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The Foolproof Method to Writing Your First Novel This Year

The Brandon Sanderson Method
The foolproof method to write your first novel this year

If you follow the advice within this article you will write a novel this year. The novel will be roughly 150,000 words and it will take you ‘truly’ less than 20 minutes a day.

One thing I hear from Fantasy Writers all the time is: “I want to write a Fantasy Novel”. This is usually followed by: “I just can’t find the time” or “I’m too busy when I get home”. For you people… I have a solution. I’ve named it ‘The Brandon Sanderson’ method. The reason I have called it this is because it was Brandon Sanderson who gave me the idea. I did the math, but essentially the idea is his and I think if I claimed it to be my own, I’d be stealing and in any kind of essay – strung up for plagiarism.
I should re-note though Brandon hasn’t certified this or anything – I just named it after him as a thank you for the idea… really need to make that clear!!!

Step 1: Work out your typing speed.

Working out your typing speed is very, very important. Not just as a writer either… It is pretty standard these days to have on application forms for professional jobs a field for typing speed. So, let’s do that now.

You need to go here: www.typingtest.com
Select 3 minutes and you can choose any subject.

I now presume you have done your typing test. The following is a rough guideline:

Average typing speed: 30 Words per Minute (This is less than generous).
Writer’s typing speed: 60 Words per Minute (This is mine).

Step 2: I want you to take 500 and divide it by the amount of words you can write in one minute.

This is the Brandon Sanderson element to my ‘write your first novel’ method. In a recent interview with Brandon Sanderson (click here to view it yourself) Brandon told me that he isn’t actually an overly fast writer.

What!?!?!? I hear you shout, he has written tons of books and they seem to be appearing on our shelves pretty damned regularly!?!?!? Regularity is the key word here. Brandon told me that what he does is write 500 words every single day without fail.

In my case, I write at just over 60 words per minute. That means I could write 500 words in 8 minutes and 20 seconds.

Here is my reasoning that this method will take you less than 20 minutes a day:
60 words per minute: 8 minutes, 20 seconds.
50 words per minute: 10 minutes.
40 words per minute: 12 minutes, 30 seconds
30 words per minute: 16 minutes, 40 seconds
20 words per minute: 25 minutes

How long will it take to write a novel then? Well, the average novel is about 120,000 to 150,000 words in the fantasy genre.

What I am going to suggest to you as first time novelists is that you aim to write 150,000 words for your novel. You may go over… but… having spoken to a whole bunch of writers during my time at Fantasy-Faction I have come to the conclusion that you are going to need to cut a HUGE amount of words from your first draft. You may need to add some bits and pieces too, but if you aim at 150,000 it is likely that you will be able to get your manuscript down to about 120,000 / 130,000. This is because you will want to push the pace up and get rid of boring pieces of your work.

Step 3: Make that pledge and do it now.

Right. Are you serious about this? No more… ‘I have this’ or ‘I have that’. You have an answer now… a means to accomplish what you have probably considered a dream of yours for a long time. Most fantasy-faction users will have a typing speed of around 60 words per minute I would imagine. I am therefore asking you if you are willing to put ’10 minutes’ aside each day for the next year in order to finish your very first novel. That could be 10 minutes less in bed, 10 minutes less television, 10 minutes less Playstation, 10 minutes less chatting on the phone, 10 minutes during your lunch break – it really doesn’t matter.

You can start this method anytime you like. But, I am going to invite you all to use Fantasy-Faction as a log of your process. I am going to suggest starting as a community on 1st August 2011. Come and sign your name in our forum and pledge to do this (click here) – you can then update us as to your status and keep track of other users too. There is then a support network to push you and keep you going too.

Additional Note: DO NOT PLAN TOO HARD.

Something that Brandon said to me that really hit me hard was that he got good at writing by… writing. It sounds obvious, but Brandon basically wrote a ton of novels knowing that they probably wouldn’t be all that great. The reason he did this was because he knew he needed to get better at writing. I think he recognised that like anything – practice is how you get better. OK… so this novel may not be fantastic, but next year’s one will be better, the one after that better and the one after that better still. The point is that you will be getting better and more experienced at writing. You will have something to look back on and reflect upon for your next attempt. If ‘x’ didn’t work then you will do it differently in the next novel. You will get better at description and dialogue because you are practicing it consistently (every day in-fact!).

The biggest trap you can fall into as a writer is the one I found myself in for about 2 years… planning. Although planning is very important for an author looking to get a book published, it is of minimal importance to an author writing their first novel. Your first novel is likely going to suck. Just as the first time you ever threw a ball at a basket, you probably missed. The first time you drove a car, you probably stalled. The first time you went running, you probably didn’t get all that far… you get the idea. The most important thing is that you go out there, you get this one.

So, how can we write a story without planning? Simple… I give you one week. Once you have decided ‘yes – I am going to do this’ you have one week. That is 7 days to get a notebook and spend as much time as you like planning. On day number 7 you are done. If you have 10 pages of notes on location and characters – excellent! If you have 2 lines – we’ll work with it. Whatever happens you are just going to write and you are going to get better.

Now… you can probably tell I worked as a fitness instructor for a little while. I therefore hope I didn’t come across as too condescending. But the fact of the matter is that using Brandon’s logic, this not having written a single novel in the 2 years I have wanted to is simply put; laziness.  If I look back on the last year there is not a single day that would have been ‘impossible’ to write 500 words.

You now have the opportunity to finish your first novel by this time next year. Will you take it?

A Final note on editing.

Editing is very, very important – but it is not as important as actually writing. The way I see editing – you have two options. Either A) You spend an hour every fortnight editing what you have already done (7000 words) or B) You wait until you have finished your 150,000 words and begin editing there. Those of you who are mathematically savvy will have realised that in actual fact it only takes 300 days to write 150,000 words. You therefore have 65 days to work editing your novel before your year is up J

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32 Comments

  1. Marius says:

    Totally awesome!

    This SO appeals to my logical brain :) I’m taking the pledge/plunge! Thanks for this, Marc.

  2. Angelo says:

    I don’t think that when people say don’t have the time, they’re talking about how fast the can type. You assume that people only need time to dump words on a word processor. They have to think about grammar, style, scenes, dialogues, events, etc… And that takes time.

    • Overlord says:

      Personally I see that as an excuse (one I myself am guilty of).

      Let us consider grammar, style, scenes, dialogue… will you get better by thinking or planning them or actually doing them? How long are you going to plan them for? A month, a year, two years? Eventually it just becomes forever and you never actually end up writing a book because you are too worried about making everything perfect.

      Going back to Brandon Sanderson. This method is named after him for a reason… he wrote novels knowing/presuming at least they would be pretty poor/un-sell-able. This method isn’t a guide to writing a publishable book. It is a means to write a novel length piece within a year. It will probably suck. The grammar will probably be average and the story will probably be ‘meh’. OK… when you finish it, you have about 65 days (58 if you used the week planning time) to go through it and think about how much it sucks. Practice your editing there… think about where the story broke down and why it didn’t really work.

      Next year… start again with a new novel. You now have a basis on which to work. You know what sucks… you know what works. You have done this length of writing before… so you can do it again. Maybe this year you decide rather than 10-20 minutes writing 500 words, I am going to take 30 minutes to write 500 words. The point is, next year your novel length piece will be better… the year after that… better still.

      Once again, this isn’t a means to write a publishable book. It is a way of getting into writing, forcing upon yourself that dedication required to be a writer, setting yourself goals, etc.

      • Marius says:

        I agree with Overlord here (from personal experience). It’s much better to write absolute rubbish than to have a wonderful story in your head, but you never put it in writing because you’re afraid you’ll get your tenses wrong.

        Anyways, the job of an editor is to find the midway between the author and the audience – so don’t worry about that. And maybe your best friend/neighbour lady can give you some pointers, but they won’t be able to do that if you haven’t written anything :(

  3. ChrisMB87 says:

    This is an amazing article! I’m going to work this into my schedule and make the commitment today!
    Will there be other articles based from your talks with Brandon Sanderson to come?

    • Overlord says:

      To be honest, most of what we talked about is in the interview. He sadly was in quite a rush to leave after the interview because not only had he been held at Orion offices since about 10am (I think I left at about 5am) , he also had a huge signing event the next day and a ton of other press stuff to do :)

  4. Nice article Overlord.

    You need to be more honest and mention that that this is not a method to produce a best selling book. Your response to Angelo’s question needs to be integrated into the article at a very early stage. It was pretty much my first thought as well. The word per minute speed has really nothing to do with writing a book.

    20 words per minute: 25 minutes

    But that illustrates pretty well that if you can sit down and think for an hour every day and still spend 25 of those writing 20 words per minute, it is possible to write a book in less than a year. Even have some time over for editing.

    Otherwise you risk sounding like a day time TV advert selling the latest gadget that will give you a six pack in 4 weeks, by only using it 3 minutes a day.

    Good work, you might be onto something here.

    :)

    • Overlord says:

      I may well revise the article to make this a bit clearer. Basically put my response into the article – I think I made it quite clear when I spoke about not actually looking to get the book published though… How many authors publish their first novel? I can tell you now it is VERY, VERY few… it takes practice.

      I think the thing that you need to remember is that although you are only writing for 10-20 minutes a day, you are actually working on your story constantly… if you are at work/school/home and not thinking of your story from time to time – your characters, your landscapes, your plot – you should be. I’m at work now thinking about characters and stuff, when I’m at home and ironing I’m often thinking of dialogue.

      Yes… I’ve said you should write 500 words a day, but that’s for a reason. You could write 1000 a day, 2000 a day, but – 500 to me seems a good number. 500 is not really enough… that’s a good thing. You should walk away from your writing thinking ‘aghhhh – I wanted to do so much more’ and that is how you stop yourself getting writers block and exhausting yourself to the extent you dread going back to your work.

      Do 500 words and feel you could more… don’t do 4000 words and feel burnt out and then never come back to it again because you think ‘can’t do that again!!!’. I wrote this down because I really believe if you make doing 500 words a day it can become as regular to you as the journey to work, a trip to the gym, watching your favourite soap each night, etc.

    • Overlord says:

      Well… I’m a copywriter / journalist for a living… so… you aren’t far off my writing style there ;-)

      And by the way. I purposely wrote this in a ‘sales-like’ style as it was meant to inspire and convince you to ‘buy’ (dedicate).

  5. Peter Ahlstrom says:

    Ha! Well, Brandon certainly does approve of writing 500 words per day (or more, I think at the end of one book he wrote 17,000 words in 26 hours). But typing speed is not the limiting factor.

    • Overlord says:

      Indeed, these days I’m sure he writes more because he has deadlines and is a published author – I think he was talking about as a general rule throughout his career and when he first started writing. He told me he looked to write about a novel a year and this was the kind of method he used… it certainly worked for him! =)

  6. David says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Marc. The most important thing for any writer is just getting words onto paper. Sometimes that’s when you surprise yourself the most. Just write…the editing can come later :)

  7. Oliver says:

    I’m so in on this. I need this king of motivation and group push!

  8. Overlord says:

    The is now a new ’500 Word Club’ forum section here:

    http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/the-500-club/

    Come introduce yourself =)

  9. I LOVE this! And I love the fact that you pointed out that the first will probably suck and to not worry about it. I think my main reason for not doing it is the worry of failure and I just need to get past this! I am so joining you in August to write my first novel :D

  10. Red Haircrow says:

    A nice straight-forward candid article. Another I thought was good on the same topic was written by Michael Moorcock, the well known fantasy writer, “How To Write a Book in 3 Days” http://www.wetasphalt.com/?q=content/how-write-book-three-days-lessons-michael-moorcock

    Besides being a writer, I’m also a reviewer and publisher, so no kidding, I spend at least 8 hour a day writing something, somewhere! I will complete another novel this year without a doubt, but even saying so in that way, it is very, very difficult at times.

    Thanks for the article.

  11. I’m in, I’m already 46k into my novel using a similar method but I’d love to join in because I haven’t wrote a word in two months. I recommend reading On Writing by Stephen King. Awesome book with loads of help to new authors.

  12. Michelle Dobbins says:

    I’m a day late. Can I still join in? I’m still at @40,000 on a novel I started during last November’s NaNoWriMo. I did 15,000 in Nov and then have worked on it bit by bit here and ther. I really want to get it done!

  13. I am SO in. 500 words is about two pages a day. I can do that!

  14. Autumn2May says:

    You can all join whenever you want! Even if it’s after the 1st of August! :)

  15. Adam says:

    Awesome article man…I’m up to 1200 words so far, need to catch up a bit this weekend…I’m a bit of a slow typer to be honest and I have to really think about what I’m writing. But I think the important thing to take away is that you keep doing it. Every day. And catch up with it when you can’t because of work/girlfriend/or writing a PhD like I am at the moment…

  16. Nicole says:

    Fantastic advice for any writer. Will look back on this blog for inspiration. Thank you.

  17. I would love to join in with this, as it’s a great opportunity. But I write in bursts, and still manage to get the job done. :)

    Of course, after that first novel, each writer will figure out what works for them and establish their own routine. This is a fantastic way to get started on that first novel and stop making excuses.

  18. Owen Borseth says:

    Since this article has a word count in it I have a question. I’ve been told by several agents, authors, editors, etc that my first novel needs to be around 120,000 words max and ideally around 100,000. Any thoughts on this?

  19. Nice points in this article, Marc. It is amazing that it really does come down to 500 words a day, depending on how prolific you can be.

    I’m testing this out right now to see if it will work for me. I usually write with a timer assist, but I can assure you if I can write 25K words in a day, I can do at least 500 in 16 minutes.

    Any other little hot tips that you can share?

  20. Shack says:

    Because of the 500 Club, I actually finished my first draft of my novel and am now midway through editing, rewriting etc. It was great for me to make writing a daily habit and just keep chipping away. But it is bloody hard work all the same. There was a huge burst of enthusiasm back in August when this was originally posted but the numbers dropped out day by day until there was only a core group of three left. “Only 500 words” sounds easy but it’s not. It takes dedication after the excitement wears off and it has been the hardest thing I have ever done (but also the most rewarding.)

  21. Jesse says:

    Very well done! It makes it seem ridiculous to not be able to make time for writing! :)

  22. [...] yeah… and do it in twenty minutes a day. Brandon Sanderson shows you how in this article from fantasy faction.com. Share this:FacebookShareStumbleUponRedditPrintEmailDigg This [...]

  23. Alex says:

    I got 72 WPM using that site, but I have to say that I don’t know if I’d be able to sustain it for long – I was getting quite tired by the end! It’s a bit different when you have to actually think of what you want to write instead of just transcribing it.

    However I completely agree with this idea, and am looking forward to starting my own commitment of writing at least 500 words every day.

  24. Léonie says:

    Great! Now, what am I going to write about? (I should probably stick to the reading)

  25. Steve Rowe says:

    Great article! I’m an engineer by profession, and I’m kind of relieved; I don’t have a novel in me, but if I did, I’d have been morally obligated to take the pledge.

    I scored 53 WPM including errors. The trick is, that I can type that fast if I know what is supposed to be written. If the prose is springing Athena-like from my brow, then the writing only goes as fast as the springing.
    Still, fair point well made: even if you take an ENTIRE HOUR per day, that’s still some pretty fine motivation for aspiring authors.

    Oh, and bonus points for naming something after Brandon Sanderson.

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