Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Writing a Novel in 90 Days

I lost a month. April disappeared, acted like it never happened. One minute it was Fool's day, the next, it was May Day. Sheesh.

"How do you lose a whole month?" you ask.

Well, I started a story in March that turned into a 16,000 word novelette. And because I was in a bit of a slump, I committed myself to finishing this monster piece no matter what. I continued on, even knowing there will be very few markets to send it to. And then suddenly I realized that Taos Toolbox is only two months away. This advanced workshop I will be attending focuses on novels and I want to walk in with a project in progress. Crumbs. I'd better get to work.

Enter, The 90-Day Novel by Alan Watt.

This book takes you from the humblest beginnings of an idea to a finished first draft in 90 days. You know what almost sounds crazy? You don't start actually writing your first draft until Day 29. Impossible? I don't think so. The first part of the process is all about exploring your characters and story in a loose, free-write style with no pressure. There's a big emphasis on 'holing your story loosely' so that it has a chance to evolve and grow. This actually makes a lot of sense and can prevent you from launching into a story you're not ready to write. I am currently on Day 6 and I will give you my impressions so far. In future posts, I will include an update on my progress so you can see how this unfolds. This is going to be an interesting experiment.

My project: A hard-boiled science fiction mystery set on a planet far, far away. At the beginning of this, I have a 700-word scene introducing the crime. Nothing more.

The first couple of days were fun and easy. Writing didn't feel like work at all. Since I knew this was just an exploration, I got a notebook and a pen and dove in. I don't expect any of this material to make it directly to the page or I would work on the computer. I hate typing from hand-written material. I find a nice bit of freedom working like this. It's a method I can easily see myself applying in the future to help loosen my brain.

By Day 4, I noticed some things I liked and some I didn't. I like the low pressure approach. With every exercise Watt makes sure you know that none of what you're writing is committed in stone and encourages you to explore different facets of your story. This is good. The down side is that a number of the questions presented in the exercises to explore character are rather repetitive. You know, like those personality tests that ask the same question in different ways to see how you respond. I found this a little tedious and if it continues to happen, I will probably start skipping the repetitious questions.

One other thing that is not really a down side but something to note is that the book is geared toward new writers. There are recommendations about how long you should spend on the process and other didactic remarks that a writer who knows their abilities can adjust and work at their own pace.

If you write science fiction or fantasy, I've been warned that little time is left for world building. I'll need to either do my world building separately, alongside the book's exercises, or I will have to allow more days than the 90-day program suggests. Also, I'm expecting this novel to fall in the 60-85k range, but if I were writing an epic 120k monster, I might expect to take more than 90 days. I see both of these solutions as acceptable while staying within the concept of the book. Ninety days is an ideal, not a deadline.

On Day 6 I was supposed to write a one to two paragraph synopsis of my story. I wrote two pages and plan to write more tomorrow. My justification is that my story is a mystery and it requires more plotting than some novels. I had to figure out who the villain is and what his motivations are before I can go much further. Also, this is my first time writing a mystery and I'm very concerned about plotting and creating a good puzzle. The character generation that Watt's book is taking me through this first week is something that comes natural to me and I've been hankering to get into the meat of things.

That leads me to my current feeling about The 90-Day Novel. It's a good concept and well executed. If you're new to novel writing I would suggest following the program pretty closely because I think it takes you through a lot of important steps. If you're a more experienced writer I still think this is a good program, but feel free to deviate from it as needed to suit your style and your story's needs.

If all goes well I will be walking into Taos Toolbox with a solid outline and about 30k words written. This feels like a good place to be. Wish me luck.

PS: Above I linked to the product page on Amazon, but if you're interested in buying the book, I strongly encourage you to find it in your local book store or ask them to order it for you. We need all the independent book stores we can get. Show them your support.


  1. I like this. Best of luck to you Trina.

    Although I do have to laugh at the epic 120K comment. I find epic more like 237K or so...
    Great post!

  2. 237K is an oddly specific number, Sheena...

    This is a fantastic post. It makes me want to buy it and write a book! Alas, I'm editing right now. But if I start in September when the kids go back to school, I could be right on track to do Nanowrimo again this November. Inspired! This was a great post Trina!

  3. I have both of Alan Watt's books (he also wrote The 90-Day Rewrite) and I like reading through them for inspiration, but I never really followed the program because the questions he asks weren't that helpful for world-building, which was where I was *really* getting stuck. (Why does a person who has so much trouble world-building keep writing fantasy? I have no explanation for that.) I do love the books, though, because he has a sort of gentle you-can-do-this approach that shores me up on rough days. :)


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