Couch to 30K

by Laura Woollett, PMP

NOVELISTS ARE OFTEN TOLD that the way to get the job done is through many hours of “butt in chair.” There’s truth to this. You can’t write a novel without writing one word at a time. But where to start? And how to gain momentum, especially when you’re just beginning a new project?

Try thinking about the process of writing a novel in a different way—like a runner. Novice runners sometimes follow a plan called the “couch to 5K,” which allows for someone who is pretty sedentary to work their way up to running a 5K race. Writing is similar in many ways to running. It’s REALLY hard to run a race only days after deciding to do it, especially if you’ve never run any farther than from your car to Dunkin’ Donuts on a cold morning. (Guilty!) In the same way, it’s REALLY hard to write a novel without building your writing muscles and stamina over time.

As a project manager, I love the idea of the couch to 5K because it breaks the task of preparing for a race into manageable chunks, with a PLAN and deadlines in place that will help you track your progress toward your ultimate goal.

For your next novel, I challenge you to do a Couch to 30K (the length of an average middle grade novel). Think of 30K as a half-marathon. Some of you might want to go the entire distance to 60K (the standard length of a YA novel), but the hardest part is the distance to 30K, because that’s where you’ll build your muscle and stamina.

Here’s how to do it:

Weeks 1–4

  • Begin by planning. Write a rough outline, create character sketches, and do other idea-generating activities. For many people, just setting aside time each week to write is challenging. Start small.
  • Do planning activities for 30 minutes per week for 4 weeks.

Weeks 5-8

  • Continue planning, or if you’re ready, dive into the writing.
  • Write for 30 minutes, 3x/week for 4 weeks.

 Weeks 9-15

  • You’re off and running now!
  • Write for 60 minutes, 3x/week for 7 weeks.

Weeks 16-23

  • Don’t worry if you miss a day. Just keep working toward your goal.
  • Write for 60 minutes, 3x/week, AND 1 hour on the weekend for 8 weeks.

By this time, you’ve spent 61 hours writing! Wow! How did that happen? If you can write about 500 words/hour, 61 hrs x 500 words = 30,500. You’ve reached your goal!

Please note: I’m talking drafting here—not detailed editing. And my philosophy with drafting is to write quickly and refrain from too much self-editing. Once you get your story on paper, then you can go back and revise, cut, add, and polish.

You might write fewer words per hour, or you might decide to write more often. You might write your chapters in order, or hop around and write the parts you’re most excited about first. Pantsers—maybe you will want to skip the outlining step (gasp!). The important part is to come up with a plan for turning off reruns of Law and Order: SVU and instead exercising your writing muscles. With a slow buildup, you can make writing a habit that will take you the distance.

For more ideas on creating a writing plan:

woollett_photo.jpgLaura A. Woollett is the author of the middle-grade book Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth (Chicago Review Press, 2015), a nonfiction account of the 1944 Hartford circus fire, for which she won the 2016 ILA Award for Intermediate Nonfiction and a 2016 Eureka! Honor from the California Reading Association. Laura has a master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Simmons College and is a full-time writer, editor, and certified Project Management Professional (PMP). Originally from South Windsor, Connecticut, Laura now lives in Massachusetts with her family.



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