The Thirteen Weeks Novel Writing Program

Can you write a good novel in thirteen weeks?  I don’t know. I can. The shortest time I’ve taken to write a novel was three days, which so far happens to be my best-selling novel. (Alas, work for hire.)  And I’ve written a novel in five years.  That novel remains to this date – deservedly and mercifully – unpublished.  While the idea isn’t bad, it will take some serious rewriting to make it readable, the sort of rewriting that turns it into a trilogy and gives it new characters.


If you go on the evidence of the market, you’d do best to write a novel in a shorter time than thirteen weeks.

My average novel takes a little over a month, but I don’t count research and outlining and run up at the thing (which means finding the right voice and all that).

So thirteen weeks is probably about right, particularly since I’ll be doing my usual thing and writing other things in the evening, as well as editing a couple of other novels.

While it is tempting for the amateur to think that the quality of a novel is directly proportional to how long you take to write it, as far as I can tell there is no correlation.  At least in terms of readability and salability — which is my definition of quality for this project — there were authors like Rex Stout, who had a long-lasting career and who wrote his novels in an average of a week per.  There are also authors like J. K. Rowling, who is reported to have taken three years to write Harry Potter.  There is of course Tolkien, who took more than a decade to produce his works.  There simply is no correlation between quality and time.

You write a novel in as long as it takes to get the novel written.  And that’s all there is to it.  Even now, even in my case, some novels will appear to me fully-formed and with some I have to struggle for every word.

So I’m not going to say this novel will absolutely be finished in thirteen weeks.  It might be in more, it might be in less.  However, what I propose to do is set out a plan for writing a novel in thirteen weeks – and then try to accomplish it.  You are welcome to struggle along with me, if you wish.


Of course, writing suffers from the same problem as any other avocation in which you only get paid – if at all – after you finish the work.  You wander around the house, thinking up more interesting things to do, or if you hit a snag, you have the impulse of throwing the whole thing over and either going off to rotate the cat, or starting another novel deciding that the problem must be in the material.

The most common lament other than “I always wanted to write a novel, but never had the time” is: “I never finish them.  I just start them.”

I have found over the course of my career that the best way to overcome this is to be involved in either a group effort or one with well delineated schedules.

That is what I propose to do here.  I shall set dates for having finished each phase of the novel: planning, sketching, outlining, and then milestones in writing.

I advise you to read Techniques Of The Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain.

I also advise you to read enough books in the genre you wish to write to know sort of what you’re aiming for, and what is selling (at least to editors) in that field.  Do not be afraid it will taint your “true voice.”  It won’t.  What it will do is give you an idea of what has been done, so you’re not set to reinvent the wheel. A book that refers specifically to your field — “How to write science fiction” or “How to write mystery” — might come in handy, so long as you don’t let it persuade you that the book you wish to write is totally un-viable, because the books out there are biased towards a certain type of market which is now only a part of the real market.


Anyway, this project will allow you to compare yourself to a working writer, and chug along with me on the way to the finish line.

Want to see if you can do it?

Welcome to “Write a Novel In Thirteen Weeks,” starting March 12 2013.

Come on in, the writing will (at least strive to) be fine!

3 Questions To Ask Before You Write Your Novel In 13 Weeks


Image courtesy Shutterstock / Zurijeta


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