Andromeda: 6 Weeks to Start Your Novel–Is This Your Year to Commit?

I wrote my second published novel, The Detour, in about nine months, and I still recall my discomfort
when a family friend at a holiday dinner asked me, “But isn’t that too little time in which to write a real novel?”

Okay, she did not say “real.” That’s just how I heard her question.
“You’re right,” I should have said. “I’ll send the advance
I wouldn’t remember the conversation at all if it hadn’t reinforced some illogical worry of my own. Part of me had idealized the sheer
length of time some writers take to complete their works. Ten years is
certainly not unheard of, and in another post, I’ve praised the concept of taking a long time. Just not all the time.
My first novel, which required lots of research and two
trips abroad, plus long breaks when I was working on nonfiction projects, took about
three to four years, including final editorial revisions. But time alone is
no guarantee of success or literary value. I spent another two years on an
in-between novel that was never published. In fact, it was frustration over that
book, with its overcooked quality and intractable rewrite problems, that made
me choose to write The Detour quickly
and with pleasure, as if I were writing it—like my very first novel—only for
Why should it be hard to write a novel draft in nine months?
That’s only about 2,000 words a week. Write twice as much, and throw half of it
away, and you’re still good. Set it aside for six months, spend another nine
months revising intensely—my own process often involves as much revision as
early drafting—and you’re still on a
fairly productive track. The business side of writing is enough to frustrate
the most stoical among us, but simple math is always on our side.
Of course, some writers believe we can do better by taking less than two years. A lot less. Writing
fast is a great way to get ahead of the censors, to stop thinking in a
paralyzing way about results, audience, market, and so on. As Alan Watt, author
of The 90-Day Novel says, “When we
write quickly, we tend to bypass our critical voices and tap directly into the
heart of the story.” Both Stephen King and John Steinbeck, Watt reminds us,
were able to knock out first drafts in three months.
(Note that no one is suggesting here that a first draft is a
final draft, or that every manuscript—written quickly or at a snail’s pace—will
be publishable. But as every person who has spent $30,000+ on an MFA can attest,
you can spend three years and have
lots of help, and still end up with something unpublishable.)
As many NaNoWriMo participants have discovered, if you
commit to writing fast, 50,000 words or more can pile up quickly. Are they
all perfectly chosen words, fitted
into syntactically perfect sentences? Maybe not. But sometimes, quickly written
prose can be more playful, more surprising, more creative, and—as a teacher
this interests me greatly—more instructive. Instead of lingering at the studio
door, second-guessing ourselves, we dig in and get a lot of clay on the table.
We make a lot of pots—some better than others. Hopefully, we become less
attached to results, and in so doing, may paradoxically end up with a better result.
That’s what happened to Watt, who wrote his own
award-winning debut novel, Diamond Dogs,
in 44 days.
(Be amazed at that, and then forget it, because
unfortunately, if we labor in pursuit of similarly astonishing results, we’ll
miss the point, which is to focus on process.)
are possible. The person who always dreamed of writing a novel but couldn’t
start finally gets some pages done. The person who has become over time more
cautious, more self-critical, throws off the chains and ventures into new
subject matter, or discovers a new voice, or finally tells a more natural, more
authentic story. Or at the very least amasses some new skills quickly, having
finally found a low-stakes opportunity to test out a new POV or genre or
something else, using the excuse that this experiment won’t take long.
I’m not suggesting that the speed-drafting or NaNoWriMo
approach is right for every person and every project. But given how much some
of us dream of writing and publishing novels, wouldn’t it make sense, at least
once in a lifetime, to 1) try a slower, more analytical, left-brain method, and
2) at least once in a lifetime, especially if writer’s block, anxiety, or loss
of beginner’s zeal has become a problem, try a fast-drafting, right-brain
If this sounds interesting to you, consider joining us
beginning October 11 for “Your Novel Now,” a 6-week, asynchronous (log on when
it works for you) online class that will emphasize quick-drafting with light
instruction and discussion. We won’t aim to write full novels in that short
time, but we will aim to to get a great start: 10,000 words, writing about an
hour a day. What do you have to lose?
Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow and The Detour, as well as a forthcoming novel, Behave. She is a co-founder of 49 Writers and teaches in the UAA MFA low-residency creative writing program. She is also a book coach with a special interest in revision, narrative structure, and the lifelong development of the writer. Contact her at for more info on her book coaching services.
Scroll to Top