NaNoWriMo Day #26 – Idea to book, three step prep

By Mike MacDonald


I remember my brother-in-law telling me a story about how he once ran a marathon back when he was in college.

He didn’t do it for the love of sport. Or because he wanted to get into shape.

He did it based on a bet.

If memory serves, I think the stakes were a case of beer or something. Either way, the bet hinged on one very specific condition: he wasn’t allowed to do any sort of training beforehand. With him not being a long-distance runner, or frankly, any sort of runner whatsoever, I didn’t think he’d be able to pull if off.

Turns out, I was wrong. But only technically.

While he did finish the marathon, his body was in absolute tatters afterwards: he was more or less unable to walk for weeks to come; he injured his knee; he had developed some sort weird toe injury which bothers him to this day. Basically, it was an ugly scene.

As many people have pointed out, there’s a lot of similarities between running a marathon and writing a book. In order to be successful in either of the two pursuits, you need to have realistic and measurable goals, unless of course you want to crawl over the finish line in a heaping, bloody mess like my aforementioned brother-in-law.

For the better part of the last two years, I’ve worked with my good friend, Jilly Gagnon, writing the Choose Your Own Misery series of books.

While we’re currently working on the third book, the first and second book have word counts of 65,000 and 75,000 respectively.

Of course, these word counts aren’t that big comparative to most other books. In fact, they’re fairly moderate. But before entering into this world, I worked as a journalist where an incredibly long article would be around 2000 words or so. The idea of being responsible for 70,000 words, and good ones at that, was daunting.

But unlike my brother-in-law, Jilly and I decided that we wanted to be functional human beings after we got over the finish line. In order to do so, we set daily goals for ourselves, all of which were realistic and measurable.

Below is our three step process for writing a Choose Your Own Misery book. It’s my hope that reading about our process will help you set your own writing goals, or if we want to dive back into the marathon metaphor again, act as your pacemaker.




Everyday, Jilly and I would meet at 1:30 p.m. It’s here that we’d discuss potential ideas and jokes for the book. Usually, each meeting would take between an hour or two. In total, I think we spent three months planning out each book.



We also spent three months writing up The Office and The Holidays, respectively. Each day, we were responsible for writing up three nodes. Generally speaking, each node is somewhere between 300 and 500 words.

Now, I’d like to point out that I’m an extremely slow writer. It’s largely because I’ll do almost anything to distract myself from my work, “The inside of the oven needs to be cleaned? Oh well, that obviously needs to be attended to poste haste!” If I don’t lose my focus though, it usually takes me between one to two hours to finish writing all three nodes.



Editing was done around the same time as the writing, just so that we could remain flexible and make adjustments to the story where needed. Again, we’d meet over Skype and edit our work from the previous day together. It would usually take us anywhere from an hour to two, each weekday.


And that’s it, really.

While writing a book is no doubt challenging, if you set daily goals, which are measurable and realistic, you’ll give yourself a great chance at success.

Now, if you’ll excuse, I need to drive my brother-in-law to the podiatrists.


Mike MacDonaldAs a Canadian, MIKE MACDONALD is used to ruminating endlessly over simple everyday decisions, such as putting milk or cream in his morning cup of coffee, whether to take the train or the bus, and just how badly this sweater needs a wash. Basically, he was born to write choose-your-own-path books, at least as long as they completely avoid adventure.

Mike attended graduate school at the London School of Economics, where he wrote his dissertation on the political relevance of satirical news. Upon graduating, he took an editorial internship at America’s Finest News Source, The Onion, or as his parents called it, the least practical option available. He continued to work as a contributing writer for The Onion for the next four years.

Mike has written and produced a sketch comedy television show with one of the largest networks in Canada, launched a Canadian satirical news site, The Smew, and worked as a journalist for the largest newspaper chain in Canada. Because all these things happened in Canada, of course, you’ve never heard about them.


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