Friday, March 20, 2015

Writing a Novel in 15 Minute Increments {+Giveaway}

The Bookseller by Cynthia SwansonI’m delighted to have author Cynthia Swanson joining us today to talk about writing her debut novel, THE BOOKSELLER, in 15-minute increments.

Thanks to Cynthia and the lovely Meg at Tandem Literary, I have a print copy of THE BOOKSELLER to give away. Please see the end of the post for more details.

An IndieNext Pick for March, THE BOOKSELLER ponders the tantalizing question, "what if." The story follows a woman in early-1960's Denver who must reconcile her reality with the alternate world of her dreams. 

Kitty Miller, a single woman in her late 30s, owns a bookshop with her best friend Frieda. Kitty begins to have nightly dreams of an alternative reality in which she's a married woman with children (and no more bookstore). Reminiscent of Sliding Doors (the 1998 movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow), The story explores the butterfly effect - how one small change of circumstance can set off a cascade of entirely different events. It's a fast, engaging read that is great for discussion and introspection.

For those who enjoy mid-century design, you'll love the 1960s clothes, music, architecture, and books that make up the backdrop of the story. 

Now, please join me in giving Cynthia a warm welcome to Thoughts. Cynthia, welcome and please tell us how you can really write a novel in 15-minute increments.

It’s the classic paradox: the more time we have, the less likely we are to use it wisely. 

When I wrote first draft of my novel The Bookseller, time was in very short supply. I had a freelance technical/marketing editing career and a house that was under construction. My twins were in kindergarten. My youngest child, at three, was up and at ‘em every morning before the birds started singing - precluding the possibility of rising early, making myself coffee, and serenely writing fiction while my kids slept. I know a lot of authors work that way, but it wasn’t an option for me.

So when did I write? Well. Writing had to happen in very small increments, whenever I could squeeze it in during the day. Sometimes that meant I got in only fifteen minutes of writing time per day. 

“That seems impossible,” people have said to me. “It takes me fifteen minutes just to settle into my work day. I’d never get anything done if I only had fifteen minutes.”

Ah. Yes. But that’s because their work days are eight hours long. Fifteen minutes is a small percentage of an eight-hour work day.

Fifteen minutes, however, was often 100% of my fiction-writing day.

So how did I do it? To begin with, I’m blessed with the ability to write very fast - when I set my mind to it. If I’m really cranking, if I’m focused, I can write 1,000 words - that’s about four double-spaced pages – in an hour. 

The first draft of The Bookseller was 50,000 words. (The final copy was double that.) Those first 50,000 words - when I do the math, it took me around 50 hours to write them. 

That’s not much more than a typical employee’s full-time work week.

“Sure,” one might say. “But how good could those words be, really?”

The answer is: not very. But that’s beside the point. I aspired to write 250 words in 15 minutes - 1,000 in an hour - and that meant one thing was key: no stopping. No going back and re-reading. No taking out my thesaurus to search for the perfect word. No getting online and doing research. All that came later, in successive drafts.

With time being so restricted, for that first draft I just got the basics down and kept going. 

When I got stuck, I’d make a note of the problem and move on. Sometimes I discontinued entire sections, or I’d have to expedite my way out of a sub-plot, because I had no idea how to resolve something. I didn’t allow myself to get hung up on that; I made a note, let it go, and forged ahead.

In subsequent versions, once that first draft was complete, these issues generally resolved themselves. Either that, or I found their part of the storyline wasn’t necessary in the first place, and I removed it completely.

Writing this way takes discipline and focus. Neither are my strong suits, but I find that when I’m in the groove, nothing makes me happier than my fingers flying on the keyboard, transmitting what’s in my head onto the printed page. 

That kept me going. Often for only fifteen minutes at a time - but nonetheless moving in the right direction.

Cynthia, thanks so much for visiting with us and sharing this look at your writing. Your 15-minute working periods just goes to prove, if you want to write you will find the time.

Here’s a bit of background on Cynthia (in her own words) for those who aren’t familiar with her.

My name is Cynthia Swanson...and I'm a writer and designer.

I started out in college (a long time ago) majoring in Architecture, because I have always loved design, and I thought I needed to pursue a "practical" career. But after 2 years, I went back to my first love - writing - and changed my major to English. I was a freelance technical/marketing writer for many years.

All the while, I aspired to a creative writing career. Now that I have a debut novel coming out, I concentrate on writing fiction and personal essay.

Still, the design world continues to draw me in. I especially love mid-century design, and I'm constantly thinking of ways to enhance and improve our mid-century home. I'm also thrilled to discuss home design projects with others.

For more on Cynthia and her writing, visit her website.


        "This is a stunner of a debut novel, astonishingly tight and fast paced. The 1960s tone is elegant and even, and Kitty/Katharyn's journey is intriguing...This will especially resonate with fans of the movie Sliding Doors and the authors Anna Quindlen and Anita Shreve." (Library Journal, starred review)
        "Dexterously traversing past and present, fact and fiction, Swanson's clever first novel ingeniously explores the inventive ways the human spirit copes with trauma." (Booklist)
        "What if? These words tantalize and haunt us. In The Bookseller, writing with a sharp-tinged empathic pen, Cynthia Swanson takes us on a startling journey where a woman is thrust into the alternative world that might have been, had she made different choices." (Randy Susan Meyers, author of Accidents of Marriage)
        "Cynthia Swanson's The Bookseller is both a delightful and haunting exploration of identity, love and loss. With great style and compassion, the author asks the age-old question: 'What if my life were different?' The answers in this affecting debut novel are truly surprising." (Joanna Hershon, author of A Dual Inheritance)
        "I inhaled The Bookseller. I loved both of Kitty's worlds, and refused to put the book down until I saw how the tension between the two worlds resolved. A deeply satisfying read." (Ann Napolitano, author of A Good Hard Look)


This giveaway is for one print copy of THE BOOKSELLER. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and will end at 12 a.m. on Sunday, March 29. 

To enter, just click on the Rafflecopter widget below and following the instructions. The widget may take a few seconds to load, so please be patient. The winner from this giveaway will have 72 hours to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected. The email will have ‘Thoughts in Progress Cynthia Swanson’s Tour’ in the subject line, just so you know what to watch for (in case it goes into your spam folder).

Thanks so much for stopping by today during Cynthia’s visit. Do you write in increments or do you have to dedicate a time slot just to write?

*This post contains affiliate links.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. This sounds like my kind of book. A bookseller. The 60s. Alternate realities. Wow. I'm impressed that Cynthia could write this in 15 minute increments.

  2. Some people say they don't have time to write, but if you really want to write, you will make time. And you did. That is awesome.
    Makes me grateful I've had more time. At 300-350 words per hour, it would take me forever if I only had fifteen minutes to write.

  3. Mason - Thanks for hosting Cynthia.

    Cynthia - Thanks for showing how a person can write a novel even with a 'day job' and other obligations. Wishing you success.

  4. I lived through those years. I'm looking forward to reading this book

  5. Great post. There's a saying "if you want something done ask a busy person" and it's true. When you have momentum you make every moment count. National Novel Writing Month NaNoWriMo has the same concept to write without editing for 30 days. Can't wait to read this novel, I think we all look back and say what if!!

  6. I love the premise. (I liked Sliding Doors too.) The setting sounds fun.

    It's impressive to work for a solid 15 minutes. I'm curious if Cynthia had an outline or just wrote on the fly.

    Congrats to Cynthia!

  7. Cynthia, thanks again for joining us today. Your writing techniques are impressive. Wishing you much success.

    Hi, all. Thanks for dropping by. Have a great Friday. :)

  8. Glad that you talked about writing your book in such short amount of time. That is very inspiring to me and gives me encouragement to start writing! I was in high school in the early 1960s and have some vivid memories so I would love to read your book.

  9. Writing in 15minute increments would be tough. It would mean already engaging your brain to the task so when you sat down you were ready to go. I do like your points about just forging ahead with a quick note to yourself about research and problem solving and coming back to it later rather than getting all involved in finding the perfect word or solution at the time of writing. Good focus.

    Book sounds fascinating. I have to check it out!

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  10. Having come of age in the 60's I absolutely love them. This book and the way you wrote it absolutely sucked me in. Hope I win. Did put it on my list.
    Good luck!

  11. This is a different type book then I have read before. But I like all kinds of books so am anxious to try it.

  12. Love the premise for this book. Something which always fascinates me - and made me think of Kate Atkinson's Life after Life.
    And I really, really admire the tenacity and the drive to continue writing in those tiny increments. It sounds as if it was something that Cynthia HAD to do. Huge congratulations to her.

  13. This sounds really interesting. I'd love to read it! Thank you!

  14. This novel sounds captivating and enthralling. I grew up during the 1960's so this would be fascinating. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  15. That sounds like a brilliant way to write a book, and really quite disciplined too. I think it must have paid off, I've heard great things about The Bookseller, thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  16. This book is on my TBR pile, it sounds interesting to me. I enjoy books that have a book theme. Thank you for sharing

  17. I've been reading raves about this book top of my wish list,

  18. Bookseller sounds perfect for me.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.