How I Managed to Write a Novel Alongside a Full-Time Job

I realised a major life goal by finishing my 80,000-word manuscript in 2020

If you asked my ten-year-old self what she wanted to be when she was older, she would’ve answered without hesitation: “I want to be an author.” Reader, let me tell you, my younger self would be proud because as of the 3 October 2020, I finished my 80,000-word manuscript.

This is hopefully the first of many novels I’ll write in my life, but having finished my first project of that scale is an indescribable feeling. Of course, it’s not really finished — the manuscript is currently resting, and after a few weeks away from it I’ll revise it before I start querying agents. But it has a beginning, a middle and an end, hence I use the word ‘finished’.

Lots of people want to write books, but few people actually do. What’s the secret to finishing your masterpiece? I don’t profess to know it all, but here are a few things that helped me.

I spent time planning the project

I’ve got several ideas for novels, but few that I’ve actually taken the time to sit down and map out properly in terms of what happens chapter-by-chapter. I always used to read writing manuals by established authors that told me to plan, plan, plan, but for some reason I thought I was too much of a prodigy to follow their guidance. Surprise, surprise, I hit a wall. Every damn time. I’ve got another book that I’ve written 13,000 words of, that I don’t know where it’s going next. Why? Because I didn’t plan it properly. I knew the overall storyline, but I had no idea what happened chapter to chapter.

But this project was different. Before I even started writing, I knew the birthdays of each of my characters. I knew exactly what motivated them, how they would act in a certain situation, and crucially why they behave a certain way. I didn’t realise it before, but these are the things that drive your plot forward, which is why it’s important to take the time to establish credible motivations for your characters.

I had the planning documents sat on Google Drive waiting for the right time to start writing for a few months. So why was 2020 my year? Well, it’s got something to do with an abundance of time spent inside.

Lockdown: an introvert’s dream

2020 has been a challenging year, but compared to most people my situation throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been very fortunate. I’ve had a stable source of income throughout, and a job I could easily do from home (I work in Marketing). As an introverted person, I’ve got an abundance of hobbies I can do inside; I love reading, cooking, drawing, and of course, writing has always been a go to. So I found it easy to fill all the extra time we had inside due to the pandemic. My extroverted boyfriend who loves sport? Not so much.How I Launched a Magazine Alongside a Full-Time Job
The website I founded six years ago has finally made the leap to print during lockdownmedium.com

In the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown, I coordinated the first print magazine edition of my website ‘The Indiependent’. We raised money for the British Lung Foundation while also providing lots of early career stage journalists with their first ever print byline — that felt pretty damn special. But, almost as soon as the project went to print I found myself thinking: “What do I do now?”

I spent a few months reading, and even picked up my sketchbook for the first time in a while, but I was still restless. I needed something challenging to do.Album Review: folklore // Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift’s new album folklore is about the invisible strings that that tie us together and the stories that make us…medium.com

I wrote a few articles, but I wanted something bigger, meatier to sink my teeth into. And so, I started writing my book in the evenings after work, and on weekends. But I was working in Google Docs, and jumping between character profiles, and my chapter plot summary notes. It was a bit disorganised, and sometimes I spent so long re-reading what I’d written the day before to get back into it that I barely wrote anything in each session. But then something magic happened.

I learned about Scrivener

This is not a paid product placement, just to be clear. Scrivener is simply so brilliant, it sells itself. I follow a journalist who has been busy writing her own book and she tweeted a screenshot of the software, which allows you to set yourself session word targets, as well as an overall target for your manuscript. I enquired what the software was, she replied, and I downloaded the free trial.

The best thing about the trial is that it only counts the day where you open the software to write on your book, which is pretty neat if you’re trying to fit in writing as of when you have 30 minutes to yourself and don’t have the luxury of being able to write every day. It’s also only $47, so when you decide you can’t do without it in your life, it doesn’t break the bank.

It’s hard to describe, but the way the software is laid out makes it incredibly easy to jump between planning documents, character or place sheets, research and best of all none of that stuff gets included in the overall word count. You can also annotate your project with ease, with different coloured markers for different stages of your revision process. Once you’re done, you can easily compile it into a manuscript which meets industry requirements within a couple of clicks, too.

The software made the process of sitting down to write a lot more straight-forward. But how did I get past the inevitable slump?

I used social media for accountability

If you haven’t already sussed it out yet, I’m one of those people who always has a project on the go. This means that I am constantly juggling a lot of balls at any one time, and sometimes, balls fall by the wayside after something new and shiny catches my attention. I start and don’t finish a lot of projects, which is why actually seeing my novel through to the end feels like such a major achievement. But one way I’ve found to make myself more accountable is by using social media to document the progress of my projects.

Fairly early on, I posted a photo of my word count on Twitter which showed that I was in the process of writing a novel. A couple of days later, I shared the updated word count with a comment about my progress. A few days later, another photo, with a few words about my rate of progress. People favourited and engaged with the post, asking what software I was using (“It’s this great thing called Scrivener, I’m honestly not getting paid to write about it — I swear!”). Others spurred me on, with words of encouragement. The more words I wrote, the more invested my followers seemed to be, applauding me when I passed the 50% mark, and then later, the 75% mark. My final tweet where I shared that I had finished the manuscript had a whopping 200+ likes, and 10 comments.https://bettykirkers.wordpress.com/media/3f2a30002c03d9caa2cea16f89340e9e

Posting about your writing journey on social media isn’t going to get the words on the page any faster — in fact, you might find yourself mindlessly scrolling on Twitter instead of typing. But having that community of people to support you will help you on the days that you don’t really feel like writing. You’ll be writing not just for yourself, but for them too.

Here are just a few of the things that helped me finish my novel this year. I hope you find it useful — if you have any other tips or tricks for finishing your damn manuscript, let me know in the comments below!

This article was originally published on Medium.com

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