How to Write a Novel in a Month
Write a novel in a month? Yes, it is possible, and in this post, we’ll break the process down to see how you can get it done. But first, let’s look at why you might want to embark on such an ambitious project in the first place.
Why Write a Novel in a Month?
We’ve all heard those horror stories about writers struggling for years over a single manuscript. While there is a time and a place for writing slowly and agonising over every word, sometimes you just want/need to make faster progress. Here’s why you should try to write a novel in a month.
Freedom and Creativity
Writing a novel in a month is a wonderful experience. There’s a secret freedom to just letting go of all the judgment and self-criticism. When you’re writing so quickly, you have to let go. And guess what? When you sidestep your inner critic, sometimes you may be surprised—in a good way—by what you come up with. Those crazy ideas that you would whack on the head in a more considered mood now get flung on the page. Your writing may have more energy, more wildness, more creativity.
Are you suffering from writer’s block? Or just the lethargy that can come along when you sit down to write and spend hours staring at the blank page (or doodling, or staring out of the window, or worst of all, going online)?
Aiming to write a novel in a month can give you some great motivation. You have a daily word count, and if you don’t meet it, you’ll have to write even more tomorrow to make up for the shortfall. You don’t have time to wait for inspiration—you just have to do it.
There’s nothing more satisfying than finishing something. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you need to go back to it and do further rounds of editing, at least you’ve finished a novel. For many of us, that’s a lifetime ambition, and too many people never get around to realising it. If you set yourself an ambitious goal, you can experience the wonderful feeling of bringing your story from the first chapter to the last, from the initial exposition to the final climax, all in a single month.
Explore New Ideas
Do you have an idea for a novel, but you’re not sure if it will work out? Do you want to try writing in a completely different style from your usual one?
You could spend ages making notes and theorising over whether your new ideas would work. Or you could just try them out, fast and furious, and see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, you’ve only wasted a short amount of time. If it does work out, you may have a whole new direction for your writing.
How to Write a Novel in a Month
OK, so that was the why. Now let’s look at the how. How do you actually write a novel in a month? Here are some tips to help you go from the blank page to a finished novel.
1. Find the Right Idea
Before you start writing, you need to have a clear idea of what you’re going to write. There will basically be no time to sit around brainstorming ideas, so you need to have a clear concept before the month starts.
And what do we mean by the “right” idea? Well, although you can write any style of novel you like, do keep in mind that it’s going to be a tall order to write a novel in a month, and if you choose a very complicated idea or one that requires you to create and then keep track of a huge cast of characters, you’re making that task even harder.
So give careful thought to the idea you want to pursue. A relatively simple plot with a clear trajectory is ideal (think of a traditional “quest”, a road trip, or possibly a genre novel that follows familiar rules). If you want to write a dense literary novel with dozens of characters, of course feel free to go ahead—just understand that it’s going to be tougher.
2. Plan… But Not Too Much
To write a novel in a single month, you’re going to need to write really fast, with little time for planning as you go. So it helps to have the general plot trajectory sketched out. Who are your characters, what happens to them to get the action going, and how does their story develop?
You don’t need to have everything locked down—in fact, it’s probably better not to. It’s good to allow some room for spontaneity as you write, and taking your story in new and unexpected directions can be a wonderful way to keep the energy and motivation flowing all through the month. But having a general framework for the novel is a good start. We’ll be talking more about planning here on Just Write Your Book, so stay tuned for that.
3. Set a Writing Schedule
The next step is to start planning the nuts and bolts of your writing. How much time can you spare for writing? How will you fit it into your schedule?
The key here is to make space. If you live a busy life, with lots of work and family commitments, and you currently write hardly anything on a day-to-day basis, it’s pointless to say you’re suddenly going to write for five hours a day. You need to create that space by giving something up.
So decide what you’re going to give up to make space and time for your writing. Can you take time off work? Can you cut back on social commitments? Quit TV or the internet or other time sucks? Be realistic, but also be ruthless. Writing a novel in a month is a huge task, and you’ll need at least a few hours a day to have a chance of getting it done. The more you can spare, the better your chances of success.
4. Set a Word Count Goal
Next, you’ll want to plan out how many words you need to write every day in order to stay on target. Start by deciding how long your novel will be.
As a rough guide, the average novel is 100,000 words long, but keep in mind that actual novels can vary enormously. Check out this list of famous novels and their word counts—War and Peace weighs in at a hefty 587,287, but Slaughterhouse-Five is just 49,459. For National Novel Writing Month, the goal is to write a manuscript of 50,000 words. Generally, anything under 50,000 is considered a novella. For our example, let’s plan on writing a novel of 100,000 words.
Then, look at the calendar and work out how many writing days you’ll have in the month to come. Keep in mind that even if you go full tilt, it’s probably healthy to allow yourself at least one day of rest per week. So you may be looking at something like 25 working days.
Divide the number of words by the number of days. So, for example, 100,000 / 25 = 4,000 words a day.
At this stage, do a reality check. If you have some writing experience, think about how many words you could usually expect to write per hour. Then double that because you’ll be writing super fast this month. With the schedule you set up in step 3, do you have a chance of getting the job done?
If you don’t have much writing experience or don’t know how many words you can write per hour, just know that 500 words per hour is a good pace, and 1,000 words per hour is a real stretch. (Writers’ habits vary enormously, so this is just a general rule of thumb—your stats may be very different.)
So if you think you can write 1,000 words per hour, you’d need four hours a day to make your goal (or preferably five, to build in a little leeway).
If there’s a mismatch between your word count goal and your writing time, make adjustments to one or the other. Give up more tasks and create more time in your schedule if that’s possible, or alternatively plan to write a shorter novel. A 50,000-word novel in the same 25 working days would yield a much more manageable 2,000-words-per-day target.
5. Create a Support System
This is going to be a tough month, and you’ll need all the help you can get. Setting up a writing routine is a great start. For example, create a special place dedicated to writing if that’s possible. Set a fixed time every day. Many writers like to create some kind of ritual to get them settled and into a creative space, like meditating, lighting incense, doing deep breathing exercises, etc. Find something that works for you—again, this is something we’ll write about more on the site.
Another thing that could work is to buddy up with another writer who’s set the same crazy goal as you. Post on Twitter or on your blog, or join an organised group like National Novel Writing Month. Make a public commitment to your goal and hold yourself accountable every day.
Also, be sure to tell your family and friends what you’re doing, and ask for their indulgence, just for this month. You won’t be as available as you would usually be for anything from spontaneous meetups to daily chores, and you’ll need them to support you in putting your writing first.
6. Dive In!
Now that you’ve got everything set up, it’s time to start writing. As we said before, the key is to let go and just write. You simply don’t have time to analyse and second-guess yourself. Be fluid and open to new possibilities—let the words flow and allow yourself to be surprised by the direction it takes you.
The key is to keep to your allotted time, take breaks to keep yourself refreshed, and keep pounding away on the keyboard until you’ve reached your word count target for the day. Keep track in a spreadsheet (or, if you use book writing software like Scrivener, you can use the software’s “target” feature and stats to do it all for you).
Remember that if you start to fall short, the word count for future days will only climb higher—and as the month goes on, it will start to climb very quickly! It’s easy to let yourself get to the point where the task is beyond you, even with the best will in the world. So really try to stay on top of the goal—and even get ahead of it if you can. If you have a bad day for whatever reason, try to make up for it tomorrow. Don’t let the bad days build up, and definitely don’t skip any planned writing days.
7. Look After Yourself
Although this is a tough goal and you’ll want to push yourself hard to make it, also be sure to take good care of yourself through the month. Eat well, sleep well, take breaks, get exercise when you can, and all that good stuff. A month is a short time for writing a novel, but it’s still a fairly long stretch, and you’ll need to look after your health.
In terms of the popular “marathon vs. sprint” metaphor, think of writing a novel in a month as something like a middle-distance race. You’ll need to go at a high speed, but you’ll also need to pace yourself and make sure you don’t burn out on the first lap.
That’s the basic process of writing a novel in a month. It’s a difficult and demanding goal, but very satisfying if you can pull it off. And if you follow the process we’ve outlined here, it’s quite feasible. Just keep breaking it down into manageable pieces and focus on what’s in front of you: your daily goal, and then how much you need to write each hour, and then just the scene you’re working on right now.
Don’t get discouraged by the size of the task, but don’t relax and let yourself fall behind either. Just keep your head down and keep logging the laps. Before you know it, you’ll be crossing the finish line, and you’ll have the satisfaction of a finished novel on your computer. Then you can do it all again next month… just kidding!