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Topic of the Night: Writing a Novel in Seven Days: Chapter One


Chapter One

This is going to be fun. I want to repeat that often. 

The Challenge is Simple.

Day One: 3,000 words.

And then each day after that add 1,000 words to the amount needed. Seven days, if my math is right, I will have a 42,000 word novel.

3,000… 4,000… 5,000… 6,000… 7,000… 8,000… 9,000 words.

7 Days.

Why Does This Structure Work?

Going to see if it will work, but pretty confident it will if life events leave me alone.

And if you are reading this in a paper or electronic book instead of on my blog, you will know it did work. I won’t be publishing this book about writing a novel in seven days if I don’t actually write a novel in seven days.

So this will either be a fun blog project or a book project. A two book project, actually.

Why the structure works is pretty simple on the surface.

And yet, under the simple idea, the reasons are complex. So let me see if I can point three of the main reasons out. And in later chapters I’ll talk more about the deeper reasons this challenge can work.

Reason One: A daily writing deadline and pressure.

This is the surface reason and it is very valid for many, many writers, me included. I work well under deadlines, while complaining about them at the same time. Yeah, human nature there.

And knowing a deadline allows a writer to prepare and plan for the deadline.

When I was working in traditional publishing, either ghosting a book or writing a media book, I would get a contract to write a novel with a hard, set deadline.

Actually, usually not a contract. I could write a book faster than any traditional publisher could issue a contract or cut a check. I learned after getting burnt a few times that they had to issue the check at least before I would even start writing. Turns out when they needed a project very quickly, they could cut a check in less than two weeks. Shock, I know.

I would look at the project after I was hired, then figure out approximately how long I wanted to take to write the book, which was always worked backward from the deadline that the publisher needed it done by.

So if was due June 1st was the deadline and I was hired on April 15th, I would set my start writing date around May 1st like a sane person.

I would look at the length, the type of book it was, and other factors such if it was a project that I loved or just one I didn’t mind and did for money.

Basically, I would figure out the time I needed comfortably to write the book and set that May 1st start date. More than enough room for emergencies built into that date.

Then I would be too busy with something else to start on the start date. Or I forgot about it, more likely. Or I just didn’t feel like writing it yet, being a pouty writer.

So I would look at the project again and come up with a second start date, one that would make me work harder, but still had some give in it. For a June 1st deadline I would try for May 10th start writing date.

And I would ignore that deadline as well, letting the clock tick down until I had to start the novel or I wouldn’t get the book done on time no matter what.

Then I started, often writing the book in seven or ten days, one draft, and turning it in on time. I never missed book deadlines.

With this challenge, there is no missing the start date. This is a book backed against the deadline.

That’s part of the fun of this challenge for me. The start date is real if you want to do this challenge.

Reason Two: Focus

You can’t write a novel in seven days if you are not focused on writing a story and producing words.

No excuses, nothing to take my attention away besides major life issues which I hope won’t happen. Focus is on the writing only.

And this, as with all my books, will be one time through only. (I don’t rewrite, remember?)

So if I run into a research problem, I have to solve it quickly. And I often do have research problems and time problems in the Thunder Mountain series, since they are historical time travel novels.

So the focus will be on the writing, no excuses, no playing in research. Get the detail I need and get back to the writing.

For a few days running up to the start of the challenge and the seven days of the challenge, my focus in life will be on producing a new novel.

(I do not outline. I write into the dark and I will talk about that in a future chapter as well. And why this challenge is suited for that as well.)

Honestly, being completely focused on writing like that is a ton of fun. I seldom get that freedom unless I force it these days with all the other things and jobs I do. (Just as everyone does.)

Three: Ramp up of word count

By starting at 3,000 words on the first day, that allows a writer to start at an easily attainable word count.

If 3,000 words is too many for you in your normal writing, this structure is a bad idea.

But you could change the challenge to start at 1,000 and add 100 words per day. It will take a lot longer to write the novel, but it will get done in pretty fast order even so. Do the math.

For me, 3,000 words is very easy. But I am always slower at the start of a novel, so the start of the book  at a slower pace makes up for the lower word count needed. I am figuring the first day to spend about four hours. Maybe more.

The second day deadline is 4,000 words. I should be into the book by then and up to speed, so I expect that to take around 4 hours as well.

The third day getting 5,000 words will be a push for me, since I have job and workshop related stuff that day. And movers coming to move stuff once again. And I don’t want to get too tired too early in this, so this will be the first hard focus day for me.

If I make it through day three, I don’t see day four at 6,000 words being much of a problem. I often write that much in one day and Tuesday, from the day job issues looks easier.

Days five, six, and seven are just going to be a push. Nothing else to say about them. Nice thing about getting that close is that it will be harder to miss. And ends of novels always write faster for me than starts.

And on each day I will be doing chapters here about the day. So that’s even more writing.

Got a hunch the chapters on the last three days will be shorter and all about the structure of the day getting through that kind of word count per day.

But by then I will be completely focused on the writing and the story. The ramp-up nature of this challenge works perfectly there.

As I said in the prologue and at the start of this chapter, this is going to be fun.





  • Dane Tyler

    That ramp-up scares me senseless. it’s probably a great way to tackle what I’m dealing with right now though. It looks like a potential solution to my issue.

    Just one question – what do you do to keep the writing fun, not let it become “important” (I love that phrase, by the way), and still push to a word goal like that? Is it pretty easy? I think I would have a tendency to lose the fun part of this along the way.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to this big-time. And it gives me ideas for my vacation time this year. 🙂

    • dwsmith

      How can sitting alone in a room and making shit up be important? It’s entertainment, it’s make-believe, it’s just fun.

      See the attitude? It is other people, myths, basically, that make writing “important” and that creeps in. Just step back and ask yourself why is this made-up story important? Is it going to change the world? Is it going to save lives? Nope. People will read it and enjoy it and that’s the end of it.

      And if you get good at people reading and enjoying it, they give you lots of money. But the enjoyment has to come first. At least if you have any hope at all of doing this for a long time. Seriousness gets boring and tiring and there are better things to do if that is always the attitude. That’s why “serious” writers only write a book every few years. Too much work and pain. And feeling self-important.

  • Jim Johnson

    Good luck with the challenge, Dean! I was inspired by you earlier in the year (as well as the writing challenges Chris Fox and Kevin McLaughlin started for themselves) and I’m working on a ‘3 novels in 3 months’ challenge. I’m 24 days into it and am at 81k words on the first novel so far and closing in on the end. I’m doing a short video at the end of each night to track progress and to keep myself accountable and having a ton of fun with the writing.

    I work a day job and have a 6-month old baby I’m helping to raise with my wife, and a lot of other life stuff going on, and I’m still managing to put new words down on the project every day. All the advice you’ve given over the years about streaks taking on a life of their own, just showing up and writing, daring to be bad–it’s all true for my and my writing process Thanks so much, and best wishes on a great challenge. I know you’ll rock it.

  • Alexis Avenal

    Dean, if for 60 days you didn’t have to run WMG or handle workshops or email, and if you had all day to write and do household chores, how much writing would you get done per day? What would you write?

    • dwsmith

      Oh, Alexis, if I had to run WMG Publishing, I would never write a word. I don’t run it. I don’t even work there, really. Just on my own stuff and on the money. I am the CFO, basically. Unpaid at the moment. Email and workshops take about an hour or so per day. So how much would I write if I didn’t have any of that? More than likely, the same. Unless I had a challenge or something.

      When I was younger I could write a book in a week without an issue. We’re going to see this next week if I can still do it with all the other stuff as well. But if I had nothing at all, and was challenged, I could write four or five novels a month without much issue. For a few months.

      It’s just math, honestly. I write with breaks, about 1,000 words per hour. If I wrote for eight hours, meaning it would take about 12 hours to do, since I would take naps and eat and so on, I would do about 56,000 words a week. (I don’t believe in the silly myth that a writer has to “rest” after a book. I think I dealt with that a few myths back.) So that turns out to be about five 45,000 word novels in a month, the length I like to write at in general.

      I have thought of doing a novel a week for a month just for fun, but I could do that without clearing off most of the other stuff. That’s averaging about 6,000 words per day.

      So we shall see this coming week.

  • Maree

    I am inspired to try this!
    Doing the math as you suggested, if I began with a thousand words per day (which is within my usual range) and ramp up at a rate of 100 words per day, by the end of thirty days I will have written 73 500 words, a substantial novel as far as I’m concerned, and tripling my usual output. And the biggest writing day would be 3 900 words, not unattainable at all.
    Even beginning at a modest 500 words per day this method would still result in 58 500 words produced in a month.
    I’ve already planned to make a concerted effort to write more next month, so it seems like the perfect time to give this a go. Hopefully I can get this novel I’ve been dickering with well and truly wrapped up.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Maree. The math is your friend. And if you are stretching it out over a month, give yourself some days to miss, plan a certain number. Things will happen stretching that far. Even a week is risky when flying in the face of the world and what it can throw at a person. (grin)

  • Prasenjeet

    Hi Dean. Great article! I do one more interesting thing. I keep a daily word count of 1500 words but if I hit my daily goal (which I do), I do not stop at that. I don’t say I have reached my daily goal so I won’t be writing any more. If I am in the mood (which usually I am), I keep writing and writing and writing and writing and on some days I have reached 3000 words even when my target was only 1500 words. On other days, I am a bit slower. 🙂