How to Write a Novel in a Month

Definition – How to Write – What Next

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Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. We learned last week about the fifth Pillar of Genre, Fiction. Specifically, we went over a definition for Fantasy, and we talked about some examples of how to write it. This week starts the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and even in years where I have no specific project or aren’t wholly committed to the challenge, I often still love talking about my experiences with the entire NaNoWriMo experience. Let’s get started.

What is NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a challenge that takes place every year throughout the entire month of November. Writers attempt to start a new novel or project on November 1st and write a novel during the month. A novel, for the challenge’s purpose, is loosely defined as 50,000 words, so the goal is to reach that amount of new words written before the challenge closes on December 1st at Midnight. 

How to Write 50,000 Words in a Month

I have participated in NaNoWriMo nearly every year since I learned it existed, which for me was way back in 2014. I’ve won some years and lost others. Sometimes I wasn’t serious enough about the challenge. One year I was so overprepared with nearly a 50,000 word outline, that doing the writing was boring and I actually lost in a year that should have been a breeze. I can offer these tips on how to complete this challenge.

  1. Prepare. There are so many ways to prepare for NaNoWriMo. While you can’t start writing your piece until November 1st, you can do a lot of things that set you up for success before the challenge starts, and each and every day.
    1. Plot Your Novel in Part or in Whole. Here’s a call out to all of our plotters. If you truly enjoy plotting your novels beforehand, add this to your task list in the month before NaNoWriMo arrives. Be ready to hit the ground running on November 1st with some, if not all of your scenes in place.
    2. Think About the Next Scene You Have to Write Before You Write It. If you don’t plot, bestie, you have a lot less work to do on the front end. You should still be thinking about the scenes you want to write, and especially about the next scene you need to write. Don’t waste your precious NaNo brain cells in trying to figure things out on the fly during the writing session. Know where the scene is going to so that when you sit down, you can start writing right away.
    3. Prepare Your Space As Well As Your Mind. Clean your writing space. Have writing snacks and treats ready. Set things up as much as possible before November so that all you need to do is write. The dishes will still need to be washed. Your laundry will still need to be folded. But the more you can set up a clean slate before November starts, the easier it will be to get ahead early and maintain an easy pace throughout the month. Even taking a few minutes, no more than 15 at a time, before a writing session to clear your desk and write out your goals for the session and for the scene ahead can help prepare your mind to be able to write the words you need to write.
  2. Write. On November 1st at Midnight in your time zone, the NaNoWriMo website will officially open for word count entries and begin. How you get the 50,000 words in to win the challenge is up to you. I have seen one author (not me) write it all in the last 4 days of the month, and while that was fun to watch and cheer them on, I wouldn’t recommend that strategy to just anyone. Here are a few you might feel better about trying.
    1. 1,667 Words Per Day. 50,000 words, divided by 30 days in the month of November, works out to about 1,667 words per day. If, like me, you usually take Thanksgiving off in the United States, you’ll want to bump that to 1,724 words per day to account for that zero word day. Some days you may write more, some days less, but if you’re a person that likes to keep a consistent pacing, this may be the route you attempt to take.
    2. 6,250 Words Per Day of the Weekend. If you don’t want to worry about writing during the busy days of the week, and instead want to write in large chunks over the weekend or your days off work, you’ll want to aim for 6,250 words per weekend day. Doing this amount of words over multiple sprints during the day could help you catch up if you are getting behind, or could keep you on track if you want to simply use this as your go-to strategy.
    3. 12,500 Words Per Week. So long as you make 12,500 words per week, you’ll finish NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words at the end of the 4 weeks challenge period. I used to vary the amount of words I wrote based on my daily workload and make sure I averaged 12,500 words per week in order to complete the challenge over the course of the month.
  3. Reflect. Keeping tabs on how you are doing throughout the month is absolutely critical during a challenge as difficult as NaNoWriMo. Being able to pivot your strategy is essential, and you can only do that when you are really paying attention and checking in with yourself on a regular basis.
    1. After a Writing Session. When you are done writing for the day, I find it useful to jot down some notes about your day. If you had a stellar writing session, or even if you didn’t, what was or wasn’t working? Especially when you’re on fire, write notes about your next scene, about your character arcs and where they are going, and anything else that will help you get into your next writing session. Sometimes when I’m stuck on something, I find that sitting with a coloring book page and coloring for a while and thinking about why I’m stuck on a scene or talking it out with someone else, a coworker, a friend, or my husband, really helps me to nail down the problem I’m helping. It forces me to confront and verbalize the thing that’s wrong in a more meaningful way, and not just in a way that’s ethereal and in my head and can help me get past blockages faster than trying to write myself through it.
    2. Mentally, Physically, and Emotionally. NaNoWriMo is a challenge in more ways than one. If you aren’t outputting at 1,500 words per day already, upping your word count to such levels can be a daunting task. Many things you didn’t know you needed to change about your process are going to change. You’ll need to make time and squeeze words in wherever and whenever you can. Some things may have to be put aside if you are really serious about completing this task, including hanging out with friends, watching your favorite tv shows, and you may even decide to sometimes sacrifice things like sleep on your days off to get the words in instead. While I never recommend sacrificing your health in any way, you’re most likely an adult consuming my content and should make those decisions for yourself. However, I want you to make sure you are regularly checking in with your mental, emotional, and physical health all throughout this challenge, and making sure you’re still totally healthy and capable. No challenge is worth losing the best of yourself over, and you should definitely take care of yourself during the entire month of November, and always. 
    3. After the Month of November is Over. Win or lose, and whether your project is completed or not, when November is over, you will likely have come out with more words than you started the challenge with. That in itself is worth celebrating. I also hope you reflect on the things that worked with your process, and the things that didn’t work with your process. In make it or break it times, you can see exactly what is going to work and discard everything else. You’ll also need to make a serious evaluation of your project and decide what work still needs to be completed.  

I’ve Completed the Challenge, Now What?

If you have completed the challenge then first of all, you should do something special to congratulate yourself. Second, sometime in December, the NaNoWriMo website will update and you’ll receive all the access codes for your winner goodies, so check back a few days into December and you should see those available to you. Life should start to slow down and get, if not less hectic, at least less challenging now that NaNoWriMo has completed. December should also see you start to put some new processes in place that are sustainable for your writing life. Finally, slow down if that feels right to you, but don’t quit your writing. Take some time to evaluate your project and figure out where it stands. If you feel like some editing or rewriting could be in order before continuing, that might be a worthy goal for December. 

Next Week

Next week, we are continuing to talk about the National Novel Writing Month, and I want to talk about why NaNoWrimo has continued to be important in my life, and specifically why I hype it every single year. Stay tuned for more on NaNoWriMo, coming your way throughout November!

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you prepare for NaNoWriMo season?
  2. Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not?
  3. Have you participated in NaNoWriMo in years before, and if so, what was your favorite part of participating?
  4. What winner goodies are you most looking forward to nabbing this year?
  5. What writing questions would you like to have me answer in a blog post or podcast episode? 

Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!

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