This weekend I set out with my ambitions high and my goal of writing a book in a weekend. I had roughly divided my goals in half, and allowed a couple of hours to edit the finished product on Sunday evening.
Here is what actually happened:
Saturday went well, mostly. When I sat down to start writing in the morning—phone switched off, internet disconnected, do not disturb sign hanging in my doorway—I felt liberated by the freedom. Just me and a blank page. That is usually a very intimidating thing, but I had spent the previous two days roughly planning scenes, fleshing out a few characters and considering where I would like the story to go. The creation was fluid and unconstrained, so the words poured out of me. Small victory #1.
By the time I stopped for my first break I was surprisingly close to being on-track. Behind, yes, but close. The target for that first session was 2,500 words and I managed 2,016. Small victory #2. A brief break, stretch, snack and back to writing saw me more than double this in the next session, reaching 4,162 words. Small victory #3. Even so, the effort was beginning to tell, and the speed and amount of typing had angered a previous injury in my arm.
I slowed down yet continued typing, much to the protestations of my arm, and wrote through the discomfort. By the end of the day I had written 8,489 words and was feeling understandably pleased with myself. Small victory #4.
Sunday was more difficult. When I woke my arm was stiff, and typing, (even slowly) was rather painful. I did my best, typing only using my left hand while resting my right in a position which did not hurt so much. Typing with one hand—as anyone who types regularly, especially a touch–typer can tell you—is laborious and frustrating. The words continued to flow at a restricted speed, putting me at my grand total of 12,185 words by Sunday night. The total of this weekend’s writing puts me just shy of halfway through the book, but also with the continued tenderness in my arm.
While I have not achieved my goal this weekend, I have achieved 4 smaller victories along the journey and written far more than I have previously in such a short time.
My advice to anyone thinking of attempting a book in a weekend can be broken down into 7 parts:
1. The jump between average writing speeds and a book in a weekend is not for everyone. The physical demands alone are far more than I had expected. My advice would be to work up to it; write a book in a under a week, one-fifth of the total length per day (roughly) and allow a day to edit and polish your work. This may sound like a long time, but given that I do not personally know anyone who writes from start to finish at such a speed, it is something I would recommend trying.
2. While it is difficult, lonely and tiring, try to remember that it is entirely possible to write a book in a weekend. And with more practise, (and time between to recover,) I aim to be doing just that.
3. Planning before sitting down to write is key. I have a great deal of respect for pantsers who can sit down and produce quality work. But with the limitations of time and the speed required, it does help immensely to know who your characters are and have an idea of what they’re doing, where they’re going, and why. The planning does not have to be fully fleshed with each scene’s conflict and resolution points, with plot twists or cunning developments. These things are great, but you don’t have to have them all beforehand.
4. Listen to your body. Of course, it’s likely that the inner voice will not only be whispering doubts to you as you write, but also reminding you of all the many other things you probably should be doing with your time. Of the family you’re ignoring. Of the dinner you’ve had to cancel with your friend. Ignore that voice. The only one you should listen to when it asks you to stop is your body. It is all too easy to injure yourself, even sitting writing. Had I continued with Saturday’s pace into Sunday who knows the lasting damage I could have done to myself. If you have an ache, listen to it. But don’t reach immediately for the painkillers to numb yourself and continue writing, think it through first.
5. A writing environment is an important balance between functionality and comfort. Since you would be spending many more hours there than you might otherwise, do as much as possible to relieve the stress on your body. Back and wrist support are both very important and often overlooked.
6. Parkinson’s Law does work. But I think it will work even better when applied alongside your own levels of work. If you know you usually write at 150 words an hour, for example, then you could set your goal at around 250, and then figure out how many hours you are going to write for. A short story of 8,000 words, written at 250 words an hour, will be completed in only 32 hours. That’s about three days’ writing, if you can stay at your desk that long. Don’t be afraid to push yourself that extra bit, but try to keep your goals with reach.
7. If you’re not passionate about your subject matter, you won’t be able to do this. No matter how good my intentions might have been, had I sat down to write a book about football or reality TV I would have barely written anything. Even if you have a plethora of articles and other relevant sources of information, unless you’re actively interested in the topic the words won’t be your best.
If you do decide to go forth and write a book in a weekend, I would love to hear about it.