Review: 90 Day Novel

Posted: December 9, 2017 in 90-Day Novel, Book Review, writing
Tags: , ,

This post has been a long time coming not only because I finished my own 90-day novel back on Labor Day weekend (September 1), but also because I’ve flirted with this book before and never gone all the way.

I first came upon Alan Watt’s The 90-Day Novel in my local library sitting among the other “How to Write” books. Looking back, it’s very strange to me that a library, which only allows books to be borrowed for 21 days and then renewed once has a book that takes 90 days to finish. Who thought getting a book that a patron can only get through half of in the allotted time was a good idea? If it wasn’t one of the librarians then it means it was suggested by a patron who was looking to get it but didn’t want to invest money unless they were sure they liked it.

In any case, the book somehow found its way onto the shelves of my local library and my much younger self thought I should check it out. I’m sure my initial thoughts were that it was a formula, a step by step process to how a person would accomplish writing a book within 90 days. (Spoiler Alert: I’ve since found that the magic formula to writing within a time limit is to sit your ass in a chair and actually write. NaNoWriMo has people writing books within 30 days, and some indie authors are putting out a book a month. Don’t even get me started on how fast the guys over at The Self Publishing Podcast seem to put stuff out because those guys are nuts.)

Anyways, back to the point: The 90-Day Novel is, in some ways, a formula, and in other ways it’s a cheerleader supporting you as you sit your ass in a chair and write.

Watt opens by explaining his own journey of writing a book in 90 days. He was traveling for work and thought with all the free time he had to himself he might as well dive in and write a novel like he always wanted to. That book (Diamond Dogs) happened to do really well (a fact that he has no shame in putting out there as his credentials) and earned him a lot of money. He figures if he could do it, you can too.

The 90-Day Novel is a self-guided 90-day workshop. After the preliminary explanation of how your time will be split between pre-writing and actually drafting it takes you day by day through a series of motivational reflections and writing exercises until you hit day 90 and have a finished draft in front of you. To help you along the way there are additional writing exercises in the back as well as a sample outline.

The premise is simple enough, and if you’re self-motivated it is possible to complete the task you’ve given yourself within the stated time frame. I am not very good at sticking to a schedule, hence why I’ve started this book at least three times before and never gotten too far with it. This time around I took the schedule with a grain of salt and that seemed to do the trick.

The Formula Part: You spend a lot of time pre-writing. The first 30 days of the process is emptying your head of all the ideas for characters, setting, plot and it gives a free-form way to grasp how to write an outline. I’ve never outlined anything in my life. Okay, so back in high school I think I was required to submit an outline along with a research paper for my AP Psychology class, but that’s not quite the kind of outline we’re talking about here.

Research paper outlines are like using a GPS. The turns are all there, laid out for you. Fiction outlines are more like planning a trip before we had GPS. You have this huge road map, you find the two points, and you mark a route in red pen only to find out roads are under construction and you need to detour. In the past, I’ve been a pantser, which is to say I had a destination, and I was pretty sure my internal GPS could handle it, so I just started driving and maybe got lost somewhere along the way because I really wasn’t familiar with the city.

The Non-Formula Part: After you spend 30 days imagining your world, story, and characters, it’s time to take them out for a test drive and see if they can really get you where you planned to go. There is no short-cut for this. You have to do the work. If you don’t actually sit down and write getting it done within the 90 days is going to be tough. To help you on your way, Watt has written little anecdotes and cheerleading pieces to reassure you you’re doing a good job and you’re where you need to be. This is coupled by “road signs” such as “by the end of this week you should be at…” or “Don’t worry about it if you aren’t very far in this part of the story, we are spending a lot of time in Act 2.”

Does it work?

It worked for me.

Did I finish in 90 Days? Yes, but I took a lot of days “off”.  For me, it was 63 days of actual writing. From the day I started the pre-writing until the day I wrote “The End” I sat my butt in a chair for 63 days. That’s less than advertised. So depending on output/length of your story it is possible to finish early. However, 63 days doesn’t mean I sat my butt down every day for 63 days straight. Looking at my dates of June 7th through September 1st that’s a total of 86 days. I will say, I skimped on the ending. I needed to be done before I went back to work and I wrote a lackluster ending that I knew needed more time and effort but I figured I’d handle that in post as it were. (Considering the edits I’m doing, I probably would have scrapped the denouement anyways, but it doesn’t change the fact that I cheated the work in the interest of keeping to a deadline.)

Overall, I liked The 90-Day Novel. I thought it was a good way to break the process down into friendly bite-size bits, and hey, it got me to outline for the first time, which is a skill I plan to cultivate more in the future. Bottom line is, if having a daily routine is going to help you immensely then this may be the book for you. I know I got locked into the habit of reading the daily entry and then getting to work. A few days I refused, nay, found myself incapable of starting before I read the blurb cheering me onward. Still, it’s not a strict task master, and it’s really possible to take it and make it your own. Truly, I didn’t do all of the daily prompts but I still found the suggestion to pre-write really helpful in planning out my book. So many cool things were discovered there.

I’d recommend buying it. But if you’re just not sure it’s for you, check to see if your local library has it. You can get all the way to Day 42 before you’ll have to return it.

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