Reaching The First 20,000 Words In a Novel


That’s pretty much what I feel like right now. For some reason the amount of 20,000 words seems like a substantial goal in the quest to complete my first novel. It has definitely not been the easiest journey so far but I have pushed onward and have reached an estimated one third benchmark. Just thinking that only 10,000 more words is an approximate halfway point is even more exciting!

I feel like the remaining two thirds will be a little more tougher just because I have to continue to tie everything together until it all unites into one fluid storyline, but I am getting ahead of myself here. I need a few more moments to bask in this accomplishment before I start to think about what all still lies ahead of me. You know, like actually finishing the novel. Then editing it. Then probably editing it again…and again. Then having people read it. Then editing…yes, again. So lots of writing and reading and editing and reading in store for me.

Really though, out of everything, finishing a novel will be a super huge achievement for me. I have attempted to write so many of them with such high hopes and ideas and written passages/scenes that even surprise me at how emotional they can get…but I have never been able to complete a novel full circle. I just feel really good about this process so far and I think I will definitely make it this time. All those other times of trying and starting other ideas but never finishing helped me to subconsciously know what I was missing in the other ones and so, I believe, helped me prepare with each new idea until I came to one that I could see all the way through.

I truly believe now that it is really a process and the more times you go through the process, the more confident and easier it becomes. Not that writing any novel will ever be easy, even if I had written 60 of them. But the knowledge that I have done this before and can do it again really goes a long way in helping you push on to the next scene, the next 1000 words, the next 10,000 words all the way until the final sentence.

What about you guys? Have you reached a certain mark in your novel that makes you feel more confident? What about those who have already completed a novel before – how amazing is that feeling?

11 thoughts on “Reaching The First 20,000 Words In a Novel

  1. Congratulations, that’s an incredible milestone.
    Good for you for giving yourself a pat on the back =) What did you do to celebrate?

    As for me, I got myself into the 3-day novel contest to do my first novella which was 20k words.

    I like working in odd creative bursts like that, it seems to work for me and helps me to just get the work done and over with. The editing, even for a short poem, could be so very long and seem endless; I had a bad habit of dragging myself through editions that would completely transform the original piece.

    If I didn’t sign up for the contest, I probably wouldn’t have written my first book. So, a year later now, I have decided to allow myself to simply make a decision quickly about whatever it is I’m writing, and to just go with it as soon as I see my story’s shape and color and try to stay true to it. Does that make sense?

    I plan to edit my other novel soon so I can officially say I “finished it.” I loved seeing this post of yours, it reminded me of where I started last year =) and oh boy I have a lot left to do with the novel at hand now. To me, this is my first novel and I’ll have to do all the same things you’ll be working on as soon as you finish. God help us with the editing!

    Wish you the best and cheering for you.

    • Lila – thank you for the encouragement. I did not do much in terms of celebrating besides a happy dance around my house. I am saving the big celebration for the completion of the first draft because, as I have been hearing, I will need that celebration to pull me through the abyss that will be editing it!

      I understand your point about just letting yourself make a quick decision and go with it as soon as you see the shape of a story – the only problem with me and that technique is I just kept STARTING stories and never finished them! So, since I have started this novel, I have had a few new ideas as well but I have not really let myself flesh them out much. I make a small little note about the ideas I have and then save it for later. I can’t lose my momentum on this piece or it will never get done. And I have learned, the longer I stick with a piece the more intricate and complicated my characters become, which makes writing easier and harder at the same time.

      What is your story about? Let me know when you start to work through your editing process – I am always willing to be a beta reader 🙂

      • You’re welcome. I would be delighted to have you be a beta reader! We can definitely swap books =)

        I know what you mean about starting countless pieces without finishing them. That’s what we desperately need to outgrow as writers. I want to avoid that endless “starting without finishing” loop and just go with it and finish it as fast as possible. And just like you, I get a lot of ideas while writing so I make little notes about them too so I can let them go.

        As for my story, in the shortest description possible:

        A marketer of a sales company finds himself travelling between realms to find a balance between his gifts and losses.

        I hope that makes sense and gives you a good idea! I think I’ll be going back to the rough draft tonight and see how I can improve it.

        Tell me though, what is your book about? How’s your progress going so far?

      • Yours sounds interesting but can you explain a little more about the “realms”? Are these different worlds/times/dimensions? I can pretty much read anything but am a particular fan of some type of fantasy/supernatural elements 🙂

        I cannot seem to sum up mine in one sentence. Here is my “back cover blurb” I have come up with thus far: One year ago, the small, quiet town of Roscoe, Ohio was subjected to a horrific crime and it hasn’t been the same since. When homecoming queen Alice Halls was murdered in the high school weight room, the townsfolk and investigators are left wondering who could have killed this beautiful, innocent girl. Now a year later, Candace Callihan is covering the vigil of Alice as the editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper, The Beholder. The story doesn’t mean much to her until she has a stunningly vivid dream of who killed Alice. She tries to blame it on a tired sub-conscious but the more vivid they get every night makes her wonder if they could hold some truth. But what should she do when these dreams show that the she is the killer? With a new detective in town poking around, a heartless new girl vying for her editor position, and a stud boyfriend quickly tiring of her escalating paranoia, Candace must put the clues together to solve the case or submit to the painstaking conclusion that she could be a murderer.

        I have not written much more past the 20K mark as I have been rethinking certain “motivations” for the main character which has made me have to change a few scenes around a bit. I have four days off though starting now for Christmas so I am hoping to dig out a few more thousand words in the next week.

      • Your book story sounds very interesting too and I’m not easily interested in murder stories. But your books has elements that really interest me: dreams, and small towns!

        You seem like you have a very good idea of what you’re writing about for 20k. I like how you wrote your blurb! I’m always afraid of writing too much and spoiling the story if I describe it. Do you feel the same?

        Yes by realms I mean dimensions. Is that what interests you as well?

      • Anything that is out of ordinary or “magical” interests me so I think that fits 🙂 …As for my story, I have learned in the past that by not thinking the story all the way through from the beginning tends to lead to me not finishing …so when I got this idea I really tried to outline and flesh out the characters and theme before I started writing it. It still has changed a lot since my initial planning stages but having a general outline to follow has really helped me have a clear view and a goal to work towards, even if that goal changes.

        I usually do fear about giving too much away in the description but for this story in particular I am afraid of not telling enough to interest the type of people that would read this… because really that description only touches on half of the book and not even the “fantasy” part of it. Half of the book is leading up to revealing for sure who the killer was and the second half is how the characters in the book all react to learning that news and what they are going to do about it…so it is not really a full murder mystery, that is only a backdrop for the real theme which does not actually shine through in the blurb I gave you at all haha 🙂 so it is a conundrum for me.

      • Hah, yeah I know what you mean. You’re right, you have to let the person gain some interest first. Thanks because this encourages me, and by the way your book sounds like it will be so fun to read, especially the magical elements. Kudos to you for making a clear outline; they usually help me with essays, but with stories, it’s just a general idea in my head that I dive into with writing about it. It’s the same with my poetry.

        I guess writing a good blurb means showing the reader the puzzle of the story, and to solve it and enjoy it, they’d have to read the book for that.

        Do you think that’s an accurate way to think of it? I think it makes sense to me this way.

        Love this chat!

      • Yes, that is a good way to look at the blurb …to see if that “type” of puzzle that would interest them. I have found a lot of help from this one site that relates writing a novel to writing a screenplay. A lot of the techniques used for writing a good script/screenplay can be transferred over to writing a book. I actually wrote that back cover blurb after I read a blog post on that site that said it is one of the first things you should do because it helps solidify in your mind what you are trying to write and why others should be excited to read it. (Here is the link btw:

        Your premise should contain a defined protagonist, a powerful antagonist, a sense of the setting, conflict and stakes, and a sense of how the action will play out. It is also good to give a glimpse of the genre as well.

        My story definitely started with a general idea and I didn’t really outline out every scene from start to finish…I just spent a lot of time developing my characters in my head and that led to a lot of the scene ideas once I knew how my characters interacted with each other. I had not really gotten into much of a full outline mode until now (at 20,000 words) as I try to bridge the gaps between the main scenes I have worked out thus far 🙂 Blog post on this process coming tomorrow!

  2. Pingback: Building Up Your Story – Tension is Everything Pt. 1 « J.A. Ward Writes

  3. wow, thank you so much for sharing that! It helps with how I’ll explain it to people and so on, I’ll share what I create with you when I do it. I can’t wait to take the time to read it, along with your other post about tension in the story, I love reading posts that encourage writing.

    By the way, I myself didn’t really get the story idea fully formulated (I knew the beginning and couldn’t decide on the end) until after I got passed 20k. Actually, more like 30k! You can imagine how terrified I was about where my story was going lol I’m more comfortable with this terror now as I write new stories or finish this one.

    Anyway, I’ll probably be rereading the 75k words by next week and make notes about editing.

    I hope you’re having an awesome holiday in the meantime and that your story is progressing!
    Keep in touch =)

  4. Hey! Congrats on reaching the 20k words milestone! That’s an amazing achievement. Today I’ve got to that point in my novel, so I’m super excited! 🙂 Whenever I’ve completed my novel/novellas in the past, it feels great but almost like a funeral in that I find myself mourning for the characters lol. 🙂

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