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My novel writing habit

My First Novel logo


You may have noticed that I’m writing a novel. In my spare time. That’s the spare time I have left after running a business, taking care of my son, doing the school run, cooking dinner, keeping fit and all the other things that modern life entails.

So this is my novel writing habit, and how I go about writing:

Some months ago I decided to write regularly, because otherwise I struggle to remember what the hell is happening in my story. Unfortunately the only ‘free’ ┬átime I have is in the morning, before the start of my family’s morning routine. To have an hour of writing time each day I have to wake at 5:25. Yes, that’s quite early, but it’s not really that bad – once you get used to it. In fact, once you get used to it, it’s lovely. Having an oasis of time in which to write without interruption is a phenomenal luxury.

On getting up early to write

Several months ago I decided to wake up early, before my family, so I could spend one hour writing. But for several weeks I would set my alarm for 5:25, only to slap the alarm off, spend a few minutes debating whether I could face getting up so early, and then drift off to sleep.

In spite of my intentions, and my strong desire to write, I couldn’t overcome my sleepy inertia. I might spend half the day thinking about my characters, and the next scene I had to write, and how to make my writing better, but at half past five in the morning all I cared about was staying under the duvet and sleeping. My day brain was being outfoxed by my night brain. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that my night brain is a lazy bastard and not the sort of brain I want to associate with.

After a few weeks of failed attempts, I spoke to my wife about my problem. I’m lucky (!) enough to be married to a psychologist, and she’s very good at getting you to assess what’s important to you. My wife helped me to realise just how important writing is to me, and she made me feel embarrassed for letting a little thing like sleep stand in my way. She also recorded me an alarm message in which she calmly encourages me to wake up and write, and reminds me of my goal. It might sound silly but it worked! My wife’s voice cut through my sleepy brain and got me hopping out of bed (quietly!).

And once I’d woken once at 5:25 it was easy to do it again.

In fact, I’ve done it every weekday morning since then (I started in mid April 2013).

Momentum + will power = you on fire

I recently heard will power described as a muscle. That comparison makes a lot of sense to me. There have been times in my life when I’ve struggled to summon will power, and other times when I have an abundance of self-control. But one thing I’ve noticed is that building up will power usually starts with something small. As soon as I make some small change, or a decision, or whatever it might be, then my will power muscle grows a little, and then the next choice becomes easier. And with each act of resistance or control I become stronger at sticking to my plans.

So if you are struggling to stick to your plans, try creative ways to get yourself to do it just once. The first time is the hardest. After that, your will power muscle will grow stronger, and you’ll find it easier to do precisely what you want to do.

Writing little but often

It would be great to be able to write for hours every day, but I just don’t have that luxury. Instead I spend one hour every weekday, doing nothing but writing. And while one hour isn’t much time, it’s enough for me to write 500 words. Writing for just one hour has benefits:

– I don’t get bored of writing.

– I don’t get distracted by the Internet.

– I don’t get frustrated by the difficulty of writing.

When I do occasionally have longer stretches of time to write I often procrastinate terribly. With just one hour to write I refuse to be distracted by anything.


My novel is already plotted out. I’ve also made a fairly comprehensive list of the scenes, though these may well change. I want my novel to get people thinking, but primarily I want it to be entertaining. So the story needs to be emotionally engaging, inducing the reader to care about my characters. I would personally find it very challenging to manage the plot and keep the reader involved without planning the story first.

Writing freely, without plotting first, is great fun, but it rarely produces the most engaging stories. Certainly not when I write.


I’ve been researching components of my story for a long time, so I can now just sit down and write. There are still lots of questions I need to answer though, but I simply mark gaps in my knowledge in square brackets within the prose, so I can return to them later. If I stopped writing every time I had a question about continuity or location or history then I would probably write 100 words each day instead of 500.

So that’s my novel writing habit. What’s yours?


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Novel update 14/06/2013

My First Novel logo


It’s Friday. For me, Friday has a special significance, because it marks the end of my writing week. And usually it signifies booze, too.

I write every morning from Monday-Friday, but down tools over the weekend. This is a great way to make sure I focus on my family, although I do find that on Monday mornings my brain takes a little time to get into gear. It seems that the two day break is enough time for me to lose the writing rhythm I build up during the week. But the effect is not massive. I’m still writing regularly, which is more than I’ve done for many years.

It’s been a good week of writing. I’ve consistently written for one hour each morning, producing 500 words each day.

I’ve written a total of 26,000 words now, which is roughly 30% of the way towards my goal of 80,000 words.

Writing the way I do (very much the part-timer) is very slow, but that’s okay, because I’m making progress. It’s obviously better to write a novel slowly than to never write a novel.

Are you writing something? Tell me in the comments!

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Track your novel writing progress with this spreadsheet

Writing a novel can be a slow, uneventful and thankless task. Anything that helps you get through the lonely journey to the end and overcome the vicious emptiness of the blank page and the mocking metronome of the cursor – well, anything that helps is to be embraced.

One little gem which is helping me plod onward is a spreadsheet which converts my word count into a pie chart.

So instead of just seeing the number of words I’ve written, I can see my unwritten words shrink as the days pass.

This tool is freely available thanks to the generosity of science-fiction writer E.G. Cosh, who I once met at WriteClub.

Pop over to her website to download your copy of the Novel Progress Tracker.

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The loneliness of the long-form writer

Writing is clearly something that most people do alone, but I do wish writing a novel was less solitary.

I wish I could write with people around me, but I know they would only distract me.

I wish I could talk about my story, but I know the chatter would only distract me.

I wish I could share my work in progress, but I know any feedback would only distract me.

It seems that when you get to the editing and review stage writing becomes more sociable, and you can happily discuss your work with family, fans and critics. Until then, I’ll continue alone.

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Novel update 31/05/13

My First Novel logo


I’m still writing. And, as someone who has often struggled to find the time, enthusiasm and energy to write, that’s something I’m delighted to report.

My novel progress tracker tells me I’m roughly 25% of the way towards my 80,000 word goal.

It may seem silly to focus on numbers when you’re writing a story, but seeing the finish line slowly emerge is surprisingly important – particularly when you’re engaged in such a solitary pursuit. Writing is always a lonely act, a challenge that only you can accomplish, so anything that can spur the motivation is welcomed.

I’ve written roughly 500 words each day during this week (Mon-Fri). It’s quite slow progress, but it is progress. I’ll continue writing steadily and eventually write to the end.

And then the adventures with editing / publishing / promotion can begin.

In the meantime I’m reading depressing blog posts about the realities of the publishing world (and trying to STAY POSITIVE):

Escape from Stockholm: and Epic Publishing Saga

Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now


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My novel writing habit

  You may have noticed that I’m writing a novel....
article post

Novel update 14/06/2013

  It’s Friday. For me, Friday has a special...
article post

Track your novel writing progress with this spreadsheet

Writing a novel can be a slow, uneventful and thankless task....
article post

The loneliness of the long-form writer

Writing is clearly something that most people do alone, but I...
article post

Novel update 31/05/13

  I’m still writing. And, as someone who has...
article post