Sometimes you think you should wait another year and get settled into your freelance writing career before starting a fiction project so you can save up some money, and sometimes you decide in .2 intense seconds that you need to start RIGHT NOW even though you know it means you’ll make half the money you were on track to make this year. Or wait–maybe that’s just me. Am I being irresponsible?

Maybe. But the good ole Universe gave me the impetus I needed this past weekend and so project novel is a go. I won’t get into exactly what had me deciding that I’m meant to start this project now, though I’ll briefly mention that this article (and this one too) had a bit to do with it. Thanks, Ash, for reminding me that sometimes the perfect response to all your self-doubt and self-imposed “responsibilities” is a poised and sturdy middle finger.

But I’m not here to sweep you away with romantic arguments on why you should start that novel you’ve been putting off. No–at least, not yet. That will come later on, perhaps in between the angry crying fits that will inevitably come once I start my own novel. Or maybe by that point I’ll be advising you to never ever write a novel ever in your entire life–who knows. I could be in a dark place here in a few months, we’ll see.

Anyway, back to the point. Right now my goal is to show you that starting a novel might not be as scary a pursuit as you might think. I’d say probably 70% of the scariness is due to being unable to wrap your head around the whole process, the whole enchilada. “Where do I even start? How long ‘should’ it take? Oh, is that me crying already? Haha, I’m so scared.” Me too, old friend, but I’d like to share with you my half-hearted attempt at an answer to all these questions:

You figure it out along the way.

Okay, so you start writing a book. “But what do I do when I’m done? How do I know when I’m done? How do I even find agents or publishers?” The answer is who gives a shit–don’t worry about that right now. If you’re ever going to start, you need to start before you feel ready, and that means getting comfortable with uncertainty and being cool with not having the answers to most of your questions.

Now, I’ve never written a novel before, so am I really qualified to be giving you advice? Absolutely not. But I’m gonna do it anyway and advise you to plan the best you can with the knowledge you have now and get on with it. You’ll figure it out along the way–just do what feels right in the meantime.

My plan involves a lot of not knowing. I shit you not–parts of my plan say “week 40: maybe I’m still editing?” because I just don’t know, and I’m cool with that. While I’m very obsessed with planning and struggle daily to get a handle on my OCD-like tendencies, I know that planning the bejesus out of your next novel project isn’t the answer–it’s what will prevent you from ever actually starting. But alas, being me, I still formulated a “plan”, if one could even call it that.

So here’s my “okay let’s be honest this isn’t really a plan” plan for writing a novel. Here’s the Dropbox folder where you can find the Word version (get with the times, people) and the Pages version of my not-really-a-plan plan. Warning to the faint of heart: there are curse words, because if you’re not cursing while planning a big scary project like a novel then you’re lying to yourself.

To be clear, this plan is really for someone who already has a general idea of what their story will be about. But if you don’t already have an idea for a novel? You add in a week or 2 for idea generation and you’re good to go. And if you’re wondering why it’s titled THIS IS THE NOVEL in big bold letters, it’s because I’ve been looking for an idea for a good novel for the past few months, and when it finally came to me last weekend I flipped out and ran to my computer to start a new Evernote note, realizing that “THIS IS THE NOVEL” idea I’ve been looking for.

It includes general deadlines for research, learning, practice, planning, a first draft, and a final draft. I know it sounds like I wrote it to get people all inspired (and laughing), but originally I wrote it just for me. Honestly I was just trying to make my future self laugh because I know shit’s about to get real dark over the next few months and I want to try to maintain a sort of lightheartedness about it. Later on I decided I should share it here in the hopes that it’ll give someone else the push they need to finally get started.

I’m sure you can find plenty of novel planning guides online with much more detail that could help you foster a (perhaps false) sense of security for the journey you’re about to embark on, but riddle me this. Why did it take Jack Kerouac only a month to write On the Road while it took J.R.R. Tolkien 12 years to write Lord of the Rings?

Because it’s all about you, partner–not some blogger goofball who’s convinced he’s cracked the formula for writing a successful novel (and wants to sell it to you). It’s about you and your book, where you are in your writing career, and what your story’s all about. No one can tell you how long it should take or what you should do at each step. Looking for a one-size-fits-all answer is a mistake. And you can bet your barnacles that J.K. Rowling didn’t use Bob the Blogger’s Billion Dollar Book Plan to crank out one of the best series in the world.

That’s not to say that online resources–free or paid–can’t help educate us on how to write a novel. For instance, all that NaNoWriMo stuff looks super cool. But I’d caution against following plans like these to a T. Follow too many of someone else’s rules, templates, and schedules, and your book will look just like everyone else’s.

So let’s make that clear right now–the plan I’ve given you is not your own. You need to make it your own. Hopefully it’ll help you figure out what you want your own “not really a plan” plan to look like and get you wondering if now’s the time to finally start. Here’s a hint: it probably is. Life’s too short to keep all the good stuff in your head. Share it with us for god’s sake!

What’s the plan for your novel look like? Can I see it?!? I won’t copy from it, I swear. Unless it’s really good.

And now that I have(n’t really) told you how to plan your first novel even when you have no idea what in the blazes you’re doing (alright maybe the title is a bit misleading), I’m out. Later we’ll go into the resources mentioned in the plan linked above, but until then, I’ll be having a ball on my brand spankin’ new MacBook Air while also wondering how the hell I’m going to write a novel.