Marathon writing session

This isn’t to brag. OK, it’s to brag a little.

I wrote 20 pages of new fiction in two days.

20-page day.jpg

I took Wednesday off from work, knowing that Thursday was Independence Day. I started on Page 63 and ended on Page 83.

This is huge. For me, a day in which I write five new pages of fiction is terrific. Seven pages? Red letter day. Ten? Get this man Champagne, stat!



Twenty in a day is fantastic by anyone’s standards. (Except J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts, I suppose. She wrote a new novel this morning while I was shaving.)

But again, this isn’t (just) about bragging. For anyone out there struggling to write a novel, here’s how I did it:

I’d already established my plot, my protagonist, my setting. I’d done all the preliminary work, the exposition, to get the reader into this world. Now it was time to jump-start the action.

I made a list, over a few days, of the things I needed to establish: The primary adversary. The next major action sequence. Moving a couple of collateral chess pieces; foes now who will become future allies of my hero. Also, my female protagonist: I’d “told” the reader that she had a world-class brain, but I needed to show the reader that she’s much, much smarter than anyone else in the book. I needed a whiz-bang scene, dialed up to 11, to showcase her toughness and intelligence.

Next, I wrote the first new chapter (my chapters are short; three to six pages). I re-read it, checked to see if it was OK (not perfect; perfect’s the enemy of the good). 

I wrote the next chapter.

I consulted my list of goals for plot and character. Did I tick any of them off?

I re-read the first chapter. I changed it a little.

I re-read the second chapter. OK, I guess.

I wrote the third chapter.

I re-read the first and second chapters. Something was off in the second one. 

I hit the grocery store. I made lunch.

I wrote the fourth chapter.

I figured out what was wrong with the second chapter later in the day, while emptying the dishwasher. I scrapped it almost entirely, rewrote it from the studs out.

Good. Better. I listened to that inner voice but I didn’t push it. 

This went on for the day.

I wrote again Thursday morning. I stopped to make salsas for a Fourth of July picnic, then wrote some more.

I printed the whole 83 pages, set them aside, went to the picnic with Katy King.

When I sat down to read the whole manuscript, from Page 1 to where I left off, I could see that it was good. It worked.

It’s geocaching, if you will (a sport in which folks use a Global Positioning System receivers to hide and seek prizes). I had a set of goals, both plot and character. I knew I needed to hit them.

I tucked in.

Yes, most of us don’t get the luxury of doing that very often. We have jobs and families. We have responsibilities.

But my point is: If you lay out a short map ahead of you, establish the stuff you’ve got to accomplish, you’ll be amazed how well you can craft a first draft.

Set your map. Do a tick list. 

Then punch it.

Hey, the rest of us ain’t J.D. Robb. This is how us mortals do it.

Dana Haynes