90 Days or Bust: How to Write Four Books a Year – Part I

Picture a triangle with a different word at each point: fast, cheap, and quality. This shape represents the author continuum in which you can only focus on two out of the three points. You can make your book fast and cheap, but it won’t be high in quality. It can be cheap and well-written, but it won’t be fast. Since the best way to build up a following is to publish skilled books at a rapid clip, this post will focus on the other option: fast and high-quality books.

When a new author hears about the writing pace of bestsellers like Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, it can be easy to get discouraged. While their output seems almost superhuman, the truth is that they’ve perfected the art of planning out their publishing schedule. If you want to produce more work, then you need to start by doing a better job of planning every aspect of your writing process. Here are six steps you can take to write a book every 90 days:

1. Day 1: Pre-Production

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The writing process must begin with a solid day of planning. For this step, you’ll need the right materials. Purchase two paper calendars: one that shows you the entire year on a single page and one standard monthly calendar. List your due dates on both calendars to reach the various goals of your publishing process. For a 90-day plan, consider the following due dates:

  1. Full outline by Day 14
  2. First draft by Day 49
  3. Second draft by Day 56
  4. Submit to editor by Day 63
  5. Re-submit for second pass by Day 73
  6. Publish on Day 90

Once you’ve scheduled out these days on your calendar, it’s time to make sure your writing schedule is secure. This plan includes 25 weekdays of solid first draft writing. For a 75,000-word novel or non-fiction book, that requires 3,000 words per day without fail. If you aren’t writing that quickly, but you want to finish a book in that 90-day period, then you’ll either need to streamline your writing days or write a shorter book. Check out the post, 5 Ways to Drastically Improve Your Writing Productivity to help you build up your daily word count.

Gather up all the tools you’ll need for your book, such as a computer, paper, pencils, etc. There’s nothing more annoying than sitting down for a writing session only to notice that you’re missing a power cord or a lead refill for a mechanical pencil. Be prepared and make it part of your routine to stay prepared. You’ll also need to make sure you have your people lined up for the project. A 90-day release schedule is dependent on a strong team of at least five beta readers and an editor who is willing to return your book with notes twice in a 20-day period (more on them in section four). You’ll also want to get your support system like your spouse, family, and friends on board with your plan. This will take less convincing if you’ve already found some success with a book. If not, then you’ll need to discuss the importance of your project with your loved ones. Trying to finish a book in three months will be much more stressful if your spouse or parents get angry with you for all the hard work you’re putting in.

With your plan, supplies, and people in place, you can start building the foundation for your book.

2. Days 2-14: Outlining Your Book

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Some authors decry the outline as a creativity-sapping strait-jacket that keeps you from finding your true story. Others think that it’s necessary to ensure you don’t write yourself into a plot hole from which your characters will never return. For writers on a deadline, particularly a three-month turnaround, an outline is a necessary evil to ensure you don’t fall behind on your work. In most cases, the longer you spend on your outline, the faster you’ll be able to write during the first draft stage.

Take the first week of your outlining stage to write a broad overview of your book. This is your opportunity to write a one- or two-sentence description of what happens in each chapter. The higher number of chapters, the less you’ll need to write. Stick to describing what happens in the story and to what characters. A book with fewer chapters will require a more detailed description in your broad outline. The goal with this outline is to put every primary plot point onto a single page. Print out the sheet to use it as a guide for your more in-depth outline.

During week two of the outlining process, you’ll expand the notes for each chapter into six to eight main bullet points that describe the action from beginning to end. In this outline, you can include snippets of dialogue or plot points that didn’t make it into the the broad outline. You can also include settings you’d like to see described or any bits of foreshadowing you want to slip in at certain points.

In an ideal world, your story will flow from chapter to chapter and give you a comprehensive overview of your book from beginning to end. When you have trouble connecting the dots, it’s a good idea to gather your beta readers together for an emergency story meeting. Sometimes just talking things out during a Google Plus Hangout or a phone call will help you figure out how and why a character gets through the next conflict. Even if a certain direction doesn’t feel right, you’ll have opportunities to make changes during the first draft and the editing process, so don’t halt your process to perfect the outline. Instead, make a mental note to fix up that plot point as you go along.

By the end of two weeks, you have a plan and a comprehensive plot for your book. Now it’s time to speedily churn out your rough draft.

3. Days 15-49: Writing Your First Draft

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Writers who put out four or more books per year write unpublishable first drafts. There’s one writing piece of advice that has been passed around so many times that it’s become a cliché: it doesn’t matter if you write a terrible first draft. Authors who write clean rough drafts are very rare, and most of the time they can do that because they spend a lot of energy to carefully craft each sentence. You don’t have that luxury if you want to finish your book in 90 days.

Know yourself and your writing speed. If you need two hours to write your 3,000 words, schedule out two and a half hours. Give yourself a little extra leeway but not too much. During your daily writing sessions, write as fast as humanly possible. Don’t censor yourself and don’t go back to correct spelling errors. Your goal is to write in a stream-of-consciousness style with the detailed outline as your guide. You shouldn’t need to think about how your characters act, because you’ve already done that work. Instead, guide your characters from plot point to plot point with dialogue, description, and any other ideas you come up with along the way. If you find yourself delaying too much, use a program like Write Or Die to keep your fingers moving.

Reach your word count goal every day. If you fail to meet your objective, then schedule a writing day for the weekend. Playing catch-up with such a tight writing schedule is very difficult, so try your best to stick to your plan whenever possible. Two or three weekend makeup days along the way will serve you much better than trying to get 10,000 to 20,000 words completed on days 48 and 49.

At first, this kind of writing schedule seems insane, but you’ll get used to it over time. For your second and third 90-day books, you may even consider trying to shorten the first draft period with more words per day to get the book out even faster. Once you’ve finished your first draft, it’s time to whip this book into shape with a proper editing job.

In the next part of this article, you’ll learn about the editing, publishing, and marketing processes for your 90-day book plan.

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  • Hi Jim,

    Really enjoying this series. 🙂

    I really enjoyed your points about outlines. Coming from a speaking background, I know exactly how important outlines are. They keep you on track and a way from chasing rabbits. The same thing goes for writers.

    Outlines are made to govern your creative side.

    Good stuff Jim. I am looking forward to reading part 2 of this series.