This is usually where people come looking to try and find out ‘The Secret’. And no, I don’t mean the positive thinking, feeling good type of secret (although that does help). I mean the secret to writing a novel.

So, how do you write a book?!

… you, um, write a book.

Very helpful I know, but it’s the truth. All you do is sit down and write it (or stand up and write it I guess, whatever floats your boat).

It really isn’t that ground breaking. I’m sorry.

But I may be able to give you a few tips.

First is to figure out how you like to write. While I do a lot of my planning with pen and paper, I definitely prefer to write my actual story on my computer. It tends to be a lot tidier, I can change things quickly as I go, and I don’t have to then type up the entire thing at the end. I also have a reasonably fast typing speed so I don’t have to slow my thought process down while I get the words down. If you like some of the perks of working on a computer but your typing slows you down, may I suggest finding a short touch-typing course to do? It’s one of those skills that really is invaluable, especially as a writer.

My second tip is all about the actual sitting down to write. Try and figure out when you are at your best. For how long? What sort of motivations do you need? This can take a fair bit of trial and error.

At first I was just writing as and when it suited me (and my muse). I was still in classes at the time so had to fit my writing around them. I would go for a couple of weeks where I’d write furiously every spare moment in the day. Then I would go several weeks without writing a word. In hindsight, perhaps I should have had a set time everyday in which to write. Then again, I am excellent at making excuses and probably wouldn’t have stuck to it. I need motivation.

When I really started to be able to bash at my word count was during study break, after my exams were done. I had two whole weeks with absolutely no constraints on my time. To me, this sounded like heaven. So, I sat down at 9am on my first day and vigorously started writing, completely expecting to be able to sit for the next eight to ten hours pouring my mind and soul onto the screen. I started to fidget around 10am. 10:15 I had to get up for a cup of tea. 10:25 I had to get up for a biscuit to go with the cup of tea. 10:45 back to writing. 11:15 I needed some snacks. Well, you get the picture. It turns out I am not someone who can just sit down for an indefinite amount of time and work. I need structure.

Feeling a little lost on how I could make myself write I turned to the web and, seeing as it was November, I decided to head to the NaNo forums to see if anyone else was having the same problem. Lucky for me, there were plenty of people, and as such plenty of suggestions.

One suggestion was something called ‘Word Sprints’. The rules are simple, you give yourself a time limit (setting an alarm), then you write as much as you can before your buzzer goes off. You can challenge others to see who can get the most words, or you can compete against yourself, trying to get more words each time. I figured, it was only 30 minutes, if it worked then that’s awesome, if it didn’t then I only used up 30 minutes and I would increase my word count a little bit anyway.

Well, it worked. My first few sprints were up around the 500 word mark, giving me 1000 new words in an hour. by the end of the day I was up around 800 words every 30 minutes. I wrote over 20,000 words in two days.

And I think I know why this worked. It’s because it gave me structure (which I clearly needed) and it gave me motivation (I am extremely competitive, even if only against myself).

Now I know that if I have a busy day I only need to tell myself to do one sprint in the day. If I do more, then well done me, but so long as I get that one sprint in then I’m good. There are heaps of other types of writing challenges out there and I am keen to give them a go, see what else works for me.