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5 Simple Steps to 100k Words in a Month

The Journey of a USA Today Bestselling Author

 

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Let’s face it: writing a novel is hard. Of course it is, otherwise everybody would have written one.

But, like everything else worth doing, when you can push past all the self-doubt and find a routine that works for you, the results can be life-changing.

Now, you’ll hear a lot of advice about story telling and writing on the internet. And a lot of it is good. But what we don’t hear about is how authors actually put that advice into action.

It’s one thing to give someone a folder full of “writing tips” and it’s quite another to help them get “butt in chair” and actually enjoy the experience (and, yes, actually finish the darn book).

Because life gets in the way. Most people work full-time jobs. Have families. Responsibilities. Self-esteem issues. Fears, doubts, all that good stuff.

And all that means the hardest part of writing isn’t actually the writing itself. It’s the “sitting down and getting to work” that causes most to stumble.

So, today, I want to share a story with you from USA Today Bestselling author Lee Savino. Lee decided to push through her doubts and fears and – despite being heavily pregnant – was able to write a 100k novel in one month.

She later went on to write 15 books, hit the USA Today Bestseller list, and now earns six figures from her writing.

Lee has some practical tips and mindset advice about how you can do the same (even if you’re busy, stressed, or can’t find enough hours in the day). 

Take it away, Lee:

How I wrote 100k in a month: 5 simple steps

By Lee Savino

The year was 2016. I was a full-time author, having quit my soul-sucking finance job. I had an advance from a publisher and a plan to go indie after building my audience with them.

Plus I was pregnant. Nothing like a hard deadline (the birth of your child) to keep a writer motivated!

My past attempts to write a book were frequent but semi-successful. I’d gotten through 200 pages of a novel for my college thesis. The manuscript won a fiction prize and earned me a degree in Creative Writing, but languished in a drawer without an ending for five years. I queried a few agents, got rejected, and put my publishing dreams on hold…indefinitely.

Giving up on my dreams hurt so badly, I spent the next few years pretending I’d never wanted to be a writer. I puttered about with my life, getting a job, a cat, a house and a husband.

On the eve of my thirtieth birthday, I realized I could either waste the rest of my life ignoring what I really wanted to do, or just go for it. I could be Grandma Moses and dedicate my life to family and wait to pursue my art until I was eighty—better late than never–but the only one stopping me from publishing now was me.

So I decided to go for it. A year later, I had a self-published book out, and a contract with a small publisher to write five more. Pretty exciting, except when I looked at my track record, simple math told me that at my current output I’d produce a book every five to seven years. Unacceptable. But all that was about to change.

These are the five steps I took to write 100,000 words and skyrocket my author career.

 

 

I set a goal.

I knew I wanted to finish my projects before the baby came in May. I also wanted to grow as a writer—and what better way to do that than write more books, solving problems and applying craft knowledge as I went? Big goals fire me up, so I decided I would shoot for writing a million words in a year. 1,000,000 divided by 365 days a year is 2740 words a day. I now had a daily word count goal. A very specific, very scary one. I fully expected to tweak my goal once the baby came, but until then, shooting for almost 3000 words a day was doable and necessary.

I assembled my tools.

Yes, novels can be written with only a dream, a laptop, and a supportive but nervous husband who got a pained look every time he looked at our bank balance…but I was going pro. Marathon runners need running shoes and water bottles and things (I wouldn’t know, I don’t run unless a big dog’s chasing me). I decided if I was going pro, I needed pro tools. There are tons of tools for authors out there, but here’s where I started:

A Journal.

To stay focused, I bought a journal (the Freedom Journal by John Lee Dumas, to be exact) where I would record my goals and my thoughts. Every morning, I wrote out the most important thing on my to-do list for the day: getting 2740 words on the page. This single-minded focus turned me into a lean, mean writing machine.

An outline.

I wrote my first book by “the seat of my pants,” a frustrating endeavor that lead to a hundred pages of stuff to cut, and, to be honest, didn’t result in a good book. I’m still a recovering pantser, but I’ve read a ton of books on outlining and book structure, and I knew that if I wanted to get the words down faster, I’d do better with a plan than without one. I learned to sketch my book project using a basic three act structure.

Scrivener. 

The best writing program ever! To help (or enable?) my pantsing ways, I installed Scrivener and learned enough to be able to write my chapters and rearrange them as needed. I found I could easily set goals and track my word count within the program itself. Pressing “control, C, comma” gives a word count total for your writing ‘session’ and the entire manuscript. Set goals and check your totals at the end of the day (or every five seconds when the work is grueling)

 

 

I fought for it.

You can say you want to get into shape, but every morning when the alarm goes off, you make the decision to get out of bed and put on your running shoes (unless you arrange for that big dog to come chase you out of bed, is that a possibility? Note to self: call SPCA). I wish there was some fairy godmother hack I could give you, where you wave a magic wand and “presto” your manuscript is at 100,000 words and your desk chair is a pumpkin! But there’s not. Professional authors call it “BIC time”- “Butt In the Chair.”  So eloquent, I know. BIC time isn’t glamorous.

The fight began January 1st. Day one went okay-I actually got 3013 words. Day two…I had to dig in my heels but made it to 2755 words total. Day three, four, five… I eked out those last words a minute after midnight. The procrastination monster loomed large.

But I had a champion in my corner: failure.

Remember, I’d already ‘failed’ as a writer a year out of college when I gave up on my publishing dreams. I’d do anything to avoid the agony of giving up on myself again.

Sheer stubbornness drove me through those first days. It was a lot like starting a new diet and going through a detox period.

On Day Six, everything changed

 

 

I learned to write first.

According to Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor of psychology and behavioral economics, most people are at their most productive in the first two hours after we fully wake up. Instead of wasting those precious 120 minutes on email and Facebook, I jumped into my manuscript and harnessed all the brain power towards my most important goal.

Day Six, I woke up, grabbed my laptop, and started to write. I didn’t even leave the bed. This is a bit extreme but hey, my characters don’t need me to brush my teeth.  After that day, I patented the perfect pregnant writing position: lying in bed with my feet elevated.

That Tuesday was the best writing day of my life. 9,249 beautiful words. I’d hit my stride. After this breakthrough, I felt like I was running downhill for the rest of the month.

There are a few things that make writing first a success. First, your rested brain has the willpower and the bandwidth to focus on rigorous cognitive activity. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we can get into the state of “flow”—that beautiful state where we’re completely absorbed in the creative process–much faster. Second, by leaving busy work like checking email and social media for later, we’re much less distracted.

In his book “Deep Work”, Cal Newport reminds us that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the like aren’t altruistic entities. They’re companies who must make a profit. They want the most valuable currencies we have: our attention and our time.

When we log on and see someone’s “liked” our hilarious cat post, we get a hit of dopamine that keeps us coming back for more.

But each time we succumb and log onto Facebook, we get further and further away from being able to do “deep work.”

Every day I had a choice: I could watch silly cat videos and have my bank account dwindle to nothing, or I could put out words on the page. I’m not vilifying email and social media. I use them as powerful tools in my author business, but no cat video was going to stop me reaching my goal.

Every time I wrote down “I write 2740 words today” in my journal, I reminded myself what truly mattered. And every time I logged my words for the day, I got my own manufactured hit of dopamine, the satisfaction of the job well done. Which brings me to step five…

 

 

I tracked my progress.

What gets measured gets managed. In addition to writing my goal down in my journal, I kept track of my daily word count. Outside of setting the goal, this was the most important thing I did to get words. You may have a busy morning and not be able to “write first.” You may suck at journaling. But making yourself tally every day how far you got towards your goal, and it’s only a matter of time before your word count starts to improve. You can download my word tracking sheet here.

The end result.

I wrote 100,000 words that month, which included my best word count day ever, that blessed Tuesday. My publisher was happy, I was happy. Royalties began trickling in and my husband lost his pained look. When my book income passed his paycheck, he stopped teasing me about writing in bed. When it passed five figures a month, he started hinting about quitting his job.

I did NOT write a million words in 2016, but I proved to myself I could write several thousand words a day consistently and have the habits of a full time author. I’m super grateful for the books I’ve written, my faithful fans, and all my success, but I’ll never forget the satisfaction of plowing through those 2740 words a day. As grueling as it was, I did it. I gave birth to my dream.

 

 

And in May 2016, I gave birth to my son.  

About Lee Savino

Since Lee Savino launched her author career, she has written more than fifteen books, become a USA Today Best Selling Author, and now earns a six figure income from her novels. Download her Word Tracker Tool and track your daily word count goals right here

 

 

And now we’d love to hear from you! What advice and tips can you share about hitting your word goals? What’s the #1 thing that “gets in the way”? Leave a comment below:

41 Comments
  1. Chris Brooks says:

    Fabulous post! And I agree with everything in it; especially the ‘being productive when you just wake up’ part.
    The best I ever managed as 10,000 words in a day – I dream of making that regular.
    I’d love to read a follow-up to this on how the editing etc fitted into the longed-for 1,000,000 word per year schedule.

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Ooooh, I’d LOVE to be able to hit 10k in one day! That’s my new goal (except I’m pregnant again–but maybe that’s the motivate I need!) lol

      -Lee Savino

    2. Lee Savino says:

      Because I used an outline, and, honestly, was better at writing, the editing didn’t take as long. I use beta readers and then get a few copy edit passes and a proof read. I’ll think through my process and see if there’s anything I can add.

      I know some people scoff at big word count goals, but writing a lot has made me a better writer. Not just better with words and pretty prose; better with story structure, character development, etc. I supplement with reading tons of books on craft…and reading tons of books, period. I got a degree in creative writing but I’d recommend a new author just read 100 books in their chosen genre/subgenre, and then put in their BIC time! 😀

  2. Angeline says:

    I am a full-time mum to two young boys (5 and almost 2). My toddler is particularly demanding (as all toddlers are), but he does seem to be completely allergic to sleep. I used to enjoy throwing my hands in the air and calling it impossible. Whenever I saw posts like this, I’d scoff and decide, without even reading it, that they had school-aged children, or no children, or some other situation that was a world away from mine. Last year, something clicked with me, and I stopped making excuses. Now, my alarm (a silent one so as not to wake anyone else) goes off at 5am, and I get up and write like the wind (with the help of coffee, of course). Some days I get an hour of peace and quiet and hammer out 2000 words. Other days (like today), I get a mere five minutes before the boys decide to wake up. Now that’s a good motivator; a timebomb made of two young, noisy boys!

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      Love it, Angeline! Our kids (5, 3, and 0) refuse to sleep too. At some point you just have to find a workaround 😀

    2. Lee Savino says:

      OMG, Angeline, you are in inspiration!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m pregnant again and wondering how I’m going to juggle two kids under 2. My friend with FIVE kids does the same thing as you–a 5 am wake up time plus full pot of coffee. She also home schools a few of hers. For every excuse, there’s always someone with a worse situation kicking butt. I love that your boys are your motivation rather than your excuse. <3

  3. S. Cinders says:

    Lee is an inspiration. I love her willingness to share all that she has learned both the good and the bad!

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Thanks S. Cinders! <3 <3 <3

      -Lee Savino

  4. Cheynne Edmonston says:

    Great post. Nice work Lee; you’re an inspiration. I use Story Engines to outline now and I love it. I find that putting pen to paper for 15 mins before I hit the keyboard helps too – my aim is making sure I know where the scene is gonna go before I type it up. I’m up at 5am most days tiptoeing out the door so as not to wake my six year old girl and wife. I hit the coffee shop in London two hours before I start work and I use that time on my novels. Not forgetting the 40 mins train journey in. You can’t sit on your arse and wait for the Muse to arrive; she’s already waiting for you to wake her up! I used to dread getting up that early when I knew I didn’t have to but now I love that time and I guard it.
    Thanks for the post: I’m nowhere near where you are but every day I dream of making enough to leave the day job. Warm wishes.

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Thanks, Cheyenne! I definitely am getting more into outlining. Haven’t mastered Story Engines yet–sometimes it takes a while for things to sink in.

      Sounds like you are well on your way to your author dream by prioritizing writing time and protecting it. I think when we transition from thinking “I’ll just wait for inspiration to strike” to “I’ll go after it with a club” (thank you, Jack London, for the line), we turn our hobbies into a career. 😀

  5. Maria Matthews says:

    A great post and full of practical advice. I managed the early morning stints for two books but rejection slips and health problems got in the way still I continue to write and dream about going back to my old routine .

    1. Lee Savino says:

      I hope your health is on the mend, Mary! Life changes definitely change things up. I actually don’t get up early to write–a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night makes that hard. My day might start at 10 am, but I try to get my words in first before all the clutter of email and marketing etc hits. In theory. In practice, life is messy and I’m not a machine–but a few months of focus definitely launched my writing career, and allows me to now goof off a lot more. 🙂 I hope you can hit your stride again soon!

  6. Sonni Quick says:

    I am definitely not pregnant again but I’m splitting my time between Pennsylvania and the the Florida Keys to help my divorced son who has custody of two active children 9 and 10. Now I can’t pick and choose my time to write or give myself excuses. Organization is the only way I’ll finish my book and the music soundtrack and videos that go with it. This article was very encouraging.

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Sonni, I love this! Working around life is just how we artists get ‘er done. I didn’t mention music or playlists in my article, but I use them nonstop. Each book gets a playlist and I’ll save listening to that music until I’m putting in BIC time. 🙂 I also use brain.fm a lot.
      Thanks for commenting!

  7. Kallista Dane says:

    Lee is a powerhouse! I’m in awe of what she manages to accomplish. She’s juggling THREE Amazon bestselling series right now and still has time to share ideas and knowledge with her fellow authors. You go, girl!

    1. Lee Savino says:

      <3 <3 <3 Thanks, Kallista! 😀

  8. Trina M. Bailey says:

    I really enjoyed your post and love the idea of setting a big, fat, hairy goal as a challenge. I think I’ll do just that. I’ll also try writing before hitting up social media.

    How long did it take you to become proficient with Scrivener? It just wasn’t intuitive for me and yet I see so many writers swear by it.

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Trina, I am nowhere near proficient with Scrivener! I know how to open it, start a fiction document, and slot my scenes into the draft. Oh, and “control, c, comma” gives me an overall word count. Every so often I do “file, compile” and export to word, which i then email to myself as a back up. Scrivener-philes wince at my ignorance, but it doesn’t matter. I know enough to use the tool as it suits me. If Scrivener isn’t intuitive you might take a short class on it–or just use a different tool. The goal is a finished book, not Scrivener mastery. LOL
      Good luck!
      -Lee

  9. Lori L. Robinett says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your tips, and for showing us that it can be done. I work full-time, and have lupus. I decided 2018 will be MY YEAR. I’ve been making a point to sit down and write 1K words a day, every single day. I’m amazed at how much easier the words are getting very day. Writing is like a muscle – you work it and it gets stronger and better! (BTW – Scrivener user here! That little tracking dialogue box is my dopamine!)

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Love it, Lori!!! Sounds like 2018 IS your year!! 😀 And we’re all dopamine addicts…and we can channel our biology to support our goals. Way to hack your brain!

  10. Amy Waeschle says:

    Before I go to bed at night, I quit my email program so that in the morning, there’s zero temptation to engage in emails or social media (I don’t have alerts for my social media turned on…I can’t stand that even when I’m not writing). In the morning, I get up at 5am and write until my kids are up at 6:30. I find that I don’t quite get to 2,000 words a day, which is my goal, but I get great quality, which means less rewriting. I also find that because I’ve started my day with my fiction project, and creating, that the ideas for next scenes or how to enhance current scenes percolate through my subconscious during the rest of my day and makes me more predictive when I do get back to writing, usually in the afternoon. I haven’t tried Scrivner yet but a lot of people are raving, so thank you for that, I will give it a try!

    1. Brida Anderson says:

      Amy, I’m glad you mention the aspect of the story working in the back of your head if you’ve started writing early in the morning.
      I also had to switch to being an early morning writer because of my two sons. 🙂
      I was surprised when I noticed that the scene I began in the morning worked in my mind and I found myself scribbling notes and dialogue additions onto any paper I could find in the children’s room. 😉 Now I make a point to write 2 scenes every morning (depending on length): the second half of yesterday’s scene, and the first half of the next scene. Then I jot down everything that comes to my mind for those scenes while I play with my boys or make them dinner. I enter those additions/revisions in the evening.

  11. Wendy says:

    Amazing. I can crank out a 2-3k word story in a few hours, but it seems the more I have invested in a single subject, the harder it is to progress with it. I’ve got a novel that petered out after three chapters, and a NF that I fleshed out the better part of five chapters within a month, only to struggle to polish them off and get the other (meatiest) chapters even started. Even though I know what I want where. Doesn’t help that I’m doing it simultaneously with editing a novel written by–let’s say–a “non-writer.” I tried to do 50k of it for NaNoWriMo,and only logged a little over 30k (though I did have the excuse of my father dying, which threw the first days of November for a loop.)

  12. Tracy Krauss says:

    Simple and brilliant! Writing FIRST makes so much sense as does tracking your word count.

  13. Robb Doucette says:

    This is a great article. Your first person “how I did it” description makes this process real. One thing that is amazing is that there isn’t anything amazing. No magic book, process, course, or tool. Just get up, do the work, measure the work and do it again tomorrow. I’m looking for a similar article on revising. Thank you very much.

  14. J.B. Reynolds says:

    An inspiring post, thank you, Lee. I’m two and a half scenes away from completing the first draft of my first novel, and just had my most productive month of writing since beginning it last May. The big difference was that I wrote most days (23 out of the 31 days in January, a month which included two family camping trips, sleeping in a tent, sans laptop). I’ve been tracking my writing progress since I started and had an eye opening moment early in December when I sat down and analysed my tracking spreadsheet and realised my progress was way worse (and I mean way worse) than what I perceived it to be. So I refocused and got things back on track. I wrote 18,000 words in December and 21,000 words in January. Now that I know this is a realistic and attainable number for me to hit, my goal is to match that consistently, month-on-month through the year, and hopefully even improve. I’m not the fastest writer, but even a little bit adds up pretty quick when you are doing it every day. There is enormous value in tracking your daily word count. If I hadn’t, I never would have realised just how far off-track I had gotten.

  15. Katrina Jack says:

    Loved this article. Full of positive and helpful advice.

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Thanks, Katrina! <3

  16. Alexia Leachman says:

    Love this! I wrote my first book just after my baby was born: I started it when she was 5 weeks old. And I totally nailed the writing-in-bed-while-breastfeeding writing position. I think pregnancy and birth is a hugely creative time for women (obvs) which can translate brilliantly to writing. When baby was awake and I had to put my laptop down I was able to ponder my writing, then the minute she fell asleepp I was back on it. I wrote 80k words in 2 months! Scrivener was my best friend too. This is great post to read and very motivating! thanks for sharing.

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Alexia, I totally had to bite my tongue in the article–I wanted to talk about pregnancy hormones and the nesting instinct that I think helped me ‘git ‘er done’, but I didn’t want to alienate all the readers who aren’t ever going to get pregnant. LOL But I totally had creative bursts even after bebe was born–I wrote a book I wasn’t even planning on writing, it just burst out of me! Pregnant and new mommas definitely have a lot, er, gestating. ;D

  17. Daina says:

    I use https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.thinkerers.writeometer

    It can track word count on multiple projects, has a 25 minute timer, it calculates your word/hour rate for each writing session, calculates words per day you need to complete to reach your deadline, or your deadline based on your words per day, has a reward system where you can give yourself treats, it has writing reminders… It’s a very useful little tool. I track all of my writing with it.

  18. GARY ROSS-JORDAN says:

    Hi Lee,
    Thanks for the post, it has some rather good tips. The early morning thing resonatated with me. I used to be fighting to grab writing time during the day and it was very hit and miss. I have four kids, 11,9,6 and 21 months. My wife is a full time Mum and has a side business of her own. I’m a Coastguard and a writer. So life is busy.
    This year I decided to write first before everyone got up. So I now waken at 0530 and get “writing” at 0600. I “write” for an hour but do it by dictaphone. I’ve found 2 things. I am more awake and productive. I now manage at least 3000 words per hour by dictaphone better than my previous best of 1500 when typing.

    My bigger issue is marketing as I have written and put out 3 novels. This year I’m working in improving that side and finding the time and the automated side to it.

    Thanks again for an inspiring and informative post.
    Gary Ross-Jordan

  19. Torrance Sené says:

    Inspiring post! I’m curious, however, how you factor in plotting/brainstorming time around hitting 2740 words a day?

  20. John Lee Dumas says:

    Thanks for the shout out re: The Freedom Journal 🙂
    So glad it helped!!

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Thanks for creating the journal! I really, really love it.

    2. Nick Stephenson says:

      JLD so many people have referenced it 😀

  21. Lauren K. McKellar says:

    Hi Lee,
    It’s like I’m reading my life story! Well, without the six-figure income part. I also am pregnant and about to join the two under two club (eek!) and earlier this year, I decided to enjoy my last six months of sleeping through the night by setting my alarm for 5am and working until my 14-month-old wakes.
    I have been AMAZED at the productivity and the quality of words. Something about writing before the world wakes up … it’s magical. I love it!
    Congrats on finding your rhythm, your success and of course, congratulations on Bub #2.
    Lauren

    1. Lee Savino says:

      Awesome, Lauren! I might have to bite the bullet and start getting up early. Insomnia is my biggest pregnancy symptom and between that and baby sleep schedules, I just needed extra sleep hours whenever I could get them. That said, I am naturally an early riser and the idea of getting my work done before the world wakes up is pretty tempting… so maybe I’ll try it until #2 comes and blows everything all to hell (as they do ) 🙂 Thanks for commenting! <3

  22. Rob Radcliffe says:

    Butt in chair has always been my biggest problem. I’ll go around dusting all the lightbulbs in the house because they NEED to be done before getting the writing done. What an inspiration, truly!
    100k in a month = 3333 words a day, which once in the zone fly by.
    Downloaded the word tracker on Saturday morning and gave myself a 3000 wpd target.
    Saturday: 2984
    Sunday: 2638
    Yes I’ve not yet hit my target but just having a target has got my butt in that chair.
    Baby steps, small manageable goal.
    This has really put the wind in my sail.
    Thank you so much

  23. IreAnneChambers says:

    Love it! “recovering panster” I’d have to say I’m there too 🙂 getting into my groove.
    These are great ways to BICHOK! (“Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard”). I just wrote a synopsis for a book proposal. First time I’ve tried writing the synopsis first. I have to say, the first chapter flew out in one day. This post is very motivating. Thank you for sharing it 🙂

  24. Bronwyn says:

    Thanks, Lee (and Nic) for such an encouraging article:-) Congratulations on pressing in and winning! When you mentioned, “I learned to sketch my book project using a basic three act structure.”, what does a three act structure’s skeleton look like? (Sorry if this was already asked and answered!)

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