.
My reality: Book 3 in the series ended on a cliff hanger so book 4 was going to pick up from that. How I dealt with that cliff hanger required significant research and I’d already done that although I hadn’t managed to find all the answers I needed. However, a new character emerged as I wrote which took the book down an unexpected plotline which also required significant research. I had to pause to do that because, without checking out the facts around that scenario, I’d have been wasting my time writing.
That was a big thing and I absolutely did need to do the research, but it wasn’t the only time I got distracted…
I mentioned that one of my main characters was affectionately referred to as Snow White when she was younger because she has raven hair, pale skin, rosy cheeks and big blue eyes. And that got me wondering: Does [the Disney version of] Snow White have blue eyes? It’s sadly the sort of thing a pernickety reader will spot and comment on in a negative review. It’s also the sort of thing I wouldn’t remember to check later as I’d assume I already had done. Cue a Google search as to whether Snow White has blue eyes. She doesn’t. They’re brown. Just as well I checked.
And while I was searching on Snow White images, it made sense to add one to my Pinterest board where I keep inspiration for my books. Saved me doing it later.
Next, I wanted Samantha (the owner of the rescue centre) to have an unusual hedgehog admission so I needed to do some research. In theory, I could have just put ‘RESEARCH SCENARIO’ in my MS and skipped that chapter, but that seemed unnecessary when five to ten minutes of research could have that chapter covered.
Only it wasn’t five to ten minutes of research. It was over an hour, going down a rabbit hole about a rare but fascinating injury. I’m not going to say what it is as that would give spoilers, but I’m pleased with it and I’m glad I did the research. But it stopped me from getting the words down.
Learning 2: This is easier with a series … or is it?
Before I set off on my book blitz experiment, I was convinced it would easier to do this with a book in a series because I already knew the characters and the setting so I wasn’t having to create all of that from scratch.
My reality: I don’t think it actually made much of a difference. Yes, I knew the setting and some of the characters but I didn’t know the new ones who appeared. I’m not sure it made much difference in the end. And, because I didn’t know the new characters, I had to search for images of them. Pinterest called and I answered. More time away from writing.
Learning 3: You have to completely shut down social media
Social media is one of the biggest distractions an author can have – whether that’s aimlessly scrolling as a procrastination method like I described in my earlier post, or actively engaging with authors or readers on social media. It may be enjoyable and some would suggest it’s essential, but it’s time away from the MS. And, when you’re trying to write a book in a fortnight, it’s a distraction you can’t afford to have.
Potential problem: I realised I’d committed weeks ago to an interview with a book blogger which was scheduled for day 1. My next book, Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop, had also gone up on NetGalley so reviews could start coming in. There were a couple of Facebook Lives for fellow-Boldwood authors that I wanted to support and I was actually going to be hosting one for my good friend, Jo Bartlett, to support the publication of her second Boldwood release: A Summer Wedding for the Cornish Midwife. This would fall into week 2 and Jo and I needed some time to plan the subjects we’d discuss.
My reality: It is very hard to stay off social media completely. I needed to watch out for that interview on day 1 and share it. And, of course, sharing something on social media means temptation was right in front of me and I had a quick check of my notifications. And then I checked to see whether there were any NetGalley reviews in yet for Christmas Wishes at the Chocolate Shop. There weren’t. And, as I’d paused, I might as well check chart positions… See how easy it is to get distracted and back to the old ‘routine’?
Social media has to be shut down completely and I’m not sure how realistic that is when a lot of what we do involves engaging with book bloggers and readers, and supporting other authors.
Learning 4: You need to step away from the emails too
Emails can also be a big distraction. I dread to think how many times a day I click on them to see if anyone has been in touch. I think it’s still a hang up from the days when email was a new thing and it was so thrilling to have mail, as Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks so beautifully capture in the gorgeous romcom You’ve Got Mail.
My reality: Sometimes an email will arrive that requires prompt action and this happened to me on day 3. My editor got in touch to say that Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow was on a one-day 99p Prime Day deal with Amazon which they hadn’t been notified about and could I share far and wide. I’d have missed that if I hadn’t checked my emails (although, bless her, she texted me too knowing I was on my book blitz and might not check them).
It was understandably panic stations and, while my publisher centrally worked on a newsletter to share this deal with subscribers (it covered 7 x Boldwood Books), I offered to knock together a quick Canva (a design package for creating social media posts) and post it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You know that phrase – more haste, less speed? This was a classic case of that. I tried to do it really quickly and, as it was a one-day thing, I wanted to put the date on it to avoid any misleading readers who might see the post tomorrow or the day after. Which would have been fine if I hadn’t got the date wrong!
It’s the book’s fault. I always follow a calendar and it’s 2020 in my MS (although in a Covid-free world) so I put 2020 on the Canva and posted it on Twitter and was mid-post on Insta when I realised my error. I’d already sent them to Boldwood so I needed to delete my Twitter post and re-do the Canvas but Canva crashed on me and I was all fingers and thumbs and, well, something that should have taken ten minutes took about forty all told.
Then I needed to keep an eye on my chart position – a tantalisingly close to the Top 100 #106 just before bedtime – and respond to anyone who’d commented on my posts. And then I responded to other social media comments while I was there.
Learning 5: You need to lock yourself away from family
If you’re going to write a book in a fortnight, you need to work some very long hours and you can only do this if you’re not being distracted by other members of your household. Explaining to them that you’re on an intensive writing period and cannot be disturbed unless the house has been picked up by a tornado and is en route to Kansas, someone has been impaled on the door in a freak nail gun accident, or anything else serious like that is not likely to work.
Potential problem: The family (hubby and 14-year-old daughter) had been warned. The family tend not to listen. No matter how many times I ask only to be disturbed if it’s urgent, the family disturb me. No matter how much I explain that a 1-minute interruption can set me back 15 minutes in my thought process, the family disturb me. No matter how clearly I emphasise that two weeks of intensive work mean I will have lots of time free to devote to the family afterwards, the family disturb me.
My reality: On day 3, my daughter texted from school at 9.03am to tell me several of her form class had been called out and sent home to isolate after positive Covid cases had been reported (there’d been several sent home the previous two days). Ten minutes later, I had a text to say there were only four students in her first lesson and their regular teacher wasn’t there. Fifteen minutes later, she was pulled out the class. Five minutes after that, the whole year group were sent home.
It’s life isn’t it? It was unexpected and I couldn’t plan for it but the text exchange put me off my stride. Hubby went to collect her and we had an update on the situation when she got home, a letter from school to read, then another letter saying she needed to go back on Friday for a PCR test and a consent form to sign. Then we later realised that all family members had to have a PCR test too so we needed to book a walk-in session for the three of us on the Thursday which meant that, after a hugely-disrupted Wednesday, I’d be out for about an hour on Thursday to get tested so day 4 would also be disrupted.
We were all negative but it meant that my daughter was home and isolating for most of my blitz which wasn’t going to be easy.
I did try shutting my door at one point and it didn’t sit comfortably with me. I only ever do that when I’m doing a Zoom and don’t want to disturb the family or have them disturb me. Cutting them off completely – especially when they knew it was because I was sick to death of the constant interrupting – felt mean and rude and I don’t want to be an author if I have to lock myself away from my family to do so. I therefore think this is probably much easier to do if you’re in a single-person household and/or you don’t have children living at home. Or pets. The dog is constantly padding in and out too!
Learning 6: It’s hard to find a free week and impossible to find a free fortnight
I deliberately chose w/c 21st June because I had lots of things happening w/c 14th June and knew I’d have too many distractions to get much word count down that week. I knew I couldn’t write on day 1 evening as I’d had a meal with a couple of family members planned in for several weeks and I wasn’t going to cancel but, other than that, the week was looking fairly good. Week 2 wasn’t so clear in the diary. I knew I was hosting Jo’s publication day Zoom and needed some time to plan it, and I was going away for the weekend at the end of it so my fortnight would only be twelve days rather than fourteen.
My reality: My lovely editor and I had a Zoom catch-up booked in for 9am on day 5 of week 1. She’d offered to have it the next week knowing I was on my book blitz but there were a few things I wanted to discuss and, as I would still on a blitz the following week, I was keen for it to go ahead. I was at my desk for 7.15am which was impressive for me and decided to jot down all the questions I wanted to ask, figuring that wouldn’t take too long and I’d have time to write before the Zoom. An hour later and 4 sides of A4…
The Zoom was excellent. I always feel so inspired after a catch-up but it was a long one (my fault due to the aforementioned gazillion questions) and we came off the call at 11.15! Eek! The morning had almost gone and, while I should have cracked on with the MS, old habits crept in and I was back on social media figuring I’d get into the writing in earnest after lunch. Hmmm.
Learning 7: If you find yourself slipping, don’t chuck in the towel
I’ve cited many challenges I’ve faced and copious distractions but not talked about how this impacted on my word count yet so let’s look at that. I had already written a bit back in early June before I decided on this experiment: 8,162 words. My stories typically come in at about 100k words.
My reality: By the end of the ‘normal working week’ of week 1 i.e. Monday-Friday, I’d written 28,049 words (made up of 7,113 / 5,908 / 5,406 / 6,542 / 3,170 in order across the five days) which took my overall total to 36,211. Not great. A third of a book, though.
The word count wasn’t massively impressive on any of these days because every single day had a distraction (some unexpected) where I lost a morning, afternoon or evening. I can’t recall the exact figure now but my best ever day a few books back was about 8k. I had hoped for about 8-10k each day during this experiment.
You can see that, other than the Thursday, the word count dipped as the week wore on and this was partly to do with me chucking in the towel. Each distraction/disruption/problem that took me away from my word count goals set the Pixies of Disbelief chattering away in my ear telling me this had been a stupid idea and I was not only going to fail but I was also going to humiliate myself because I’d declared my plan on social media and several people were following my post, curious as to whether it would work. I’d been determined it would but that determination waned and waned and I stopped trying. I chucked in the towel instead of re-grouping. Grr! Damn you, Pixies of Disbelief!
The weekend added another 8,044 words (2,901 on Sat and 5,143 on Sun) to the word count bringing me up to a total of 44,255. Nearly halfway. But I could have hit 60k or even 70k quite easily.
Learning 8: A fortnight is a long time to sustain intensity
This is related to learning point 7 as it is to some extent about not chucking in the towel too early but it’s also about sustaining the intensity because two weeks is a long time to solidly write without doing anything else. Is that good for you/the books/your family? Who knows because I didn’t actually manage it!
My reality: As I moved into week 2, I’d already failed in my mind. I still had more than half the book to write and I had a more distracted week ahead of me. I was going to lose the two days at the end because I was away, I was going to lose another day because I needed to do a final proofread on book 13, and I had Jo’s Facebook Live planned in.
As it happens, I also lost the Friday I was travelling. I needed to pack and I was out of the habit of packing having not been anywhere for what feels like an eternity so it took me ages. I needed to work out the directions to the hotel from the station, make sure I had all my paperwork, write a blog post to celebrate one year since the Hedgehog Hollow series was published and it all meant I didn’t write a single word of my MS that day.
My word count for week 2 was only 7,204 across 3 days. Eek! As you can see, I’d thrown in the towel and did not manage to sustain that intensity at all. But I had passed the 50k halfway mark.
Why do I still think that a book can be written in a fortnight?
I’ve talked about all the things that got in my way yet I still believe that a book can be written in a fortnight. Why?
- Because I could have written 50k words in week 1 very easily and probably reached 60k or even 70k as mentioned. 50k only requires an average of a little over 7k words a day. I exceeded that once and came close on other occasions and I have done similar (or greater) word count loads of times before
- Because it gets quicker to write a book as the book progresses. You know your characters and the story builds momentum. The second half (for me) is always much quicker to write than the first
- Because I stopped believing in myself each time I had a disruption instead of working harder (or smarter)
But I do believe that, to achieve this, you do have to completely shut off from everything and that’s a huge sacrifice to make, even for a fortnight.
Do I want to attempt to write a book in a fortnight again?
No. The main reason for this little experiment was never about writing a book in a fortnight but about trying to break the rut I’d got into of constantly being distracted by social media/emails. I’ve learned that it’s not realistic to cut them out of my life but I can make them part of my routine instead.
I’ve also learned that I can write on a morning. I used to struggle with this and would often start my day on social media, only settling down to properly write on an afternoon and evening. This is because, when I had a demanding day job, an evening was the only time I could write. This little experiment has changed this.
I’ve re-discovered my love for just writing and not editing along the way. I’ve always used a ‘threads to follow’ word document during the editing process to note down threads I need to weave into the story later in the book which I’d forgotten to continue in my first draft. During my experiment, I used this as a note of threads I need to go back to, enabling me to continue writing, instead of going back and adding in the required detail at that point. For example, I mentioned a new character who appeared. As the story has progressed, they’ve become a lot more important than I could have anticipated at the start and I need to change several of the earlier chapters to make their relationship with my main character more significant. Pre-experiment, I’d have gone back and amended these but I now have a note of them and will change them later. This is so much better for keeping the flow going.
So where do I go from here?
My aim is still to finish the first this book way ahead of schedule but I am going to do this differently by having a routine. The plan is as follows:
- Desk by 8.30am, quick check on emails/reviews/chart positions
- Working on MS by 9am at the latest (earlier if there’s nothing to respond to on emails)
- Writing without editing until lunchtime
- 30-minute break for lunch with check on Facebook/Twitter/Insta
- Write until teatime providing the words are flowing. If not, stop and move away from the desk to do some reading; something I so rarely get a chance to do
- Another social media check after tea
- Rest of evening free
- Only write on weekends if approaching a deadline or we have no family plans due to bad weather
I reckon I’ll probably write more words in these five days than I do in seven full days at the moment. It gives me a routine which I knew I was lacking and a work:life balance which was non-existent.
I just need to avoid those Procrastination Pixies who will be determined to scupper my plans, the devious little blighters!
If you’ve managed to read all the way to the end of my epic post, well done you! I hope you found it helpful. Please do comment if you’ve learned anything or if you have suggestions. I’d love to hear from you.