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How to Write a Novel in a Month
It’s a lofty goal, writing a novel in a month. But it can be done, even if you’re not doing NaNoWriMo. The key is to have a plan and to stick to it. In this blog post, we’ll discuss how to plot your novel, how to get your words down on paper (or screen), and how to make sure you’re staying on track. So whether you’re looking to write your first novel or trying to complete NaNoWriMo this year, these tips will help you do just that!
Can you write a novel in a month?
You can absolutely write a novel in a month. In fact, I’ve done it—twice. My very first NaNoWriMo, I won in 10 days. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, where tens of thousands of writers around the world write 50,000 words in a month every November (NaNo is typically used for fiction writers, but Camp NaNo can be any type of writer).
So how many words did I write in 30 days? I wrote 168,000 words in my first NaNoWriMo.
My second, I won in five days. The difference between the two? For the first novel, I decided on Halloween that I’d take part (the day before it started!). On my second go-around, I had way more planning, so on November first, I started writing immediately.
Another interesting tidbit is I wrote my first novel while having debilitating COVID (that continued for months). I published this book, and it hit #1 New Release in three categories the same day and #1 bestseller within 24 hours. Not bad, becoming a bestselling author after having written a book with COVID, yeah?
Step 1: Choose your novel’s genre
This may seem like an obvious step, but it’s important to know what you want to write before novel writing. Are you writing a romance? A mystery? A thriller? Knowing the genre of your novel will help you determine the plot, the characters, and ultimately, how the story will end.
If you don’t currently read in the genre you want to write in, please do this first. There’s nothing worse than spending all this time on a novel, only to release your book and get one-star reviews because you didn’t understand reader expectations for your genre.
I witnessed this happen with an author who had published many times before. In fact, I was one of the first people to buy her book and read it.
She advertised her book as a contemporary romance, but she sent her hero to war on a whim (he just up and decided to join the military), then killed her hero at the end.
The romance category requires a HEA (happily ever after), and because she didn’t deliver on this, every single review she got on her brand new release was a one-star. Don’t let this happen to you.
Step Two: Choose your novel’s length
Again, this may seem like an obvious step, but it’s one that’s often overlooked. How long do you want your novel to be? A standard romance novel is usually around 80,000 words, but some can be as short as 40,000 words.
If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, you’ll likely want your novel to be on the longer side, around 100,000 words. But if you’re a new author, I wouldn’t recommend going over 120,000 words. Most novels, especially when traditionally published by a new author, are below 120,000 words.
The reason length is important is that it will determine the amount of time you need to write your novel. An 80,000-word novel will take less time to write than a 100,000-word novel. And if you’re writing a series, you’ll need to factor in the length of each book in the series.
Step Three: Choose your novel’s POV
POV stands for point of view, and it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make when writing your novel. There are three POVs to choose from: first person, second person, and third person.
First-person is when the narrator is talking about themselves in the story. For example, “I went to the store.”
Second person is when the narrator is talking to the reader. For example, “You went to the store.”
Third person is when the narrator is talking about someone else in the story. For example, “She went to the store.”
Which one you choose will depend on the type of story you’re telling and your personal preferences. I’ve written in all three POVs, and each one has its own set of challenges.
First-person is intimate and allows the reader to get inside the main character’s head, but it can be limiting. You can only write about what your main character knows and experiences.
Second person is unique and can be fun to write, but it’s not commonly used in fiction. It’s often used in choose your own adventure books or in non-fiction books where the author is talking directly to the reader.
Third-person is the most common POV in fiction. It allows you to write about multiple characters and gives you more flexibility, but it can be harder to make the reader feel invested in the story. Third person limited is when you’re only following one character’s story.
Step Four: Choose your novel’s tense
Tense is the time frame in which your story is taking place. There are two tenses to choose from: past and present.
Past tense is when you write about something that has already happened. For example, “I went to the store.”
Present tense is when you write about something that is happening in the present moment. For example, “I am going to the store.”
Which one you choose will again depend on the type of story you’re telling and your personal preferences. I’ve written in both tenses, and each one has its own challenges.
Past tense is the most common tense in fiction. It’s easy to write in and easy for the reader to follow, but it can be harder to make the reader feel invested in the story because they know what’s going to happen.
Present tense is less common in fiction, but it can be more intimate and allow the reader to feel like they’re experiencing the story as it’s happening. However, it can be harder to write in and can be confusing for the reader if not done well.
Step 5: Plan your novel
Now that you’ve chosen the length, POV, and tense of your novel, it’s time to start planning. This is where a lot of people get overwhelmed and give up, but if you take it one step at a time, it’s not as bad as it seems.
First time authors should pay attention to this process because you’ll realize how much easier the process of writing fiction will be.
The first thing you need to do is decide your story idea before you start writing. This sounds like it should be easy, but it’s actually one of the hardest parts of writing a novel. A good way to start is by brainstorming a list of ideas.
Once you have a few ideas, you can start narrowing them down by asking yourself some questions. You’ll see how character development plays a large role in a lot of planning your first draft.
- What type of story do you want to write?
- How will you draw in readers in the beginning?
- What’s your favorite type of book to read?
- What’s the point of your story?
- What plot elements are most important to your story?
- What’s your world look like?
- Will your character try something for the first time and fail? Or succeed?
- Will your character risk their life for someone they love?
- What advice would your character give to a villain?
- Is your world based on Earth? Or something different?
- What’s a topic you’re passionate about?
- How will you portray your world on the page (maybe it’s high or low fantasy)?
- Who would be the main character in your story?
- Character development is important—how will they progress?
- What’s your hero’s life like?
- Is your main character motivated by an internal goal?
- What hobbies does your main character have?
- Who is your target audience?
- What elements will you put on your page?
- What stories will you allude to, but not include on-page?
- What’s the main conflict in your story?
- How will you develop characters (not just your hero and main character)?
- What’s your inciting incident?
Answering these questions will help you start to form a clearer idea of what your story is about.
Once you have a general idea of your story, you need to start planning the details. This is where you’ll decide what happens in your story and how it all fits together.
There are a few different ways to flesh out your story idea before starting your first draft. You can write out a detailed outline, write scene by scene, or write a summary.
For my own writing process, I prefer to write a detailed outline because it helps me keep track of what happens in each scene and makes it easier to write the actual novel. After writing a detailed outline, you simply fill in the details. I do this via Trello. But some people prefer to write scene by scene or write a summary because it’s less restrictive.
No matter which method you choose, the important thing is to make sure you have a clear idea of what happens in your story before you write.
If you try to write a novel without any planning, you’ll more likely get lost and give up without finishing.
So take the time to plan your novel before you start writing. It’ll make the actual writing process much easier and more enjoyable. With that being said, do not get stuck in analysis paralysis, where you spend so much time planning, you never finish your book.
There is a fine line between planning and procrastinating, and you don’t want to cross it.
Once you have a clear idea of your story, it’s time to allocate time.
Step Six: Allocate time for writing
When you fail to plan out your writing process, you can run into trouble. People think they can write a novel in a month setting no specific time for writing. This is a recipe for disaster.
If you want to write your first draft in a month, you need to set aside time each day for writing.
To calculate how many words you need to write in a day, divide your novel length goal by the number of days in a month.
If there are 30 days in the month, your word count goal is:
- 85,000-word novel: 2,833.33 words per day
- 90,000-word novel: 3,000 words per day
- 95,000-word novel: 3,166.67 words per day
- 100,000-word novel: 3,333.33 words per day
- 110,000-word novel: 3,666.67 words per day
- 120,000-word novel: 4,000 words per day
I’m fortunate enough to be a full-time writer, so I can dedicate the entire time my children are at school to writing. However, you probably work a full-time job outside the home and may need to dedicate an early morning or late evening hours to meet your word count goal. This is why it’s super important to create a detailed outline so you know what to write next in the short amount of time you have to commit to writing.
If you don’t have time to write every day, that’s okay. Just write as often as you can and try to write a little bit more each day to get your first draft done.
The important thing is to keep moving forward and not get discouraged.
If you write 500 words one day, and only 200 words the next day, that’s still 700 words more than you had before.
Every word counts, so just keep writing and you’ll reach your goal in no time.
Step Seven: Move onto the next scene if you’re stuck
This is by far my biggest writing hack when I just can’t find the right word or phrase. I use a Kanban board with Trello to keep track of every scene in each act of my novel. I have three columns dedicated to three different acts, and a final column with “scenes to write.”
I create a card for each scene and order them by act. I make a duplicate card for each of these and add it to “scenes to write.” As I write the scene, I delete it from the “scenes to write” column.
I try to write in chronological order for the most part, but there are times I just don’t want to write another sex scene or I’m not entirely sure which direction I want a conversation to go. I write TK when I’m stuck, and highlight it in yellow.
Why do writers use TK? It stands for “to come.” Why not TC, then? Few English works feature the TK letter combination, making it easy to find in your writing when you hit control F, or use the search feature on your document.
Then, when I’m feeling inspired, I’ll search for TK and write that scene. Even if it’s only adding a sentence or two, and I still have to leave the TK, at least I know to come back to it and I can move on.
Step Eight: Use the Pomodoro technique if you’re easily distracted
I have AD/HD, which means if I feel the slightest bit of pressure, tension, or stress from writing (words are hard, y’all), I reach for my phone or open a new tab to check social media or my email … even if I just did that two minutes ago.
I’ve tried a lot of different things to help with this, and the only thing that’s worked is the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management strategy for work that can be applied to just about anything.
Here’s how the Pomodoro method works:
You work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break.
After four Pomodoros (work sessions), you take a longer break, usually 20-30 minutes. There’s a caveat to this. I’m the type of personality where if I’m in the flow, I don’t stop even if it’s my designated break time. This is because it’s hard for me to get back into the state of flow. Sometimes, my flow sessions last hours.
You can use a timer on your phone, or there are lots of Pomodoro timers online.
I use Forest, but other writers simply set a timer on their phone. With Forest, I can block specific websites and apps. If I open something I’ve blocked, the tree I’m growing dies. I have this for both my laptop browser and my phone and it makes me ultra-productive.
Step Nine: Join a writing group or find a writing buddy
This is entirely optional, but I’ve found it to be helpful.
I write paranormal and fantasy romance. I don’t know anyone in real life who writes what I write. When I joined my first writing group, it was nice to be around people who write similar things.
I’ve joined a few different groups over the years, and I’ve found that they all have their own dynamics.
I’m a part of an online group for romance writers, and we have weekly check-ins. We keep each other accountable and help each other with our projects.
If you’re a mom and you write, there’s a thriving Facebook community specific to novelists who are moms. It’s called Moms Who Write, and the community really helps when you’re stuck staring at a blank page, or need to bounce ideas off the group.
I’m also part of a couple of paid writing masterminds. In the past, I attended writing workshops (my fave was in Cinque Terre, Italy in a castle!). I’m toying with the idea of hosting my own in a castle, so leave a comment below if that interests you.
Step Ten: Consider beta readers or critique partners
A beta reader is someone who reads your novel and provides feedback on the story, characters, etc., but does not provide edits. A critique partner is often another writer, and you exchange chapters with each other and provide feedback, edits, etc.
Who you choose for your beta reader or critique partner matters less than whether they read in your genre. If they only read true crime but you write high fantasy, they won’t make a suitable partner. These readers can help make sure your novel aligns with expectations for your genre.
A critique partner can help point out when you’re using the wrong words (common advice Stephen King says is to avoid adverbs!), how well they like your character, if your book makes sense, if you should flesh out your characters more, and can tell you at which point they started to snooze on your work.
Step Eleven: Don’t forget to edit
What separates okay authors from great ones is editing. Please don’t publish a book without thorough edits (it’s an essential part of the publishing process!). For my first book, I self-edited no less than ten times before even handing it off to my editor.
There are several types of editing to know about:
This is when you work on the overall structure of your book. Your editor looks for gaping plot holes, inconsistencies, world building, your inciting incident, advice on fixing a scene, and anything that makes little sense.
This is when your editor looks at each sentence and makes sure it’s grammatically correct, uses the best words possible, and flows well with the rest of the sentence, paragraph, and book.
This is when your editor looks for typos and errors.
I go through all three types of professional edits. Once my editor is done with copyediting, I go through the book three times before publishing to catch any last-minute issues.
How can I write a novel for free?
There are a few different ways to write a novel for free. You can use a free online novel writing program, or you can write in Google Docs (or another word processing program), or you can use a notebook and pen.
No matter which method you choose, there are a few things you’ll need:
- a quiet place to write
- uninterrupted time
- a story to tell
Once you’ve written and self-edited, polish your book to the best of your ability and publish it. Use your book’s royalties to hire an editor for a second edition.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Can I write a novel in a month if I’ve never written anything before?
A: Yes! The best way to write a novel is to write the first draft as quickly as possible. You can always go back and edit later. Stephen King says “Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it.”
Q: How can I write a novel if I don’t have any ideas?
A: Brainstorming is key. You can use prompts, or you can write a list of ideas. Once you have a general idea, start writing and see where the story takes you!
Q: I’m stuck. What do I do?
A: Even the best writers get stuck. Take a break! Go for a walk, or watch a movie. Sometimes the best way to get unstuck is to take a break and come back with fresh eyes.
Q: I’m still stuck. Now what?
A: When’s the last time you read in your genre? When you read the kind of books you write, you’re literally studying your craft. Check out your TBR list and start reading, and take notes.
Q: How long should my novel be?
A: A novel can be any length, but most are between 50,000 and 100,000 words. Just because you can write 200,000 words in your novel doesn’t mean you should. For example, I’m the type of reader who will get irritated if a story is dragged out over five novels when it should’ve finished in three. The same can be said for novel length; cut out the fluff. Keep what moves the story forward.
Q: Do I need to outline my novel before I start writing?
A: Some people prefer to write with a detailed outline, while others like to write by the seat of their pants. Neither method is wrong, and you should do whatever works better for you and your writing process. I’ve done both, and have found I spend way less time editing when I plot my novel with an outline.
Q: I wrote a novel! Now what?
A: Congratulations! I’m so proud of you. The next step is to edit, edit, edit. Then you can start querying agents, or self-publish.
Q: Help! I’m struggling to write every day.
A: Set a daily word count goal that’s achievable for you, and make sure to write something every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words.
Q: What if I write a terrible first draft?
A: That’s okay! Remember, you can always edit later. The important thing is to get the story down on paper (or screen). Every first draft, unedited, is terrible. Ask any writer.
Q: What if I can’t think of an ending?
A: This is a great time to have a critique partner or beta reader take a look at what you’ve written so far. I use my husband and sister to help develop a storyline when I’m stuck. I don’t usually use their idea, but their ideas almost always spur to mind what I need.
Q: Do I need to write every day?
A: While it’s not necessary to write every day, it is important to write regularly. I make a point to write every day, but that’s because I’m a full-time writer.
Q: What if I miss a day?
A: Don’t stress! Just pick up where you left off and write for however long you can.