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Write your Novel in your Spare Time
by Kelly James-Enger

It’s a dream of many writers to have time off—say six months or a year—to finally have time to write that novel that’s been brewing for years. The reality, though, is that most of us can’t take months from our jobs, families, and daily lives to hammer out our novels.

The solution is to write your novel in your spare time, using a three-draft method. The first step is to plan for success. Set a goal for your novel and write it down. Do you want to finish your first draft in six months? A year? Two years? Then determine how you’ll do that—by writing a page a day, a certain number of words a day, or for a certain time period (30 minutes or an hour) each day. Commit to your writing time in your daily planner or calendar—and use a pen! Once you’ve made that commitment to yourself and planned how you’ll accomplish this admittedly large task, you’re ready to start writing.

The First Draft: Write Like a Shark

Let me explain. Have you ever seen the movie Annie Hall? If you have, you may already know what I mean. There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are on a plane, returning to Manhattan from Hollywood. Allen’s character realizes the relationship is over, and explains his epiphany like this: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

What does this mean for writers? Keep moving. Keep writing. Don’t let yourself get blocked or stopped while you’re writing your draft—you’ll lose valuable time, momentum and motivation. Can’t think of the right word? Need to add a statistic, quote, or example? Use the old editor’s “TK” trick. If you get stuck, type the letters “TK” and keep going. The TK means “to come;” it’s basically shorthand for “fix this before the magazine goes to print.”

I suggest that when you’re working on a first draft, you write every day. This will help you maintain your momentum and commitment. Better still, when you write every day, your story is always in the back of your mind—and you’ll be amazed at what your subconscious may come up with during all those hours when you’re not actually writing.

Novelist Robert B. Parker is credited with saying, “I can’t edit a blank page.” Get the words down. Write what Anne Lamott would call a “shitty first draft.” Just get it down—you can fix it and clean it up and make it beautiful later.

The Second Draft: The Big Clean-up

After you finish your first draft, take some time off—at least a couple of weeks. Then come back to the manuscript with fresh eyes, and read it all the way through. Make notes about your overall impression—things like whether the story flows smoothly, the balance of dialogue and exposition, and overly repetitive scenes (e.g., if your character's always in the place and doing the same things.)

After your initial read-through, go through the manuscript scene by scene. Each scene in your novel should either move the plot (or subplot) forward and/or help develop your characters—ideally both. If not, consider cutting the scene. The second draft is where you clean up the mess of your first one, eliminating subplots and unnecessary characters and addressing any TKs. At the end of the draft, there should be no remaining TKs and your manuscript is almost ready to go.

The Third Draft: Where Every Word Counts

This is the last step, and it shouldn’t be rushed. Take the time to go through your manuscript word by word. I suggest you read it out loud—this will help you identify awkward language and missing or unintentionally repeated words. After you work your way through this last draft, fine-tuning and changing a word or two here and there, your masterpiece will be ready for submission for publication.

© Copyright 2007, Kelly James-Enger

Kelly James-Enger has authored more than a dozen books, including Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success (Writers Digest, 2012) and Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writers Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books (CreateSpace, 2010). Check out her blog, Dollars and Deadlines, for practical advice about how you can make more money in less time as a nonfiction freelance writer.

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