Have you ever told yourself something like this:
- “Once I have a bit more time, I’ll start work on that novel.”
- “Once life is less manic, I’ll get back to my novel.”
- “If only I could take a year off work, I could finally write my novel.”
A novel is a major undertaking. But it’s also one that can fit around a busy life.
You don’t need all day, every day, to write.
If you can find just 30 minutes each day, you could finish a novel (to the point where you’re sending it out to agents, or self-publishing) in just two years.
If, like me, you know some super-prolific novelists (like Joanna Penn and Johnny B. Truant), one novel in two years might sound a bit slow.
But … one novel in two years is definitely better than no novels at all.
The Quick Version
If you want the quick version of the “novel in two years” plan, plus simple tips on making it work, here it is in a slideshow format:
In case you have a particular aversion to slides, or want to see everything in one place, the rest of this post covers the same ground but with a lot more explanation.
What You Need to Make This Work
Obviously, I have to make some assumptions about your time available and writing speed. (We’ll get to “making time” and “speeding up” in a moment.)
For the plan to work, you’ll need to:
- Have 30 minutes per day available (or the equivalent across a week, e.g. two 1 h 45 m sessions).
- Write an average of 500 words per day during the first draft
- Edit at an average pace of 1,000 words per day
The plan allows for:
- Two full drafts (writing 500 words per day)
- One full edit (editing 1,000 words per day)
- A final tidying-up edit (editing 1,500 words per day)
- Plus time for your novel to be with your editor and/or beta readers.
This should result in a novel of 75,000 – 80,000 words, completely finished (from initial idea to ready-to-go book) within two years.
The Whole Plan
I’m going to go through the plan step-by-step, with lots of extra guidance, in a moment … but for now, here’s the whole thing in one place:
|Month 1||Research, planning, outlining|
|Month 3||Drafting (writing 500 words/day)|
|Month 8||Redrafting (writing 500 words/day)|
|Month 13||Admin, while novel is with editor / beta readers|
|Month 16||Editing (editing around 900 words/day)|
|Month 19||Admin, while novel is with editor / beta readers (yes, again!)|
|Month 21||Final edit (editing around 1,350 words/day)|
|Month 23||Proofreading / admin|
Yes, that is a lot of redrafting and editing.
If all goes smoothly, you may not need all of it. Hurrah! You’ll be done early. J
I’d strongly suggest, though, proceeding on the assumption that you’ll need all of that time. My most recent novel, Oblivion, took me four years, mainly because of the number of redrafts I needed to do. (Admittedly, I also had two babies while writing it.)
And in case you’re looking at the plan and thinking “wait, that’s not going to work for my book…”
Suggested genre-specific tweaks:
- If you’re writing in a research-heavy genre (historical, hard SF, fantasy that involves a ton of world-building) then allow a couple of extra months for research before you start the plan proper.
- If you’re writing in a genre where books come in around 50,000 words (romance, some YA) then you should be done with “writing the first draft” and “redrafting the whole dang thing” in 3 – 4 months rather than 5. You’ll probably find you can cut down the editing phases too.
Making the Time to Write for 30 Minutes Per Day
I’m going to make a rather bold assertion here: however busy you are, you can carve out an average of 30 minutes per day (3.5 hrs per week) to write.
You do NOT have to do this as 30 minutes each and every day. Depending on the rest of your life, one of these might suit you better:
- 3 hrs 30 mins once a week – e.g. 7am–10.30am, Saturday mornings
- 1 hr 45 mins twice a week – e.g. 8pm–9.45pm, Mondays and Thursdays
- 42 mins five times a week – e.g. 12.15pm– 12.57pm, weekdays
- 15 minutes twice a day – e.g. 6am–6.15am and 9pm–9.15pm, daily
If your time is subject to a lot of interruptions, or if you end up cancelling writing sessions at the last minute, then plan time for catch-up sessions. For instance, aim to write from 5pm – 5.30pm, but if for some reason that doesn’t happen, write from 9pm – 9.30pm.
If you can’t fit half an hour a day (or the equivalent) of writing into your life as-is, figure out what needs to change to make it work. Could you hire a babysitter for two hours, twice a week? Can you rely on ready meals or takeaways three nights a week, so you don’t have to spend so much time cooking and washing up? Is there a commitment you can give up to make more time?
The Two Year Plan
The rest of this post will take you through the plan, month by month, with tips on tackling each stage of it.
For an even more detailed run-through – with tips on potential “sticky points” at each stage, plus links to useful resources – download The Two-Year Novel. Just pop your email address in below:
(You’ll also get any future updates to my plan, plus my weekly writing newsletter: of course, you can unsubscribe from this at any time.)
Note: if you already get the Aliventures newsletter, just head here and enter your password to access the page (it’s in your welcome email; just email me at email@example.com if you’ve lost it). You can download The Two-Year Novel straight away.
Months 1 and 2: Planning, Research and Outlining
Daily target: 30 minutes planning, research and/or outlining.
End goal: A complete, chapter-by-chapter plan.
I’ve never been much of a planner when it comes to writing novels. I tend to know the start and the end, and have a rough idea of what happens somewhere in the middle, before I get going.
These days, though, with seriously limited fiction-writing time, I’ve made myself get better at planning. After all, I plan my non-fiction writing in detail – and I know I save a ton of time that way.
If you tend to jump straight into writing with a bare minimum of research and planning, I’d really encourage you to try holding back for the first couple of months. I know that can feel weird and unproductive when you’re used to measuring your progress in words written … but a couple of months now can save you a good year or more of work further down the line.
Months 3, 4, 5, 6, 7: Writing the First Draft
Daily target: 500 words (or 30 minutes writing).
End goal: A complete first draft (around 75,000 – 80,000 words).
I think there’s a bit of a myth out there that good novels take ages to write.
In my experience, at least, the reason I sometimes take a year or more over a first draft is not because I’m spending days agonising over word choices and character motivations – it’s because I focus on the novel for a month or so, hit a busy period in my life (and potentially a sticking point in my novel), and then don’t write a word for several months.
If you have a plan (see months 1 & 2) and the commitment to sit down for 30 minutes every day – or the equivalent length of time across a week – then you can and will finish your draft in five months. Chances are, it’ll be a better draft than if you’d taken a year or more over it, because you won’t have lost track of what you were doing multiple times along the way.
Four Ways to Write More Quickly
If you’re not a very fast writer, then don’t assume that’s unchangeable. Try:
- Getting rid of anything that distracts you during writing sessions (put your phone somewhere else, turn off your internet connection).
- Planning the scene before you start writing – you may have done this during the first couple of months, but you might want to revisit and flesh out that plan a little.
- Writing as fast as you can, in timed bursts – e.g. for five minutes or ten minutes at a time – this is a good way to train yourself to write faster more generally.
- Ignoring your inner editor. First drafts are normally rough and ready, full of clunky phrasing, clichés, and other infelicities. Don’t stop to perfect every sentence – keep moving.
You might want to track how many words you time to see whether you’re speeding up – or at least to give yourself a good benchmark of what to expect from a thirty minute session.
If you feel that averaging 500 words in 30 minutes really isn’t achievable, then either extend your sessions a little (40 minutes instead of 30) or fit in an extra session once or twice a week.
Months 8, 9, 10, 11, 12: Redrafting the Whole Novel
Daily target: 500 words redrafted.
End goal: A good draft of your novel that you’re willing to share with your editor and/or beta readers.
This may sound horrendously inefficient, but it’s the only thing that works for me: I write a whole first draft, print it out, then redraft from scratch.
Obviously, some of the original words make it into the redraft – I may even retype whole sentences or paragraphs (particularly of dialogue).
For me, this complete reworking means that every single sentence gets an overhaul. I enjoy revisiting each scene but getting it right (or close to right) – in many ways, this can be more enjoyable than the first draft.
If you prefer to edit what’s already there, rather than redraft completely, that’s absolutely fine too. I’d still suggest allowing five months, as this method can still take a fair while.
In month eleven, contact your editor (or beta readers). By this point, you hopefully know whether you’re on track to finish by the end of month twelve. This means they can plan ahead to slot you in.
(Obviously, if you happen to know that your editor gets booked up months in advance, contact him/her earlier. You may also find that having someone waiting for you to finish helps you stay motivated to carry on.)
Months 13, 14, 15: Your Novel is with Your Editor or Beta Readers
Daily target: 30 minutes novel-related work.
From your editor or beta readers:
You have a coherent list of final edits to make, both on a bigger-picture level (“you need to cut / add 20,000 words”) and on a fairly detailed level (“this sentence didn’t make sense”).
- If you’re self publishing, you have a draft cover design and blurb.
- If you’re submitting to agents, you have a draft cover letter and synopsis.
- You’ve read and returned any manuscripts that you are beta-reading.
This might seem like a long time to allow for your novel to be edited, but unless you’ve been super-organised and booked up your editor months in advance, there’s a good chance that they won’t be able to drop everything to work on your novel.
If you have several beta readers, as well as giving them plenty of time to read your novel – they’re probably doing it for free – you’ll want to allow time for asking them questions and perhaps even redrafting bits of material for them to look over again.
(You may well be swapping manuscripts with a friend or two at this stage, in which case you’ll all be using some of your “writing” time to read and make notes.)
This is also the point at which to get a cover designer involved. Unless one of your beta readers happens to moonlight as a designer, you’ll need to provide a synopsis of the story and an idea of what elements should appear on the cover.
Give everyone you’re working with a clear deadline – it’s a good idea to make this two or three weeks prior to the end of month 15, so that if their work overruns, it doesn’t disrupt you too much.
Unless you’re really pushed for time, this is also a good point at which to:
- Draft your blurb and book description (if self-publishing)
- Draft your synopsis and cover letter (if traditional publishing)
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to tweak these during the rest of the year.
Months 16, 17, 18: A Full Edit Incorporating Feedback from Your Editor or Beta Readers
Daily target: Editing 800 – 1,000 words.
End goal: A finished novel that comes at least close to publishable standard.
This is a fantastic stage to be at, because it’s when your novel starts to really take on its true shape. You’ve had feedback from experienced readers, and you’ve probably got a whole list of issues to address – big and small.
While I’ve given a daily target above, depending on the edits you need to do, you may find that it’s easier to work with a weekly average. Sometimes, you’ll be cutting a whole chapter and adding a new one; at other points, you might just be tweaking a handful of sentences in a chapter.
Try to keep moving fairly fast at this stage: keep up the momentum as you watch your story come together. It’s easy to get bogged down or to procrastinate on making changes, particularly larger ones – and this is the point at which novels can drag on and on.
As you edit, make sure you are happy with the editorial choices you’re making. Your editor or beta readers may offer some suggestions that you decide don’t suit your conception of the story or the characters. Give them due consideration, but remember, you’re the author: you have the final say.
Months 19 and 20: Further Feedback from Beta readers
Daily target: 30 minutes novel-related work.
From your editor or beta readers:
A list of (hopefully) fairly minor changes and tweaks, probably include some typo-spotting.
Get ready to publish, with a finished blurb and product description, potentially a website or blog online, your copyright page and acknowledgements written, and a good idea of how to get your manuscript formatted and online (even if your plan is “pay someone else to do it”).
This is a good point at which to get one final round of feedback to make sure there are no lingering issues – or to check you’ve not accidentally introduced a new problem. At this point, you should feel pretty happy with the current state of the novel. You may well feel it’s ready to publish straight away.
I’d encourage you to run it past at least one more beta reader, though. This might be someone who read the earlier draft, or it could be someone who’s coming fresh to your novel.
You may want to give them a list of questions or things to look out for, such as:
- Is the pacing too slow in the early chapters?
- Does the relationship between Sue and Bob work for you?
- Have I over-used any words / phrases?
Hopefully, at this stage, you’re not going to get feedback like “the second half of the book feels like a whole different story from the first” or “there are too many subplots going on”. Instead, you’re likely to find that there are just a few little niggles to address – perhaps a scene gets off to a slow start, or some of your dialogue isn’t quite convincing.
While your novel’s off being edited, you can get on with various admin tasks to put you in a good position to publish. The following lists aren’t by any means exhaustive, but should give you some ideas.
- Revise your blurb and product description. The blurb is what goes on the back of your book (if you’re creating a paperback); the product description is what goes on Amazon in full.
- Finalise your cover with the cover designer, if you’ve not already done so.
If traditional publishing:
Revise your cover letter and synopsis: at this point, your novel’s unlikely to change significantly. You may want to pay your editor to look at these as well as your manuscript (especially if they have significant experience of either being published traditionally or working in an agency or publishing house).
Create a list of agents and/or publishers to contact with your covering letter, synopsis and sample chapters. In the UK, the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is a great resource for this; in the US, try Writers’ Market.
Any type of publishing:
- Write or finalise the acknowledgements and decide who to dedicate the novel to.
- Create a website, blog or social media accounts. You don’t have to do this, but if you have the time, it’s a good idea. I’d recommend using your name (or pen-name) as the website’s URL, if it’s available.
Months 21 and 22: Make the Final Edits
Daily target: Editing 1,200 – 1,500 words.
End goal: A truly finished novel!
Note: If the previous revising and editing stages went really smoothly, you may well not need two full months. Allow for this time when planning, though – better to finish early than end up rushing to get your novel to your proofreader(s).
Hopefully, you’re not going to have any major changes to make at this stage. You’ll probably find that some chapters can remain almost untouched and others need quite a few detailed tweaks – that’s fine. The daily target here is very much an average – you might zoom through 6,000 words of manuscript in one 30 minute session, then spend the next session tackling just 500 words.
If you are facing the prospect of making major changes, take a few days off. Come back to your manuscript and your beta reader or editor’s feedback afresh – and go with your gut reaction.
Do you feel, deep down, that they have a good point and that your novel genuinely needs significantly more work? I know how frustrating this can be – but better to allow a couple of extra months now than to rush out something that you know isn’t really as good as it should be.
Or do you feel that, while they have an interesting idea, it’s not really right (or necessary) for your novel? If so, consider making a few easy tweaks, but avoid wholesale rewrites.
It’s worth allowing a little bit of your writing time to contact potential proofreaders (for month 22) and reviewers. Keep in mind that Amazon may remove reviews from your friends or family, so you might want to cast the net a little further afield (try friends of friends, or people you’ve met in writing groups or forums).
Month 23: Proofreading
Daily target: 30 minutes novel-related work.
From your proofreader(s): A finished novel with no typos or other errors.
Other: Reviewers contacted; website / blog / social media accounts (delete as appropriate) ready for visitors; potentially advertising slots booked up; draft email copy to send out to friends/family/etc about your novel.
Don’t try to proofread your novel yourself.
That’s so important that I’ll say it again: don’t try to proofread your novel yourself.
It is incredibly hard to spot typos in something you’ve written, because you know what you meant to write.
Instead, find at least one other person (preferably two) and get them to proofread the whole manuscript. Chances are, you’ll need to pay them. If you’re relying on unpaid, amateur help – like a spouse or a friend – then try to get several people to proofread. It’s more of a skill than you might think.
(There’s no reason you can’t also proofread your novel yourself, of course. If you’re doing that, you’ll need to get through 3,000 words in each of your 30 minute sessions – which should be very do-able.)
If you’ll be self-publishing, this is also the time to contact reviewers, using the list you drew up last month. Send the book to them early in this month and let them know when you expect to publish it.
I’m assuming, here, that any really glaring errors will have been caught during editing. If for whatever reason you think your book has a fair number of typos, then hold off on sending it to reviewers until it’s been proofread.
Month 24: Publishing Your Book
Daily target: 30 minutes novel-related work.
End goal: Your book is available to buy online or your manuscript is with agents/publishers.
Note: for some tasks this month, like getting your book onto Amazon, it’ll be useful to work in longer sessions of 1 – 2 hours rather than 30 minutes.
I’m going to assume that, at a minimum, you’re publishing on Amazon in ebook format (by far the most popular option for self-publishers!) – you may, of course, be publishing on other ebook sites in addition to this, or producing a paperback version of your book.
If you don’t want to self-publish, of course that’s fine! If that’s the case, this is your month for sending out your manuscript to agents and publishers: if you’ve been following the whole plan, you’ll have a list of appropriate agents/publishers from months 21 – 22.
Self-publishing your book might sound like quite a technical challenge, but it’s become more and more straightforward over the past few years. You may want to simply upload your manuscript to Amazon yourself, or you could outsource this to a freelancer or a company like Book Baby.
You can find out how to prepare your manuscript for Amazon here: essentially, you can use a Word document with Styles (not tabs or manual font size changes) to handle all the formatting – like chapter headings and paragraph indents.
As well as getting your actual manuscript ready to upload, you’ll need:
- A price for your book. There are countless blog posts about pricing your book as a self-publisher: if you want a super quick answer here’s what I recommend. Make the ebook $2.99 in the US and £1.99 in the UK. You’ll qualify for the 70% royalty rate but your book will still seem good value.
- Your finalised book cover from the designer. If you can, get it full size (to use for a printed version), and in a smaller version (to upload to Amazon as your book’s cover image – this will appear on Amazon and on readers’ devices).
- Your “book description” – this is your blurb plus extra details about you and your book; at this point, you may have some quotes from reviewers to include.
- A list of keywords for your book. Amazon explains how to use those here.
- Two categories for your book. Get Amazon’s advice on choosing categories here.
- A biography for your Author Central page and your Goodreads page (important to get these set up as soon as your book is on Amazon).
- Email copy for contacting people about your book (this might be your blog’s readership, for instance, or simply your family, friends, former colleagues…)
- Any copy you want to put on your website related to your novel. You might use the blurb, for instance, but also include information about your writing process.
So that’s it: how to write and publish a novel in two years. Congratulations on making it to the end!
You may want to bookmark this post to come back to as you work through the plan.
Get The Two-Year Novel Ebook (Completely Free)
If you’d like a little more guidance, plus lots of links to useful resources, then you can download the whole plan as a nicely formatted ebook by popping your email address in here:
The ebook has all the material from this blog post, plus:
- Information on getting past “sticky points” at each stage: common areas where writers struggle, procrastinate or get derailed.
- Lots of links to further reading (books and blog posts) at each stage of the plan, to help you find out everything you need to know, when you need to know it.
If you’ve got any questions or if there’s something extra you’d like to see me create to go with the plan (e.g. a printable calendar to mark your progress on) then just pop a comment below.