A Novel First Draft by the Numbers

A few days ago, I finished the first draft of a new novel tentatively titled Hell to Play. I’ve posted about first drafts in the past, but since this one is fresh in my mind I thought I’d break down the numbers and talk about how long it took to write and how the writing went. Here come some stats. 😉

Hell to Play First Draft Stats

  • Words – 89,284
  • Chapters – 30
  • Manuscript Pages – 401
  • Date began: 4/13/20
  • Date completed: 7/14/20
  • Writing days: 93

Before I get into this, I should note now that I write full-time, so the pace above is reasonable for me. It is probably not reasonable for someone who has a day job and writes in their spare time. Okay, with that disclaimer out of the way, what you see above is what I consider a solid length for a novel in the horror/urban fantasy genres (or a mash-up of the two, I guess). That number will change as I revise. It will almost certainly shrink, but there is the chance more material will be needed as well. I wrote the draft in almost exactly three months, which worked out to 14 weeks or 93 days. That’s a tad slower than I’ve written first drafts before, but I think it’s pretty good considering some big external factors, like a global pandemic.

Let’s take a deeper look into the writing on a week by week basis. I think it gives a pretty clear picture of the ebb and flow of how I write a first draft.

Week Start Date End Date Words
1 4/13/2020 4/19/2020 6053
2 4/20/2020 4/26/2020 8587
3 4/27/2020 5/3/2020 8733
4 5/4/2020 5/10/2020 5200
5 5/11/2020 5/17/2020 0 – Outline Revision
6 5/18/2020 5/24/2020 6083
7 5/25/2020 5/31/2020 8094
8 6/1/2020 6/7/2020 8174
9 6/8/2020 6/14/2020 4095
10 6/15/2020 6/21/2020 8196
11 6/22/2020 6/28/2020 6145
12 6/29/2020 7/5/2020 10125
13 7/6/2020 7/12/2020 8118
14 7/13/2020 7/14/2020 1681

My average word count per week came out to 6,377. If you drop week five where I spent the entire week revising the outline and week fourteen, which was only one day, then I managed 7,300 words per week. My usual pace is about 10,000, and I only managed that once. I set my daily word count goal at 2,000, and I generally wrote four days a week, though that slipped to three or even two days numerous times. Though it felt like I was lagging behind at times, I think this a good pace, and three months to a 90,000-word first draft is plenty fast.

So, what happens next? I’ve got 401 pages of a novel-shaped thing, but it is in no shape to be read by other humans. Here’s are the steps I’ll take to turn the first draft into something I can show my agent (and, you know, hopefully sell).

  1. First readthrough. After letting the manuscript sit for two weeks, I’ll read through it and make notes about what I need to fix RIGHT NOW.
  2. First revision. Based on the notes compiled in my readthrough, I’ll make the first revision. This will be a sizable one.
  3. Second readthrough. After the first revision, I’ll read the novel start to finish again and make sure the revisions make sense.
  4. Clean up/second(ish) revision. Not a true revision, but I’ll go through and fix typos and clunky sentences and whatnot, so that when I hand the novel off to my critique partners, they won’t be pulled out of the story because I uses form instead of from.
  5. Handoff to critique partners. I’ll send the revised novel to my critique partners so they can read it and find all the problems I missed (they will be legion).
  6. Third revision. Once I have the novel back from my critique partners and can absorb their comments, I’ll make a third revision. The hope is that I will have caught the biggest problems in my own revision, but that’s kind of a vain hope, and this third revision will probably be a BIG one.
  7. Clean-up/fourth revision. I’ll go through the manuscript one more time and do a deep polish on the prose. I have a list of things I always need to fix at this stage, from overused words and sentence structures to over reliance on things like filter words and adverbs.
  8. Handoff to agent. At this point I should have a novel that’s in pretty good shape, and it’ll go to my agent. There’s every chance he’ll ask for another revision, but, hopefully, all the steps above will make it a light revision. (Hey, a guy can hope, can’t he?)

And there you have it, the nuts and bolts of a first draft. In the next post, I’ll go over the revision process and what kinds of things I aim to fix.

2 Comments on “A Novel First Draft by the Numbers

  1. Do you write full time? @2000/day @ 6 hours / day that would be 333 w/hr. which sounds reasonable. Unless you have a work-a-day job and only write in your spare time which would be remarkable throughput.

    • I do write full-time, though 2,000 words generally takes me between three and four hours (sometimes less). I agree, this would be a remarkable pace for someone with a day job writing in their spare time.

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