21 March 2018

My Top Tips for Completing a Novel #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Let's start by assuming you have your great original idea, amazing locations and cast of compelling characters - how do you now turn all that into a wonderful manuscript?  There answer is different for everyone, as some like to wing it, others obsessively plan every minute detail. 

There is no shortage of well-intended advice, from Stephen King's 'shut yourself away from the world' to my own favourite,'write just one a page a day and that's a book in a year.'

I replaced the word 'writing' with 'completing' in the title of this post, as we all have so many distractions, it takes self-discipline to write a full length novel. I've written at least one novel each year for the past nine years, (three of which have become international best-sellers) so I'm happy to share what works for me.

1. Put together a simple outline in Excel for 25 chapters of 4000 words, with columns for progress and notes. This should enable to you arrive at a first draft of 100,000 words for editing. The actual chapter lengths can be whatever you suits your writing style (mine range up to 4500 but never less than 3000, although I read a book recently with some chapters of a single page.)

2. Set yourself an achievable word count target to reach every day.  As I write historical fiction, there is a lot of fact-checking and research, so my minimum target is 500 words a day. (Sometimes I've passed 500 before breakfast and others I might do more than 3,000 - but by sticking to my minimum I know I can have my first draft in 200 days.)

3. Keep a simple tally of how many words you actually write each day. I use another page of the same Excel file, as I find it motivating to see I'm ahead of target.

3. Keep going forward and avoid doing too much revision as you write. There's plenty of time for that later. (I picked this up from doing 50,000 words in 30 days for NaNoWriMo.)

4. Make sure you have a reliable back-up system and use it. Ever since I lost a few chapters when a laptop crashed, I've been a bit 'belt and braces' with a solid state drive for my daily backup and weekly versions to the cloud. (Never overwrite old backups, as you never know when you might want to restore something.)

5. This approach suits the way I write, but its a good idea to develop your own writing routine based on what works best for you - and make sure those around you understand and respect it. 

Happy writing!

Tony Riches

Do you have some great writing tips you would like to share?
Please feel free to comment

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.


  1. This is a process I'm still working on, so it's always great to get tips from someone who's done it more than once. Thank you!

  2. These are great tips. I am constantly reminding myself not to edit as I draft, and I hope the tip for a reliable backup wasn't inspired by a personal experience. :(
    Thanks for sharing

  3. Good advice, Tony. It's seems my process for editing is better defined than my process for writing. I do try to set a better pace now than my first novel.

  4. Thanks for the tips. I do something similar when I'm working on a project. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  5. Avoid doing rewriting while you are working on first draft. That's what I have a problem with. These are great tips, Tony. Thanks for sharing.

  6. One novel each year for the past nine years? Wow! That's amazing.

    Yes, yes, yes to your tips about achievable word count goals and tallies for each day. I do these and suggest it to every writer. Often, writers give themselves such big goals. Manageable goals are key. And a big YES to having back-ups. Gosh. I've lost whole books before. After that, I became very diligent and sneaky with how I back-up my work.

    Great post!

  7. What wonderful advice. I'm always eager to learn more about your secrets. I'll schedule this for Facebook for early April Thanks for sharing of your journey. :)

  8. Great reminder about backups. it's so easy to forget this part. If I write while I'm traveling, I email my book to my dad. Then I know it's somewhere safe if all my systems crash. And I love the title change. It's so much about completing as it is writing.

  9. Very sound system. I think you're right to set a very achievable minimum. Often I find that achieving my daily minimum serves as a kind of booster. Knowing that "I'm safe", I stop worrying, and things really start to move.

  10. Great post, Tony. I like that you use two sheets in the same spreadsheet. I currently have one spreadsheet for each of my novels and a separate to track my progress per day. I find it a bit ungainly. I had them separate because I have written a first draft a year, but haven't completed a revision yet so I have multiple WIPs, but it would be easy enough to move the sheet and combine them into one. Do you create a sheet for revisions? Thanks!

    1. Yes - I find it easiest to have one Excel file for each book, with multiple sheets, including my book launch events


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