How to Write a Novel in 30 Days

I’ve wanted to be a novelist all my life. My mother read books to my sisters and me every night before bed, planting the book lover’s seed in me at an early age. I read my first book (Jack and the Beanstalk) when I was four years old (though before that, I was reading milk cartons and cereal boxes at the breakfast table). And in second grade, I wrote my first story. It was about a princess and a dragon, and the teacher had me read it out loud. I glowed under her positive reaction, and began writing more stories. It started with writing stories for my family as Christmas presents. Then it became longer stories that filled numerous notebooks. And eventually it morphed into novel writing.

Except…I could never quite finish the novel.

I’d start a story, and about three chapters in, I’d lose steam. They’d remain forgotten files in my computer or dusty manuscript pages under my bed. And I’d grow increasingly frustrated, feeling like my dream of being a novelist was too far out of reach.

I’d grow increasingly frustrated, feeling like my dream of being a novelist was too far out of reach.

Here’s the thing. It’s not. It wasn’t for me, and it’s not for you.

After many failed starts to writing a novel, I finally published my very first novel in 2013. Since then, I’ve published eleven books, and I have plans to publish two more before the year is through.

What changed? First, I was introduced to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This is when writers of all levels commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in thirty days (the month of November). Figuring I had nothing to lose but time, I joined the insanity. I wrote at least 1,667 words every single day (1,667 multiplied by 30 days equals 50,0000+/- words). By November 30th, I had a 50,000 word novel! A horrible novel, but a novel nonetheless (said novel is still collecting dust under by bed). Despite the wretchedness of that novel, I will forever be grateful for it, as it paved the way for future novels, and it showed me that I really CAN write a novel!

Over the years, I’ve taken what I learned from NaNoWriMo and developed my own steps toward writing a novel fast. Here’s what that looks like:

1. Map out the story first

Before I’ve even started writing the novel, I have an outline to the story already in front of me, something that lays out every single chapter in as much detail as I can dream up. This outline can change, if the story requires it. But generally, it stays pretty similar. I’ve written books off the cuff, and it can be a truly organic experience. It can also take so much time to do, because there’s plenty of room for writer’s block. I’ve also done it with short outlines. But since I started mapping out each scene and chapter with details, my writing speed has increased a ton. I don’t think it impedes that organic creative flow, as it’s there while I’m writing the outline. Having it all mapped out, I know where I’m going and what it’s going to take for me to get there. Then I let my characters fill in the blanks.

I know where I’m going and what it’s going to take for me to get there. Then I let my characters fill in the blanks.

2. Write at the same time every day

When I’m working on a novel, I wake up at 4:30 a.m. every day to write, which is two and a half hours before I need to get ready for work. By sticking with that time, I’m telling my body that it’s time to write. If getting up early isn’t your thing, that’s fine. What matters is that you pick the same time every day and build that habit for writing. At first it might be hard, but after time, your body will catch on and writing will get easier.

3. Pre-writing is key

The first half hour of my waking time is spent pre-writing. This is when you write something — anything — before you get to the serious business of writing your novel. I have found journaling to be a great form of pre-writing that allows me to wake up my writing muscle, address any emotional tension, and maybe work out some scenes I’m thinking about for the book. By the time I get to the novel, I’m properly warmed up and ready to write for the next two house.

4. WRITE.

Well, it’s not that simple. After all, you’re trying to write a novel in 30 days, right? So write, but write a specific amount each day. For me, that means aiming for 2,000 words a day. On the weekends, when I have more time, I aim for 5,000 words a day.

Don’t let those numbers scare you. Start with a number you can manage per day, then build on that. With time, you can increase your daily word count and write faster. Most important, though, is a practice of daily writing gets you closer to completing a novel.

Start with a number you can manage per day, then build on that. With time, you can increase your daily word count and write faster.

5. NEVER go back

This is the part that usually trips up writers. When I write my novel, I never re-read anything until I’m totally done writing the story because I just know the perfectionist in me will try to make its home in a previous chapter, and I’ll never move forward. I do, however, write a paragraph at the end of each writing session to clue me in on where I’m headed. This way, there’s no guesswork. Plus, I have my outline to keep me on track.

6. Allow time for rest in between book projects

When I’m in the middle of a book project, the story is with me constantly, even when I’m not writing. The characters are with me, the scenes, everything. I could drive down the freeway, and I’m stuck in the middle of my world and my character’s world. It’s completely consuming, and I love it. But I can’t stay in that mode forever, because I tend to tune everyone else out. This is why I use seasons for book writing. I devote myself completely to the project, and then detach once it’s done (following the inevitable mourning period after typing The End, of course). I set it down for a month or so, catch up on some sleep, and then pick it back up to re-read and start editing.

And that’s it!

Ready to write your novel fast? Here’s the recap:

  1. Before you write the novel, write a detailed outline of the story, start to finish, laid out scene-by-scene (you may even want to include character studies and scenery. Bonus, some of this can end up in the story or blog posts!).
  2. Start your writing session with pre-writing. This can be a few paragraphs of what you want to happen next in the story, a character study, or journaling. This is your warmup before you get to the actual story.
  3. Pick the same time every day to sit down and write. This will strengthen your writing habit, and help your brain settle into writing mode since it’s an expected time to write.
  4. WRITE.
  5. Don’t re-read anything, unless it’s just the last few paragraphs to get you reacquainted with the story.
  6. Don’t forget to rest.

Before I go…..

A few years ago, I released Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a book that shares tips and secrets for being the most creative you can be, even when living a full-time life. I included many of my writing tips for writing fast, and ways I’ve used organization to make my writing time the most effective. Trust me, I’m not the most organized person in general. However, I’ve developed a few habits around my writing career that have allowed me to keep writing books, even when I’m also going to college, working full-time, and raising a family.

If you’d like to learn how to find more time in your busy life for writing, visit crissilangwell.com/creative-soul.

Like books about the underdog? Join my VIP Reader’s Club to receive a free gift, and find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, website at crissilangwell.com.

I’m all over the place, but I try to be honest in all of it. Find my books and musings at crissilangwell.com.

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