Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Novel-In-A-Day Fiasco


I sit, barren of inspiration, at my desk, attempting to fluff up a rather generic narrative about unpleasant wankers in the publishing industry. After hours of humming and tutting and sighing I abort the project and waste as much time as it is humanly possible to waste without watching terrestrial television.

I eat a Kit-Kat. I pace around. In my inertia, I even contemplate phoning my parents for a chat. Then, in a moment of inspired stupidity, I recall a plan I once made to write an ENTIRE NOVEL IN ONE DAY.

“It can’t be done!” scoff the cynics. “You fool!” say other cynics. “Give it a go, handsome!” says my uncynical girlfriend, who wasn’t even in the room at the time. And so, armed with nothing more than a desire to unclog my barren inkwell, and to prove I am the best writer in the whole room, I vow to complete a 75,000 word novel in 24 hours.

On Friday, I would spend 23 hours writing non-stop, with two 30-minute breaks for eating and pooping. Simple. Well, not exactly.


I prepare mentally and physically for my feat by catching up on sleep, eating enough food for a week, and informing everyone that I will be incommunicado for the day and
to leave me the hell alone.

My ego inflates to ludicrous proportions. At one point, I draft up a list of writers I wipe the floor with – among them Dickens, Shakespeare and Cartland. I post an ill-informed rant about how I am too good to be published (see below) and get blocked by five former friends on Twitter. Yes, the stakes are being raised – a sense of mounting drama is mounting.

I go to bed early, apply my beauty moisturiser, tuck myself into beddy-byes and drift off to sleep, dreaming of victory.


I rise at 8AM sharp and have a quick breakfast as my computer slowly boots itself. Scotland’s nine-month autumn/winter melancholy has begun outside, and when I shut the curtains, it’s pitch black – a perfect darkness to lose myself in as I begin my project.

To keep me energetic, I have a stack of music to listen to as I write, some nibbles and a vat of coffee. Then – when the coffee gets cold – Coke and Dr. Pepper. All distractions vanquished, and comfortably moulded into my luxury chair, I launch into my story.

I begin with a flourish – writing a not-hideously-egregious paragraph establishing the protagonist and the setting. We meet Leslie as she pops down to the council building to complain about her electric bill. We meet a verbose man, whose lengthy, rambling dialogue is the perfect excuse to up my word count by hundreds and keep the story entertaining.

Then I hit the one-hour mark and check my word count. To complete my task, I need to write approximately 3200 words per hour. After the first sixty minutes have elapsed, I have only reached 1800 words. Never mind, I think. Let’s solider on… increase my typing speed.

So, I battle through the next three hours, hammering the keyboard at an alarming rate and filling the page with enormous streams of drivel. No time to check spelling or punctuation. Just have to crank it out, and worry about the rest later.

After four hours continuous clacking, my sides are aching, and my word count is only a feeble 9000. This means I’m completely off target. Oh dear, I think. I’m never going to do it! I’m behind. Yes – doubt sets in.

Doubts dogs me as I prepare lunch. Unfortunately, preparing lunch takes longer than I had expected, and I have to extend the break by thirty minutes. I launch into the next four-hour block. The words come, at first with the same bolt of enthusiasm, then with increasing defeat, then – at last – with a crushing realisation that I’m never going to do it.

To sit in a chair alone for 23 hours is a mammoth feat, never mind completing a whole novel. At 3PM, I stop completely. Suddenly, a sense of freedom overcomes me – I don’t have to complete a novel in a day! Hurrah! I leap from my desk, hurl on my coat, and go for a walk.

While out, I decide writing the novel in three days is definitely possible. This way, I can get a proper snooze each night and write in a less brainless frenzy. If I can hammer out another 10,000 words over the next four hours, I can average 20,000 a day, taking me short of my 75,000 target – but still in the acceptable novel-length range.

I return home and begin the next block. This is moderately successful until, upon reaching 15,000 words – a sense of utter futility and melancholy sets in, as though I am the most stupid man on the planet, and every word I write is a smelly waste of virtual ink. In short – I’m blocked.

OK… it’s not too bad, I think. I’ll write 20,000 words tomorrow and on Sunday. I’ll have an acceptable novel done over the weekend. Oh, the naiveté!


I wake up at 11AM. Half the morning is gone and I stink. I shower and eat breakfast and waste time reading emails I’ve read twice before until 12PM. Waking up at this awkward time means I’ll need to break for lunch in an hour and a half. This being the case, I postpone the first writing session until 1:30. Big mistake.

In this time, I have become so lazy and demotivated, I can only manage a feeble 3000 words before my block sets in. Frightened shitless the whole project will die a horrible death, I run outside for a walk and regroup. Perhaps I can write the novel over the week, I think. No. It’s too late. You’re a bottler, Nicholls – a wretched bottler!

Bottler. Bottler. The bottler returns and stares at the screen for an hour, making strange faces at his words. He reads and corrects the work so far, and gets some motivation back reading the funny and not-hideously-egregious bits. Perhaps I can tailor it into an acceptable novella instead?



I wake up with a throatful of snot feeling like someone’s been repeatedly choking me overnight. Not good. Not a good physical state in which to write.

And so, as I approach my computer, sit down and begin, I realise that I want to cough up my lungs into a waste bin and collapse back into my bed with a bucket of Beechams and a good book.

The project will never be completed if it is left today, I think. So, I tack on 1000 words, wrap up the bugger in a rush, proofread the text, and ironically send it out to publishers to see what kind of hilarious rejection letters await me.

I managed 19,000 words. I failed by 56,000. I am 56,000 times a failure.

So, my advice to anyone who wants to complete a novel in a day, or three days, or any unworkable period, is this – don’t.

You’re not impressing anyone with that swaggering behaviour. Grow up and toil like the rest of us.

On the plus side, the project has taught me to be less of a slow, plodding neurotic arse when writing. Hammer it out first, then worry about the quality later. That’s the credo. Thanks for your time.


  1. I wrote my first novel in six weeks. I sat down to answer a letter from the father of an old friend who had died, suddenly, and this thing came pouring out of me.

    I think some of these exercises have their place, like 500 word Flash, 100 word Drabbles, Haiku, etc., but mostly they are a distraction from the hard work that writing fiction, good fiction, truly is.

    But it's all good in the end. The pencil must stay sharp.

  2. Very true, D. Very true.

    I hope mother is settling in well. :)

  3. Well, at least your account of your valiant attempt made for great reading. That's something. You'll write many novels. I'm looking forward to them.

  4. Yes, but you must never write anything unacroachable.

  5. Derek's been at the vodka and gin cocktails again.

    Oh, and thank you for the encouragement, Chris. Very important.