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  • Writer's pictureSophie

How the 1% experiment is helping me write a novel

This year, I chose to nominate one of my goals each Quintile to be my 1% goal. What does that mean? Well, Brooke McAlary, a great writer on Substack focused on slow/intentional living, applied this concept to her yearly goals last year, and this year invited her readers to join in.


Photo by Wix


What is the 1% experiment?


The idea is to spend an additional 1% each day or week working on a goal. It could be 15 mins per day, 1 hour 45 per week, 1% more than you’re currently doing, or some other measure that makes sense for the activity.


The idea is it makes it so small it’s always manageable, and there can be different ways to engage in the same activity. She recommends creating a “grab and do” list of small versions of the activity so that even on hard days you can do something related the activity, to keep the habit and spirit of the activity going.


Using 1% to write a novel.


For my current Quintile, my 1% is focused on writing a novel. This is around 15 mins a day. For about 4 years from when I was on maternity leave with E until O was about 1, I did a fair bit of writing, including drafting a novel, and getting about 2/3 through the second draft. Then 2021 covid lockdowns got to me, as did going back to work with two young kids, so I put writing on hold. Now, two years later I’m ready to start writing again, and I have an idea for a novel, BUT it has to be manageable. Hence the 1% strategy.


And it’s working! I’m using the Snowflake approach to writing a novel. the space of a few weeks I have:

  1. Brainstormed story ideas

  2. Mapped out my major plot points

  3. Created basic character profiles for each of my main characters

  4. Written a scene from the perspective of each character to get in their heads

  5. Written a version of the story from each characters perspective

Next step is to expand my basic story into a more detailed story synopsis.


All this has been done around full-time work, parenting a 3 and 6 year old, having visitors stay with us for 3 weeks, navigating sick kids, and life in general.


So what makes this approach work? Flexibility in what 1% looks like. If I had to sit at a computer for an hour (or more) at a time to write, this would never work. I’m much too tired at night, and there’s no regular blocks of time during daytime hours. But, things I can do (grab and go list) are:

  • Brainstorm ideas with a note pad and pen over coffee in the morning

  • Develop story ideas while having a brisk walk

  • Listen to writing podcasts for inspiration while doing the dishes

  • Spend 30-60 mins on the laptop writing a scene etc while my son is napping on the weekend


By always having the project front of mind, it means I’m more ready to start writing when I DO have proper time (maybe once or twice per week), and it’s amazing how much more progress is made by adding the 15 minute increments in most days.


(CAVEAT: This has gotten MUCH easier now that my son is 3. Having newborns/toddlers is much harder and no strategy was helping me back then. No approach can magically create time or energy when there isn’t any! So if this is you right now, give yourself grace.)


Anyone else use this kind of approach to achieve large projects? Any other tips for making this kind of approach work? Feel free to share below!









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Melissa Stebbins
Melissa Stebbins
Apr 24

I read/listen to Brooke too, and I thought this was such a good idea but haven’t thought about trying it myself. Now, that you’ve reminded me, I was thinking maybe this would work for my big project of getting our photobooks done. Will need to consider it.


Writing a book is an ambitious project, but it sounds like you’ve got it worked out and are making good progress.

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Sophie
Sophie
Apr 25
Replying to

I wondered if anyone would have heard of Brooke. I always find her content so thoughtful. Yes I think photobooks are a good one to do in chunks of time, particularly if they can be put together on a phone as well as a desktop. I use Popsa on my phone and I manage to do them quite painlessly these days!

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jennystancampiano
Apr 23

I'm not writing a novel, but I looked at the "Snowflake approach" and found it fascinating. And the 1% approach is brilliant. Like you said- a list of quick things you can do when you have a little time, and overall it keeps the project top of mind.

I'm just curious- what happened to the first novel you were writing?

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Sophie
Sophie
Apr 23
Replying to

It’s sitting in a drawer. After 5 years I was ready for a new story. It was a great practice story, and one day I might be inspired to finish it, but I’m for now I’m taking what I learned and applying it to a new story, and making MUCH faster progress this time haha!

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Guest
Apr 22

Love this concept! I have lots of things I need/want to do but also get hung up on “not having enough time”. I love the reminder that little bits of time add up. I may need to rethink my approach! Awesome job on your novel progress. :)

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Sophie
Sophie
Apr 23
Replying to

Hi Kae! Yes I think some of it is a mindset approach, by telling ourselves “this is what I’m working on now”, we find ways to use the little bits of time, but if we think “I don’t have enough time to get started”, we don’t even try and that time gets sucked up by other things.

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