How to Write a Novel in a Month With Your Crazy Schedule
Can you write a novel in a month?
It may have seemed like a lofty goal at first, but now you’re hearing about people with full-time jobs knocking out 50,000 words in 30 days.
You’ve got a friend who just finished National Novel Writing Month while also shuttling kids to soccer practice and computer camp.
And your third cousin’s babysitter just self-published the book they wrote on winter break.
If so many people are taking on this challenge, does that mean it’s somehow easier than you thought?
Nope! It’s hard. It’s a bold endeavor and everyone who completes does so because they are either:
- Blessed with a lot of free time,
- Super driven, or
- Fully committed to a solid strategy.
I suspect you’re here because you’re already super driven to make your dream of becoming an author a reality. That’s already one out of three.
But just to make sure you have the best shot at writing a novel in a month, you might as well equip yourself with a solid strategy, too. This article will help you do exactly that.
First, let’s clarify why this objective is worth pursuing in the first place.
Why is Everybody Trying to Write a Novel in a Month?
So what’s the deal with attempting to write a novel in a month? Is there some kind of magical equation here? Is 30 days the amount of time it should take to write a novel or something?
Nah. One month just happens to be a reasonable-but-challenging goal that caught on after writer Chris Baty challenged himself and 21 other people to write 50,000 words in July of 1999.
That experiment grew into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a worldwide challenge that hundreds of thousands of people take on every year.
And what does one get out of the experience, other than a finished first draft?
It Forces You to Just Start
All writers know how easy it is to avoid the blank page. We’ll draw maps and research our protagonist’s career for months just to put off the terrifying step of writing a first draft.
By committing to this 30-day goal, you give yourself a starting gun. When the calendar page turns, you have no choice but to jump in.
It Gets Your Inner Perfectionist to Just Chill for a Minute.
You’ve got to write 678 more words before your lunch break is up. There’s no time to obsess over finding the exact right word.
It Helps You Find Your Routine
If you don’t already have a regular writing routine, this challenge will force you to find one. By writing every day—or almost every day—you’ll build new habits and learn what works best for you.
It Expands Your Idea of What’s Possible
The beauty of setting big goals is that even if you “fail,” you’ll probably get a lot closer than you thought you could.
Maybe you get 40,000 words instead of 50,000. Maybe you don’t reach your goal but you do create a daily writing habit. No matter what, you win.
Does It Have to Be NaNoWriMo? And Does It Have to Be 50,000 Words?
No and no. You can decide to write a novel any time you want, setting any word count goal you like. In fact, most novels are well over 50,000 words. (But keep in mind that the bigger your word count, the harder it’ll be to reach your 30-day deadline, especially with a full-time job.)
If you want to participate in an official NaNoWriMo challenge, you’ve got options. NaNoWriMo happens every November (write 50,000 words in a month). And Camp NaNoWriMo (set your own goal) happens every April and July.
However you tackle this goal, here are some tips for the journey.
How to Prepare for Month of Noveling
The best way to ensure a successful 30-day novel challenge is to prepare for it. Anticipate roadblocks, streamline your routine, and at least give some thought to what you plan to write.
You can even turn this prep time into its own mission, like Dabble did with the 60-Day Challenge.
Here are some great ways to set yourself up for success.
Choose Your Technology
What tools will make your writing process easier? Consider things like:
- Programs that help you fight distraction, like Freedom or SelfControl
- A Pomodoro or word sprint timer for timed writing sessions
- Whatever program you plan to write your novel in
- An all-encompassing writing tool like Dabble (You’ll learn what “all-encompassing” means as we continue.)
You may not want all of these tools. Some writers do their best work armed with only an egg timer, a word processor, and their own willpower.
But if there’s a program out there that might help you stay organized, focused, and on track, now’s the time to check it out.
Create an Outline
I’m not here to tell pantsers they can’t write a novel in a month if they don’t convert to plannerism.
But maybe consider at least arming yourself with a vague outline. Even just nailing down a few major beats will ensure you can go into this challenge knowing that at the very least, your story works.
I personally do best with a full scene-by-scene outline. I might change the plan here and there as I write, but a comprehensive outline allows me to sit down and get right to typing—no on-the-spot plotting needed.
Dabble Hack – Dabble’s Plot Grid is an incredible tool for plotting your novel beforehand. It can be as complex or bare-bones as you want. Use it to track everything from character arcs to alternating timelines. And your Scene Cards will be right at your fingertips as you start drafting.
Plan Your Schedule
Decide when you’re going to write before the month begins. Put your writing sessions in your calendar and plan to honor them the way you would any other appointment.
Share your schedule with loved ones. Ask them to take it as seriously as you do.
Set a Daily Goal
If your goal is to write a 50,000-word novel in a month, you’re looking at about 1,667 words every day. That’s assuming you write every day.
What if you can’t write every day? Or you’ve decided to use your month to write a 75,000-word novel?
You’re going to have to do some math. Divide the number of words you want to write by the number of days you’ll actually be writing. The answer is your daily word count goal.
Now, let’s say you’re only able to write thirty minutes a day on weekdays and plan to make up for it with long weekend sessions. You can set different targets for those different days. The important thing is to give yourself a target to work with every day so you can maintain a steady pace.
Dabble Hack – Dabble has this awesome Goal Tracker that allows you to establish a target word count, deadline, and days off. Then Dabble calculates a daily goal (no math for you!) and keeps you updated on your progress as you work. This feature even syncs with your NaNoWriMo account.
Simplify Your Life
Can you get away with skipping out on a few social engagements during your month of frantic noveling? Can you schedule a few playdates that get the kids out of the house? What would bare-minimum cleaning look like? Plan to do that.
The more responsibilities you have in life, the likelier you are to get yanked off track by your sense of obligation. Decide ahead of time which duties might be shirk-able.
Keep Loved Ones in the Loop
Guess who’s dying to support you in this adventure?
Your family. Your friends. Everybody who loves you and wants to see you fulfilled.
Now, that probably doesn’t mean your spouse wants to live a single-parent life for the next 30 days. But you can probably count on your loved ones to do things like:
- Leave you alone during your writing sessions
- Not take it personally if you turn down a dinner invitation
- Encourage you when you feel stuck or overwhelmed
Let them know what it would mean to you to write a novel in a month and how they can help you achieve that goal.
Connect With Other Writers
If you’re doing National Novel Writing Month, you can connect with fellow writers in the NaNoWriMo forums. You can also find more of your community in the NaNoWriMo space of Dabble’s Story Craft Café.
Or, if you’re creating your own “write a novel in a month” challenge, let your writer friends know about it. Maybe even invite them to join you.
Plan to keep your writing community close during this endeavor. They’ll be a great source of understanding and encouragement when things get tough.
Dabble Hack – Check out the Story Craft Café to make connections with other writers. This community is a great place to share insight, get inspired, and establish mutual accountability. You can even use Dabble’s free Word Sprint tool to schedule group sprints during your month of novel writing.
How to Knock This Thing Out in a Month
You’ve done everything you can to make this month go as smoothly as possible. Now you just have to sit down and do the thing.
Here are some tips for continually pushing through even as challenges arise.
Write behind a door that closes and possibly locks. Put on headphones. Turn off your wi-fi. Fake your own death so nobody tries to contact you.
Do whatever you need to do to avoid the most tempting distractions.
Dabble Hack – If you’re writing in Dabble, switch your view to full screen and start typing. Everything except your manuscript will automatically fade away. It’s just you and your words, like the literary gods intended.
Don’t Take This Draft Too Seriously
The job of a first draft is not to be brilliant. Its only job is to be words—imperfect words you can reshape into brilliance during the revision process.
When your inner critic claims your last sentence was trash, just cheerfully say, “Oh, I don’t doubt it.” And keep moving.
Use Habit Tracking to Stay Motivated
I already mentioned Dabble’s Goal Tracking feature, which is a great tool for staying amped. You get the satisfaction of seeing your progress in bar-graph form, and you get confetti every time you reach your daily goal.
If you’re not a Dabble user, come up with a habit tracking system of your own.
Record each day’s word count on a calendar. Keep a spreadsheet tracking how much time you put in and how much progress you made. Give yourself a sticker for every session completed.
Give yourself a daily reminder that you’re moving forward.=
Exceed Your Daily Word Count When You Can
If you meet your daily word count goal before the end of a writing session, keep going. Every time you exceed the day’s objective, you take the pressure off future writing sessions.
That way, if something unexpected arises—you get sick or there’s a family emergency—you don’t have to abandon your goal for the month. You can take a day or two to deal with the disaster and return to a still-very-reasonable daily word count goal.
You know there’s a better word. A funnier line of dialogue. A cleverer way to introduce that character.
Find it later.
Now is not the time to obsess over where that comma should go or if her dress was scarlet or poppy red. Make a choice and move forward.
Dabble Hack – Worried Future You won’t remember that you wanted to find a better word or fix that dialogue? Dabble’s comments and sticky notes features are an easy solution.
What to Do After You’ve Completed the Challenge
You’ve done it! You’ve written a novel in a month! Now what?
Celebrate Your Victory
Take yourself out for dinner. Open a bottle of your preferred celebration beverage. Try skydiving, nominate yourself to give a TED Talk, and tell your crush you love them because—as we now know—you’re an unstoppable beast who can survive anything.
Finish Your Novel
Many NaNoWriMo participants meet their word count while there’s still more story left to tell. If this is you, no problem. You still get to claim your victory. Once you’ve celebrated, go finish your novel. Then:
Put a little space between yourself and your first draft. Work on something else for a month or two, maintaining the routine you established during your month of noveling. (You don’t have to keep up the same intensity, though.)
Stepping away ensures that you’re able to read it with a fresh perspective when it’s time to…
Time to take the beautiful mess you spat out during your month of reckless writing and turn it into a literary diamond. You’ll do a few rounds of self-edits, then share your work with critique partners, beta readers, and editors to really bring out the sparkle.
If you feel overwhelmed by the work that still lies ahead, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’ve already done a huge thing.
You wrote an entire novel in a month. A month!
If you can do that, you can do anything.
You don’t have much to lose by trying to write a novel in a month. But you sure have a lot to gain.
A daily writing habit. More confidence in yourself as a writer. A finished (or at least partially finished) novel.
Even if you don’t meet your exact goals, these are all huge wins. So get to it!
And if you want to try the Dabble hacks you learned in this article, click here to snag a 14-day free trial. This gives you access to all of Dabble’s features, no credit card info required. So check it out and see if this tool could help you crush your 30-day noveling goals.
TAKE A BREAK FROM WRITING...
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