There’s a book by Dean Wesley Smith called Writing a Novel in Seven Days: A Hands-On Example. It details the challenge he presented to himself to complete the first draft of a short novel in a week. The book is taken from his blog, where he documented the process. I read it recently because I’m always looking for new productivity tips that might help me improve both the quality and quantity of my writing. The more I write, the more money I make. To that end, I’ve adapted it into a personal 7 Day Setting Design Challenge. I want to see if I can put together a rough first draft of setting bible for a tabletop roleplaying game in a week.
The 7 Day Setting Design Premise
Smith’s premise is that he can write about 1,000 words per hour, so a 42,000 word manuscript will take him about 42 hours. That’s a reasonable work week for a professional writer by any standard. Because it’s spread out over seven days, it allows time for other things. This seems to indicate that Smith is like me, and works all the time. The idea is to write 3,000 words the first day, then add 1,000 words to the word count goal each day. So on Day 2 the goal is 4,000 words, Day 3 is 5,000 words, up to 9,000 words on Day 7. This allows you to ease into it, get an idea where things are going, and clear away obstacles so that as the week progresses you’re more deeply into the writing and less distracted by other things.
For me, the challenge is not only to see if I can do it, but to force myself to find efficiencies and flaws in my process. This is not something I want to do every week. I couldn’t. There are too many other things to do beside laying down word count. Editing and layout and marketing and living a life need consideration. If it does work, it might be something I could do one week per month. That would leave me the other three weeks to pursue a scaled-back daily word count goal, and get a lot of other things done. It would also mean that I’d be able to be more immersed in the writing itself. One of my ongoing struggles as a writer is to not feel guilt that I’m not doing a half-dozen things that aren’t writing.
My 7 Day Setting Design Caveat
The reason I think I can accomplish this is because I will be writing from an outline. I’ve already written a book on setting design for fiction and tabletop games that I will use as a template. It’s easier for me to get into a flow state and make a high daily word count when I don’t have to figure out what happens next. When I know what I need to write, it becomes a fun bit of fill-in-the-blanks. My daily word count goal, which I have been maintaining since the beginning of the year, is 3,500 words. That makes the first couple of days fairly easy to hit. I have, on a few occasions where I was able to clear obstacles and work distraction-free, been able to hit 10,000 to 12,000 words per day. That level isn’t sustainable, but I know that it’s achievable. If this is a once-a-month thing, I can arrange my schedule to keep distractions at bay, and hit those sorts of numbers as needed to meet the challenge.
The 7 Day Setting Design Risks
A drawback to adapting Dean Wesley Smith’s novel challenge to this sort of project is that setting design is largely concept and idea work. I need to know what I’m writing about. It precludes taking time to do any sort of research. The workaround is that I’ve already done a lot of the research for the project I’m going to use with this challenge. I might have to stop and read over a few things, but a lot is already in my head. Because it’s a first draft, I can also go back in editing and the second draft to fix things and fill in any blanks. My fear is that there will be large swaths of the manuscript that say something akin to “[whatever] goes here”, which might kill the word count now or bloat the word count later.
The other rule I’m setting for myself is that this journal of the process doesn’t count toward the total. Writing about the project isn’t writing the project. Which means that in addition to between 3,000 and 9,000 words per day, I’m also going to have 300 to 900 words of whatever this is.
With all of that groundwork laid out, now it’s time to pursue the challenge. Onward to Day 1! Wish me luck!
You can read the rest of the entries in this series at this link.
Dean Wesley Smith’s book Writing a Novel in Seven Days: A Hands-On Example is available from Amazon in Kindle format and paperback editions. My book Setting Design for Writers and Roleplayers is available from DriveThruRPG in PDF, ebook, and Kindle formats.