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.