I would argue that novels are the best form of storytelling ever and will continue to remain the best form of storytelling ever. However, today is not the day I explain why this is so. Today is the day I tell you how you can participate in this awesome way of telling your stories, and how you can go from zero to novelist in 30 days or less.
So let us begin.
Why 30 days?
Because of NaNoWriMo, that’s why. November and Novel share the first three letters, so if you’re going to try and write a novel really fast, you should probably do it in the month that is most similar to novels and has a huge support group readily available online and IRL.
Okay, but seriously: 30 days is long enough to get some real work done, but short enough to be a little crazy. Actually a lot of crazy, but we’re talking about setting goals and doing hard things because life is too short to waste years on a book.
In 30 days, you can write 50,000 words—the average length of a novel—by simply sitting down every day and writing a new 1,667 words (a little more than 3 pages single-spaced).
The thing about writing that many words in that few days is that you can’t expect yourself to write impeccably. You’re just writing out your first draft, which can later be revised into a publishable draft. And that’s the mad beauty of writing a novel in 30 days.
See, you’re not actually finishing a novel in 30 days, you’re just laying the groundwork for a finished novel by churning out so many words that inevitably you will write some stuff that you like amidst the mess of stuff you don’t care for. And out of the stuff that you like, you can grow a wonderful novel.
And not having to finish your novel in that amount of time suddenly makes the process of just writing words based on characters that you’ve imagined in a place that you may have never been seem that much more attainable.
Plus, it’s a huge achievement. Regardless of how coherent your 1,667 new words are each day, by the end of 30 days, you will have managed to write 50,000 words, which is a-fricking-mazing and is more than enough to get you started on finishing your novel.
So. How do I write 50,000 words in 30 days?
There are two main thoughts when it comes to writing that much that quickly, which I have outlined in my beginner’s guide to novel-writing. Both of these thoughts can produce awesome novels in 30 days, so let’s take a look at each of them and talk about how you can use them to churn out a new 1,667 words every day.
The premise of plotting is that you have a basic (or complex) outline of how your novel is going to go. Then you just flesh it out with paragraphs and pages and descriptions and awesome nouns and verbs, and boom! you have yourself a novel.
The benefit of plotting is that you’ll never get to say “dang, I don’t know what comes next,” because you’ve already plotted it out. You may sit before a blank screen and wonder how on earth are you going to make that plot point come alive on the page, but you will always know more or less what comes next.
This is incredibly helpful when it comes to pumping out 1667 words in a day because most of the heavy lifting is already done: you’ve already sat down and done the imagining, so you just have to convey your imagination with detail. And believe me, if you really need to, you can come up with some helpful world-building descriptions to pad out your quota each day.
The downside of plotting is that you might accidentally end up forcing your characters into things they wouldn’t actually do because that’s just how you plotted it already. Additionally, you may stifle imaginative solutions to problems you created earlier simply because you are following your outline and not giving yourself enough creative freedom to write.
The second thought is fondly called flying by the seat of your pants, or pantsing. Pantsing is amazing because something new, incredible, and unthinkable can happen at any moment because you’re just making things up on the fly.
Is your world too bland? Suddenly you can change it up! Is your character boring you? Kill ’em off and write about another one of your characters!
Pantsing is a great exercise in imagination. Anything can happen. Anything will happen if you let it. And it’s not hard to come up with 1,667 words at a time if you can just keep your characters flying by the seats of their pants!
The trouble comes when your imagination runs out of steam when the word count presses on. What should you do about that random baddie who so far is actually, really invincible? The blank page can be extremely daunting if you run out of ideas and don’t have any back-pocket tricks to help kick you out of your rut.
Give me nitty-gritty suggestions, please
I personally combine plotting with pantsing by plotting out the main arc and characters and pantsing whatever happens in the middle. And if you have an idea for a novel that’s been floating around in your head, chances are you’re a good candidate for such a mix—you already have the overarching idea structure, you just have to put that into words.
Regardless of how you actually get the words out and keep them coming, these are some things that I find useful for writing a lot of words in not-a-lot of days.
Schedule time to write
Life doesn’t stop so you can sit down and write your novel. If you want to write that many words, you need to make time to sit down and write your novel.
And with a timed challenge like this, you’re going to want to prioritize. Do I really need to watch the newest episode of Walking Dead or can I maybe use that time to write? If I eat leftovers, I don’t need to spend as much time cooking, which gives me time to write. Shoot, I can shower in 10 minutes or less so I can write more.
If you can only sit down for 5-15 minutes, DO IT! You don’t need a lot of time to write. In fact, if you combine 15 times a day that you sat down for 5 minutes, you’ve written for over an hour!
Use mindless tasks to your advantage
If you only have short snippets of time to write in, you need to be using other tasks and times to let your imagination gain some ground. While some people prioritize writing over doing the dishes, you can use small mindless tasks like doing the dishes as plotting times.
This way, when you do sit down for those 5 minutes of writing, you have more than enough ideas to write about for the entirety of those 5 minutes.
And even if you have a lot of time to write in (say 1 hr+ at a time), using mindless tasks or boring commutes to spark your imagination and invent scenarios helps immensely when you get down to the actual writing.
Write in the cloud
So you should write in whatever way brings you most joy. I have found that while hand-writing is a cool way to write a novel, I work best on Google Docs or Evernote because I can always access them 99% of the time.
The Internet does fail on occasion, but because it is generally reliably accessed anywhere from multiple devices, I think it is better to keep at least one version of your novel on the Internet so that you can keep writing on your computer, on your phone, and on a tablet. That way, no matter what device you have available, you can keep writing.
One year I wrote over 5,000 words on my iPod touch. That’s what I had with me, it could connect to the Internet, which meant that I could write in the 2-3 minutes before class started. Which added up over 30 days.
Find a writing buddy
Whether they’re virtual or your neighbor, a writing buddy can help you come up with solutions to problems, cheer you on, commiserate, and just generally help you out.
And if nothing else, having a writing buddy means someone knows what you’re trying to accomplish. And if you choose a good writing buddy, they’ll help motivate you to actually accomplish it, give you good reasons to skip that party, and sit down and write with you.
Keep on writing
Now compared to 50,000 words, 1,667 doesn’t really seem that daunting. But when you’re sitting before a blank page or just finished your chapter without any clue what happens next or how it needs to happen, 1,667 words looms over you like silent and utter failure.
You’ll write out a long, adjective-and-adverb-filled sentence and check your word count only to find somehow you’ve lost words.
When you feel stuck, just keep writing. I don’t mean that you should write out all 100 lines that your character is writing in detention. I mean you should find something else to write about, and just keep writing.
Don’t know how to finish that chapter? It’s fine, start the next chapter and come back to it later. Keep on writing.
Not really sure what the dynamic of that hard conversation is? Just write out the dialogue and keep going. You can add in the descriptions afterward. Keep on writing.
Upset with your character right now? All you have to do is start a new chapter from a different character’s perspective, or skip ahead to where you like that character again. Keep on writing.
Feeling like you need to go back and change POV? That’s a lot of words to fix. Do it later. Change the POV right where you’re at. Keep on writing.
Chances are good you will never be 100% stuck in your novel. If you feel like what you’re writing at the moment is lackluster 1) give yourself a break and 2) skip around and write about different plot points, world-building, history, and character development.
No one expects you to write your novel straight-through on the first try. And if you expect that of yourself, stop it.
Ignore your inner editor
Look, you and I both know that a lot of the words you are writing will be trash. You may be painfully aware of this to the point where you don’t keep on writing.
Do not give in to the annoyance of your inner editor! Write them off and come back to your novel with them later.
If you try to right a perfect first draft in 30 days, you are setting yourself up for failure. Just write, write some more, ignore your inner editor, and keep on writing.
… less than 30 days?
We’re a week into NaNoWriMo. That means you have 23 days left to write 50,000 words if you start from scratch. That’s only 2,174 words a day to reach 50,000 by the end of the month.
I thought about posting this on November 1st but decided to wait. Partly because I didn’t have any novel ideas. And partly because I know that there are people out there who are believing their excuses for why they can’t write the novel in their head.
There is never a bad time to write your novel. And even if you don’t believe the world needs or wants your novel, I believe you need your novel.
Even if you only write 5,000 words, that’s still 5,000 more words than you have right now! And it’s more likely that you’ll write closer to 10,000 words, which is almost halfway through a novella.
My point is, even if you don’t write 50,000 words, every word you do write matters. It’s awe-inspiring (because writing is quite difficult, as you surely know). So whether you start today, started 7 days ago, or start in another 12 days, write your novel.
What do you think? Do you enjoy the mayhem of NaNoWriMo? Do you prefer to take your time and write with your inner editor instead of spewing out so many words at a time? How do you finish your novels? Share in the comments!