Friday, July 22, 2011

Writing a Book Very, Very Quickly

by April Henry

Right now, the process of writing a book is killing me. Through an accident of fate, I’ve had only a few months to outline and write a 90,000-word book. 

To add to the challenge, the finished project  has to be clean, needing no major editorial changes, so it can quickly move into copy editing and production.  
Step 1: Freak out.

Step 2: Write a detailed outline and get my editor to sign off on it.  Normally, I would use a much rougher outline or no outline at all.  But I knew the only way I could build the book so quickly would be to follow a blue print. While in some ways, creating the blueprint took precious time, I knew that in the long run it would save me time. And by having my editor sign off on it, I hope to avoid any extensive rewrites. The downside is that you don't leave the door open (or as open) to brilliant new twists.  
Step 3: Begin work. Each day, I have had goals to meet, but those goals have taken different forms.
  • At first, my goal was a number of hours to spend each day. Because I had to do a lot of research to create my outline, and a lot of re-ordering as I added new information, I knew I might not have very many net words to show for it at the end of the day.  
  • After I had a detailed outline, I switched to word count goals for every week. If I got stuck on one chapter, I allowed myself to jump forward and work on later chapters - just as long as the manuscript as a whole grew by the number of words I had set myself.  
  • Chapter goals. Now that I am so close to the finish line, I’ve divvied up the last few chapters and given myself one, two, or three days to finish each one.  Some chapters only take a day because I already wrote big chunks when I skipped forward. Some chapters are taking thee days because they need to pull together many threads and answer questions that have accumulated along the way.  
    My plan calls for me to have two weeks of editing, which isn’t a lot. I know that I’ll:
    • Read it once on screen.  
    • Read the whole book aloud.
    • Print it out as manuscript pages and proof.
    • Print it out so that it looks like a book and proof.
    What kind of goals do you set? Do you have any tips for writing tightly and quickly? Or editing quickly when you don’t have the luxury of setting aside the manuscript for a month or more?


    1. Oh, April, best of luck! I'm in the end stages of a book that's due very very shortly and I'm freaking out too:)

    2. Love Step 1: Freak out. Always an essential step for me on every project!

      I think you're doing great and I know it will all come together for you. I am the world's worst proofreader so I give a copy to a friend to help me catch all those mistakes that my brain just can't distinguish after reading the mss countless times.

    3. Good luck, April! I once had to write a novel in three months and it was a nightmare. You'll have to celebrate when you're done.

    4. Like a dummy I posted on my blog that I would finish my book in 40 days, (my deadline is August 20th). I too have had to write an extensive outline and give myself word goals every day. I think I'll make it, but never thought to skip ahead to other chapters when I'm feeling stuck. Great tip!

    5. Hats off to you, April! I don't have to work that quickly on my current project, but I do need to set some weekly goals so I'm able to keep moving toward the finish line. Good luck on your story! I'm sure it'll turn out well ;).

    6. My stars my hat comes off to you April. I am a terrible proofreader and having to do such a large amount in such a shor time would make me freak out as well. I`m sure you`ll get it done though!

    7. @Katrina - skipping ahead is one of my favorite tricks for getting writing done even when I don't have a super tight deadline.

    8. I admire you April! Doesn't it seem like the world wants us to write faster and faster? I'd never tried skipping ahead until recently but it truly helps when you feel stuck.

      The hardest part of what you're describing would seem to be the outline. How do you make yourself figure out where it's really going before you're well into the writing? Good luck!!

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    11. Great idea about skipping forward when stuck. I relate to the Freak Out stage, too. And I don't use outlines but maybe I should. I'm really stuck on my sequel to THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS and am approaching it from the middle out instead of beginning to end like my debut. Thanks for the tips and good luck!

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    15. Nice tips. These are definitely a big help for an aspiring writer like me. Thanks for sharing.

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