How to Write a Novel in a Month

60000-word novel, blurb, chapters, finding time to write, NaNoWriMo, outline, summary, Uncategorized
National novel-writing month (NaNoWriMo) comes around once every November, the object being to write an entire novel in a month. But you could choose any month to write your novel. The possibility of writing a novel at all, let alone in one month seems beyond the bounds of reason. Yet, it is possible. A little bit of discipline goes a long way and if you are committed to the task, you will find that you can complete the novel in the time allocated without even breaking a sweat.
Before you start, there are a small number of things you need to do to prepare.
1.     Decide what the novel is about. Can you summarize the plot in 200-300 words? These are the sort of words that you might find on the dust jacket of a book. If you can’t sum up what the novel is about in a paragraph or two, perhaps you need to do some work to get it clear in your mind. Who is the main character? What are they trying to achieve? What stands in their way? How is their main opposition eliminated in the course of the book? Is there a satisfactory conclusion? Apart from the last one (which would involve a spoiler of sorts) these are the questions that the blurb – or short description – should answer.
2.     Do an outline. An outline is a document that contains a short description of what happens in each chapter. Some writers dispense with the outline and just start writing, making the story up as they go along. The disadvantage of this approach is that you can end up taking the plot down various rabbit holes and you run the risk of grinding to a halt. Another risk you run by not outlining is not really knowing where to finish the story. This can result in either an abrupt ending, or a bunch of loose ends that are not tied up by the time the novel finishes. So make it easy for yourself and work out the action beforehand for each successive chapter. For our purposes, divide the novel into 30 chapters, each of which will be about 2,000 words long. 60,000 words is about the minimum you need for a modern novel. Writing an outline also allows you to iron out any bumpy patches in the plot beforehand so that all you need to worry about later is writing the book.
3.     Write the first couple of chapters. This gives you a head start. The purpose of writing the first couple of chapters is to get you into the swing of writing. It may take you a couple of tries before you settle into a style of writing that you are comfortable with and that you can sustain throughout the length of the novel.
4.     Get the agreement of those you live with so that they can be persuaded to get behind the project and allow you the time you need to write. If you don’t, then expect the next month to be a rocky road!
These preparatory steps can be done over a period of weeks or even months before you even get to the writing part. They are important for leveling the playing field and making it easy on yourself when you sit down to write the novel.
Obviously, the biggest factor in whether you are able to write a novel in a month will be whether you can find the time (see my blog post on December 30, 2015 on FindingTime to Write). The proposition involves prioritizing writing time so that it comes relatively high on your list of daily tasks. In this case, you may find it useful to divide the novel into weeks. Your weekly schedule might look like this:
Weekdays: Get up early and write for 1 hour. In the evening skip TV and write for an further 2½  hours (at the reasonable rate of 600 words an hour that’s about 2,000 words per weekday). Of course, if it is impossible for you to get up any earlier than you already do, you could just transfer your writing time to the evening and work from 7 to 10.30 p.m. Or whatever combination works for you. Here, you can see that you are going to have to sacrifice some other enjoyable pastime, such as vegetating in front of the TV all evening. But it’s only for a month! There are 5 weekdays and, if you aim to write 2,000 words a day, that comes to 10,000 words, leaving you 5,000 words to write at the weekend.
Weekends: Weekends for many people tend to be the time when you lie in bed for longer and wander about in pajamas eating cereal at midday. What you have to do is come up with about 4 hours on Saturday and about 4 hours on Sunday and you will have hit your target of 5,000 words for the weekend. Getting up early might work. Working late into Saturday night might work. It’s up to you. Yes, it might be difficult because you will be out of your usual routine. But it’s only for a month!
With this schedule you will clock up 15,000 words every week and after a month you will have over 60,000 words to show for your efforts. There are other ways of doing it, of course. You could carve out every weekend and work from dawn till dusk, or even cash in a week’s vacation time and write 8,500 words per day to complete your novel. Any way you look at it, at the end of the allotted time you will have a fully-fledged novel manuscript in you hands and can then work with that.
So, say you somehow manage to get your family and those you live with to agree to giving you the time you need to write and you have enough discipline to stick to the task, what exactly do you do when you sit down to write? Well, that is easy, because you have gone through the preparatory steps mentioned above. You simply follow your outline, chapter by chapter, until you reach the end of the book. Don’t worry if what you are writing down does not appear to be of the best quality. You can always go back and edit it later. What matters is that you have a complete novel under your belt. From then on the task is revising the text in order to get it ready for submission to a publisher or literary agent. Or you could short-circuit that process and go ahead and publish it independently yourself.
This scheme allows you to write a whole novel in a month. But you could make things easier on yourself by writing 1,000 words a day and completing the project in two months. The choice is yours. If you have any ambitions as an author, what matters is that you give writing some priority in your day-to-day schedule and thus give yourself a chance of completing your writing projects.


Finding Time to Write

bestsellers' list, creative writing, distractions, finding time to write, publishing, Uncategorized, writing
One of the reasons a lot of people have never written a novel, or completed any other writing project for that matter, comes down simply to the fact that they can’t find the time to write. But there are various different attitudes strung along that continuum. Some say that they can’t find the time because their social calendar is full. In this case, each social event is weighed up against the desire to write and, after the briefest of punch-ups, writing takes a dive in the first round and is once again put on the back burner. Others say that whenever they sit down to write they are too easily distracted by other things: TV, the Internet, finishing a crossword, reading a book, staring out the window. This is a common complaint that is easily remedied by a bit of objective examination of the circumstances. But there are people on the other end of the spectrum, who believe that everything should be sacrificed in order for you to achieve your writing goals. I have even heard more than one well-known writer maintain that he chooses writing over his wife and children and has no trouble abandoning them to concentrate on his writing…
One aspect of writing that makes a difference in whether or not you ever achieve anything at all, is whether you take a professional attitude to your writing projects. If you view them merely as pastimes or hobbies, then there is little to stop everything else impinging on your writing time (although you could argue that there are many people who take their hobbies more seriously than they do their day-time jobs!). If you say to yourself, “Self, you must be serious about finishing writing projects and take steps to guard the time allocated to them,” then you are well on the way to writing success. It’s a good start at least. Never just dabble, never merely “dip your toe” in the waters of the writing life. If you ever want to achieve something as a writer you have to have a decent amount of commitment to see it through.
If you happen to be married, then it helps enormously if you can obtain the agreement of your spouse. All it takes is sitting down together and discussing what is reasonable in terms of time commitment and effort. This is often a two way street and you may have to make some reasonable concessions of your own before an agreement can be reached. There is no use insisting upon your writing time if there is nothing in it for your partner. The mistake that the aforementioned guy who put his writing before his family made was in setting his priorities wrongly. It is the same with any career choice. The time you spend with your spouse and kids is crucially important. If you skimp on that, you do not get the time back, and you cannot make up for the kids’ lost time by choosing to spend time with them when they are adults and you have several bestselling novels under your belt. No, without doubt, when compared to almost everything else in your life, family should come first. On the other hand, if you examine your schedule you will probably find that you can cut some slack here and there from other less important activities and still find time to write, without stealing time from your family.
Taking time out of your downtime is often a good place to carve out a writing life. That is not to say that you should lock yourself away and never communicate with another human ever again. All it means is that, if you are serious about wanting to achieve something as a writer, then often you have to make sacrifices elsewhere. There is all sorts of time that is easy to spend on watching sports activities and TV shows, that, with some shrewd management and a modicum of discipline, could add several hours of writing time to your average week.
So, say you hack away at your schedule and miraculously chisel out an hour a day. What do you do then? Well, first of all you need to find a place to write that is not prone to distractions. This is preferably in a room on your own. Some people can write better while listening to music. I’m not one of those people. I’m easily distracted. Similarly, if you find yourself peering through the slatted blinds at the traffic passing outside your home for hours on end, maybe you should turn your chair/desk/writing surface so that you can’t be distracted by that.
You may even find that when you sit down to write, you are too drowsy and no amount of coffee will shift that. Everyone has his or her own circadian rhythm and each person is more drowsy at certain times of the day and more alert at others. It’s worth experimenting with this to find out when a good time for you is. I know that I begin to slump some time between 3.30 and 5 p.m.; for others it may be different. Then again, if you find you are drowsy no matter what time you choose, then you may not be getting enough sleep. There’s no point is waking up after half an hour slumped over the desk and drooling into the keyboard of your laptop. For some, lack of sleep can be accounted for by the fact that they are getting up several times a night to tend to a newborn infant. In that case, there is nothing you can do about it and you either have to stumble on and make the best of it, or regretfully wait for a few months until you’re back on your game.
Whatever time or place you choose, what matters is whether you are serious about wanting to achieve something in your writing. So to sum up:
  • Be professional
  • Get the complicity of your family
  • Prioritize your social activities
  • Choose a conducive place in which to write
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Get enough sleep
  • Choose a time to write that works for you


After that, all that is required is for you to come up with a few interesting projects to work on. You will find, if you can sustain a regular work ethic in writing that, in time, you will be able to complete even the most complex of projects. Before you know it you will be sending off manuscripts and book proposals to publishers and eagerly awaiting the sudden appearance of your new novel on the New York Times bestsellers’ list. (Or wallpapering your bedroom with rejection letters, depending on how good you are – but that’s another topic.)