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The Great Secret to Writing a Novel

By Weston Ochse

I could go on and on about this topic. I considered giving examples of successful authors from Socrates to Stephen King. Maybe revealing secret methods each author uses. I thought of talking about my own writing, showing how my great secret has worked for me. For instance, in the last five years I’ve written six novels. By the end of 2007, I will have written nine novels if my schedule goes as planned. I thought of polling fellow authors to gain a consensus. I thought of doing a lot of things, but in the end, I decided to let the words speak for themselves.

So here it is.

Drum roll please.

And as the fanfare dies down, and the confetti is brushed from the hair, you lean forward to read the following words…

–Write five pages a day every day.–

That’s it.

That’s the great secret to novel writing.

Five pages a day isn’t daunting. It’s very doable. Write two in the morning and three in the afternoon, or vice versa. Write them all at once. Write one page every hour. That’s only 250 words.

Five pages a day equals a 90,000 word novel in three months.

Five pages a day equals three novels a year with time for editing and a vacation to Bermuda.

Too often when we sit and stare at the screen and imagine the novel, the whole process seems daunting. 400 manuscript pages. 90,000 words. 509,764 characters if you include spaces. 415,558 if you don’t. 3,031 paragraphs. 7,963 lines. Talk about daunting. With numbers like that why would a writer even try to write a novel? I’d rather take up underwater basket weaving or Zero-G origami.

But remember my great secret to writing a novel?

Five pages a day.

Writing five pages a day is so easy that anyone could do it.

It’s so easy even a caveman could do it.

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  1. A.P. Fuchs
    September 19th, 2006 at 01:48 | #1

    How’d you get my picture in that link, Weston?

    Great article. So very true. Though I don’t do the page count method, I do do the word count method (that is 1500-2000 words a day, six days a week). I agree. The secret to writing a great novel is just to write the stupid thing!!!

  2. David Niall Wilson
    September 19th, 2006 at 06:53 | #2

    And the secret to why so many don’t get written is that we don’t look at that day-by-day progress, but at the entire, overwhelming mass of the thing. We sit thinking we have to write a full chapter a sitting, and we sweat bullets worrying over minimal output (or I do).

    The simple fact is, I learned during National Novel Writing Month, two years running, that I can very easily write a novel in a single month if I sit down, organize it, write an outline, and apply fingers to keyboard daily.

    Of course, not everyone is inspired to write two novels in a year. Some folks work much longer over pages, or paragraphs (and I’ll admit I have no idea how to do that — I can write something, revise it…give it a few days and then go over it again, but I can’t sit and agonize over a page. To each his own muse…mine’s an impatient cuss)


    And I think you should all go read my journal because my word verification is a “sign”…




  3. John B. Rosenman
    September 19th, 2006 at 09:50 | #3

    Nice article, Weston. Cuts to the crux of the matter. Now can you guarantee that those five pages or 1300 or so words will be any good? ;)

    Reminds me of what Mike Resnick said. He doesn’t have writers block, just applies the seat of his pants to the chair and writes.

  4. Weston
    September 19th, 2006 at 10:10 | #4

    Alas, whether or not it’s good or not is another matter entirely. Everything we write shouldn’t see print as many of you will attest, but by writing and learning and understanding the process, we tend to get better…hence our fiction becomes more readable.

    And A.P. Are those metric words or standard?

  5. Sully
    September 19th, 2006 at 10:21 | #5

    I am in serious arrears.

    – Sully (Thomas Sullivan)

  6. Frank Wydra
    September 19th, 2006 at 10:25 | #6

    Good piece, Weston. And true. It’s the discipline of the thing that makes it work. I just finished a novel using exactly that method. My goal was a minimum of four pages a day, seven days a week. Some days the juice flowed and the count would swell to ten pages. Other times it was a chore wringing those four pages out of the keyboard.

    I’m a little scattered in the head, so when I’m writing a novel I have to keep it all together, else parts of it will drift off into the ether. So writing every day with a page count target has been my salvation.

    But the real question is, how do you get the computer to count characters with and without spaces? Or do you do the math on the side?


  7. John Skipp
    September 19th, 2006 at 14:15 | #7

    Dear Mr. Ochse –

    As a caveman, myself, I take umbrage at your suggestion that “even a caveman can do it”.

    I think what you meant to say was:

    “ESPECIALLY a caveman — being genetically superior to all future generations, IN EVERY RESPECT — can write 5 pages a day. And they’ll be GREAT pages! Because he is, after all, a caveman.”

    Thanks for the clarification.

    John Skipp
    Your Geicko Representative

    P.S. — With regard to your actual point:

    EXACTLY! Although here’s how I do it. I spend the first 1-2 hours of every day revising the last 2-3 pages from the previous day.

    Helps me warm up, for one thing. For another, I’m the kind of guy who CAN’T STAND BUILDING ON SHAKY GROUND. So if the last stuff isn’t solid enough to jump up and down on, I have to nail it down until I can.

    I also throw out a lot of pages.

    So 5 pages a day doesn’t always mean that I’m 5 pages closer to meeting my deadline. It just means the book is 5 pages deeper into becoming itself.

    You know what I really love, sometimes? Writing 35 half-ass pages, in order to throw them away and write the 2 GOOD PAGES I ACTUALLY NEED.

    Yer pal,

  8. Sephera
    September 19th, 2006 at 17:08 | #8

    Hey, Wes…you’re giving away our prolific secrets!!! hehe

    And it’s true, as John said, sometimes you throw away a whole week’s pages, and start again. But nothing in writing is ever wasted, as far as I’m concerned, even if you never use ANY of the pages.

    It all is honing your skill and senses…

    and yes,

    ass in chair is always the best advice.

  9. Phoenix
    September 19th, 2006 at 17:34 | #9

    ass in chair, 5 pages a day. Excellent, now that I have the secret I will up my page count from two pages a day to five.

    Thanks ^.^

    Oh, and I learned much from NaNo as well. It’s a great contest, even if the first draft of my story was crap. The second wasn’t half bad.


  10. Janet Berliner
    September 19th, 2006 at 17:44 | #10

    Okay, so that’s The Great Secret to Writing a Novel. Now I need The Secret to Writing a Great Novel and I’ll be all set.


  11. Weston
    September 19th, 2006 at 20:27 | #11

    In reverse order:

    -Janet. You tell us. You won the Stoker in 1998 for best novel. ;)

    -Phoenix. Ass in chair. You summed up my whole essay in three words. Nice!

    -Seph. I know, but they promised me riches beyond all ken if I did.

    -Mr. Caveman. See my legal representative. His name is Joe Nassisse.

    -Skipp. Too damn funny, bro.

    -Frank. When I check the word count under the tools function of ms word it tells me. Also on properties under the file function. :0

    -Sully. Then ass in chair!

  12. S William
    September 20th, 2006 at 01:26 | #12

    This post made my day. I write 1,000 to 1,200 words an hour. I feel luke Superman.

  13. Sully
    September 20th, 2006 at 03:35 | #13

    Reminded of a New Yorker cartoon: self-satisfied author sitting back from his typewriter and we get his thoughts — “Only one word today…but what a word!”

    – Sully (Thomas Sullivan)

  14. Phoenix
    September 20th, 2006 at 09:34 | #14

    “Reminded of a New Yorker cartoon: self-satisfied author sitting back from his typewriter and we get his thoughts — “Only one word today…but what a word!””

    I’ve got a cartoon of a couple of kids drawing on a sidewalk and the caption says “I try and write a little bit every day.” It’s amusing.


  15. Elizabeth Massie
    September 20th, 2006 at 09:34 | #15

    I love simple advice. This is good stuff.

    As to the caveman comment, didn’t you know we were still around? Next time, do a little research. Now, where’s my roast duck with the mango salsa?


  16. Kat
    September 20th, 2006 at 13:24 | #16

    I think it’s funny that you mentioned Stephen King, because his “On Writing” is the whole reason I started writing again. I was obsessed with trying to find a plot outline, and I was completely blocked, and convinced that I had no sense of plot. Then I read one chapter that said, just start with one sentence and then when you’re done with that one, put down another sentence. And it was amazingly simple how things just sort of came after that. I think writers have a tendency to make things too complicated.

  17. A.P. Fuchs
    September 21st, 2006 at 05:12 | #17

    >And A.P. Are those metric words >or standard?

    However MSWord counts them when you select the Word Count option under the Tools menu. I honestly don’t know.

    Regarding whether those 1300 or 5 pages are any good, as mentioned above, for myself I don’t know until I start doing my second and third drafts. I just write the book until it’s done then do all the correcting later. I can’t sit there and edit as I go along. I found that if I edited as I went along, it slowed the creative juices for me as when I write, it’s like watching a movie but in, say, hour doses at one hour per day. But to each their own in the creative process.

  18. Kimber An
    September 23rd, 2006 at 08:44 | #18

    Gee, I just sit down and write whenever I can, certainly when I first wake up in the morning. I have a very full life too. I don’t keep track of how much I write a day. I do work out the story in my head as I go about my very busy day though and keep a notebook handy to jot things down in. The novel I’m currantly shopping around and receiving positive responses to took me all of two months (75,000 words.) Keeping me from writing, now, that would be hard!

  19. alistair
    February 7th, 2007 at 18:04 | #19

    ‘On writing’ is excellent. Whatever you think of Stephen King’s work, this is a hell of a book. Absolutely sound advice from a man who knows what he’s talking about – and it’s encouraging.

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