The 100 day book – 10 lessons from this amazing challenge

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100 day book program
This writing challenge was hard work but so worth it. I wrote a complete first draft, with the 100 Day Book program. And now I’m shattered. Levens beach, in Fife, Scotland, September 2017

At the end of August I completed the 100 Day Book program from The Write Practice. From the middle of May, I had committed to a daily word count, and a weekly share of my work, and giving weekly feedback on the progress of other writers in the program. I had slogged and sweated and ignored the housework and at the end of 100 days I had a complete first draft of a fantasy novel.

This challenge is definitely not for everybody. You need to be prepared to work. There’s teaching and support in the program, but that doesn’t write the book for you. You have to put in the hours, every week, and share the results in the private 100 Day Book forum, without skipping a week.

It’s been unbelievably hard work, especially since like most people I have a family and a job. I can’t just swan off to a log cabin and bury myself in my art, tempting as that sounds.

So how do you do it? What does this program involve, and what have I learned from doing it that I would pass on to other writers?

1.Firstly, 100 days is not 100 days. Sure, it’s 100 elapsed days. And you have a word count goal to achieve in that time.  So many words per day, simple, right? But take out your calendar. Here’s that wedding you will be at all weekend. Here’s the go-live on a massive work project. Here are early mornings and evenings where you will be travelling in areas without signal. And in July the kids break up from school for six weeks. How are you going to write then?

Your task is to strike out all the days when you already know you won’t be writing. Divide your word count goal by the remaining days, not 100.

I got to July this year, with nearly six weeks to go, thinking this was easy. Then I realised that from mid July til the end of the challenge, I would not be able to write at lunchtimes or on Fridays – my two main opportunities to write. That meant I had to double my daily word count in the days I could write. Suddenly the task got a lot harder.

Lesson – count up your genuine writing days in advance. Divide your total word count by that number, not 100, to get the number of words you must write on writing days.

2. A writing community is an amazing gift. In the last four weeks of the programs I had a ton of catching up to do, and was posting 7000-10000 words a week in the 100 day book forum. And my readers were reading them – in amongst posting their own massive chunks of novel. I would have been happy for people to skim my posts just to give me a bit of encouragement and pick out a page or two to give feedback on. But they didn’t, they read the lot, they found plot holes and demanded to know what would happen next. So that was awesome, and helped keep me going.

Lesson – writing within a community of supportive, committed artists is a joy, and it keeps you going on days when the words will not come.

3. The 100 day Book program creates an addictive writing urge. When you stop having to write every day you really, really miss it. For three weeks since the challenge ended, I have been totally lost. The story  was over. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Last week I began creating my scene list, ready to do the structural edit which this book really needs. But even then, halfway through that task, I felt bereft.

I am now back on my 750 word a day general writing target. For now it doesn’t matter what I write* so long as I get back into that habit. So that’s a great takeaway from the 100 day book. It creates a writing habit, to the extent that afterwards you can’t not write. That’s pure gold, right there. Thanks, Write Practice!

(*It does matter what I write. My Type-A personality insists that I am writing towards a sequel or prequel or some other useful piece of work. Jotting down random thoughts does not count.)

Lesson: Writing intensively like this creates a lifelong habit which will fuel your productivity forever.

4. You can’t cheat on a creative promise. Sometimes you simply do not have time to go into the detail that you would give without an excruciating deadline. So you can add notes – ‘brief chapter here where hero explores the city and we see examples of the governor’s cruelty’ as placeholders ready for the second draft. But you can’t just go, ‘oh, here’s a bit where the plot is all solved, tada, I’ve written a book’.

I included a couple of places where I knew the scene I needed to write but had just run out of time. My readers in the 100 Day Book forum didn’t like that. They wanted to see words on the page. That was my promise. So be warned – to-do-later notes are fine, but your outline is not your 100-day-novel.

Lesson – don’t cheat your readers or yourself. You’ve promised to write a book, not a synopsis. Think – adding a load of Do It Later notes just gives you more to do in second draft.

5. The first week is really hard. Not because of the writing. That’s easy. You are the most energised at the start if a big project, brimming with ideas, raring to write the scenes which gleam in your mind’s eye. No, the hard part of the first week of the 100 day book program is having to create your book plan.

That’s right people, they make you do a plan. A synopsis of the story, but also a chapter by chapter book outline, plus identifying the book’s audience and creating a plan for marketing. For once in my plotting life, I had to know the ending before I started writing.

So that first week was a tough one for a lifelong pantser like me. But in the year since I started this blog and began exploring writing techniques, I have come to accept that planning can be useful, even if like me you prefer to do it in your head rather than on a  spreadsheet.

I had to tarnslate my instincts into a formal book plan. I always do know the kind of ending I want (big weather, dramatic scenery, the hero shouting his previously undeclared love across a ravine as the monster rears up to snatch him and the heroine away…) and I know the thing that kicks off the book – but I struggle with getting from A to B. Being forced to write the middle, ugh, the middle, was really helpful.

Lesson – knuckle down and make an outline, even if you hate it. Follow the program’s guidelines for doing this is you’re totally new to it. It works.

6. The synopsis and outline will help with querying later. This is great. Every week on the Write Practice forums I see questions from writers going through the process of submitting their work for publication. And everyone agrees that summarising your art for a potential commercial buyer is the hardest part. If you already have a premise, synopsis and outline, then you have a head start. It’s easier to hone something than to create it from scratch. I’ll be honing like crazy over the next few months.

Lesson – creating a premise is a long term gain.

7. Don’t miss that weekly deadline. I didn’t miss any of my 14 weeks, but if I had, there would have been consequences. In the case of the 100 Day Book program, this was a monetary consequence. You heard me right. You give them an amount of money for joining the program. At the end when you succeed, they give you a chunk of it back. But not if you miss deadlines. Now that’s motivation.

Also don’t miss the deadline because the weekly deadline is awesome. You feel a camaraderie with the others in the program, knowing that across time zones and beyond oceans, all over the world there are other people going, ‘Dammit, Friday already,’ and typing whilst stirring dinner or feeding the baby or sitting on the train. Then as the posts roll into the 100 Day Book forum, there’s that huge sense of relief. People head to the private Facebook page to give metaphorical air punches.

Lesson – deadlines are motivational as well as stressful. And sticking to them gets you cash (back) in the bank. Result.

8. Give feedback generously. Once Friday has passed, there’s a bit of a lull while everyone recovers. But before you start thinking about this week’s 7000 or so words, you need to carry out the final part of your weekly commitment: giving feedback on at least 3 posts from other writers.

In the general Write Practice forum, feedback tends to be critical, in the literal sense – designed to help writers improve and finesse. In the 100 day book program I found that feedback is necessarily a bit softer. After all, these are words typed at speed for the creation of a first draft. Critiquing at the sentence structure level may not be relevant, because the chances are, the writer has barely had the chance to read through what’s been written, never mind start scanning for tone, pace, and dangling modifiers. So I found that offering support and encouragement, and more general feedback -‘this part here was a bit confusing’, ‘this was exciting!’ – was more appropriate than line by line critique.

Also – you’re pressed for time. Even just letting the other person know you read their post,  supports them. ‘Great job, keep going, nearly the end.’ This is what we need to hear on a massive challenge like this. Because we already know it can’t be perfect, and it won’t be the thing of beauty that the publisher gets to see. It’s rough, and we’re awesome for creating, in such a short space of time.

Lesson – giving line edits is great, but giving feedback on any aspect of the work will be gratefully received by people toiling away and courageously sharing the raw output of their creativity.

9. It’s not just the writing, it’s the editing. My words come out rough. I write on my phone, mostly, and autocorrect plays havoc with every sentence. I know what I meant, but to another reader it’s nonsense. For example my phone replaces ‘that’ with ‘tyst’ every time, even though i have removed ‘tyst’ from the internal dictionary and it is not an actual word.

So as well as finding time to write, say 700-1500 words every day, I also needed to find time to read through and correct that week’s 7000-10000 words before posting it on Friday.

I guess I could have posted the original, to show I had done the writing, but it quickly became clear that everybody was turning in really crisp, clear, spellchecked first drafts. I kid you not. So I had to spend two to three hours a week, on top of writing, going through my horrendous mess of work and making it so another human could understand it.

Lesson – go back over that writing calendar and find more time than you originally thought you needed. There must be more housework you can not do, right?

10. Do it. Writing a book is a huge undertaking. I mean, you’re writing a full length book. Novellas do not count in this challenge. Everyone is writing something of 60,000 to 120,000 words long. These are sweeping stories with characters, plot and resolution, or memoirs covering long lives in carefully researched detail. This is not some fluffy ‘you can be creative yay’ type of program. It’s the real thing. Plan it, divide it into weekly chunks, do the work, follow the guidelines and you will turn in a completed first draft on day 100.

When you finish, you’ve done more than write a book. You’ve demonstrated to yourself that you are capable of completing a tough challenge – a technical challenge, an endurance challenge, a time management challenge, a creativity challenge. You can do it. Here’s the proof in the form of this manuscript. For me, that’s priceless. I’ve spoken to many lifelong writers who have the passion and the dream, but who lack confidence. This program gives you that confidence, that inner certainty that if you have an idea and a plan, you will be able to complete your creative dream.

Lesson: do it. Join the 100 day book program. Because at the end of it, you can no longer have any doubt. You’ve written a book. You are a writer.

And so:

I joined the 100 day book program on an impulse one Thursday night, with no book idea and no plan, and a dozen existing commitments in the next three months. I invented a plot on the Sunday and posted it in the forum when the synopsis and outline were due. Then I wrote to a regime for 100 days. And now I have a book, a book which before that first Sunday, I had not even dreamed of. Even better, it’s a book I like, and my readers loved the characters I created, and were invested in the plot, even in this rough early draft. In the world I created, there’s a load more mileage and my writer brain is already itching to start a  sequel.

If I hadn’t signed up, I would have written something, sure, some chapters here and there of various works in progress, some short stories… blog posts. But because I joined, I have instead written a whole book.

That’s what I call a  result.

The 100 Day Book program is run by The Write Practice, with training given by bestselling author Joe Bunting. Details on the program here.

By the way: I don’t work for the Write Practice, I’m not on commission to promote them or anything. I just think it’s a really great community and I recommend it to anyone committed to improving their writing and following their creative dream. You can find out more on their website.

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