How to Write a Novel in 30 Days
If the title of this blog post made your eyes widen or your heart quicken, you’re not alone. The thought of writing an entire novel is daunting enough, but writing one in a month? Is it even possible?
If you’ve been part of the writing community for a while, you know the answer is yes! In fact, many authors write an entire novel every November, for the annual National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It’s a great opportunity for new and advanced authors alike to challenge themselves and push their writing to the next level.
But there’s no reason to wait until November to try your hand at writing a novel in thirty days. Any block of thirty days can be your own NaNoWriMo. All that matters is that you have the motivation and commitment to see it through.
In this post, we’ll share the best strategies to write your novel in thirty days. Whether you’re participating alongside the worldwide community in November or tackling a more private but equally important timeline, you can succeed!
Writing a novel in thirty days doesn’t leave much extra time for figuring out everything from square one. That’s why, before you even start your thirty-day timer, you should do some preliminary planning.
Outline ahead of time
It’s a good idea to put together at least a rough sketch of what to expect in your story. Give some thought beforehand to characters, plot, and setting. Worldbuilding is important too, especially if you write science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction. Even if you’re not an outliner at heart, thinking of at least five details for each aspect will work wonders for shaping your vision.
For your main character, come up with specifics about their goal and their backstory. For worldbuilding, outline some of the magic system or politics, or do some preparatory research. And for plot, brainstorm the major plot points, especially the inciting incident and midpoint. If you want to start with the best possible foundation, fill out a Save the Cat! beat sheet.
Look at your calendar
Once you’ve chosen the timeframe to write your novel, look ahead to see what holidays or other special events are coming up within those thirty days. Decide right now if you want to write on those days or take them off. And if you do decide to take them off, decide where you’ll make up the word count from that lost day of writing. No matter what length your novel is, writing a novel in a thirty-day timespan requires a hefty word count on a daily basis, and skipping a day means you’ll have to tack that work on to another day. Deciding right now what days you might have to skip will keep you from being caught unaware, so you’re not scrambling to figure it out when the time comes.
Sitting down at the keyboard to write is when your greatest moments will happen—but it’s also fraught with difficulties, from holding onto your motivation to staying disciplined enough to show up. But the following techniques can be game-changers for your focus.
Establish your writing routine
Humans are creatures of habit, so the sooner you get yourself into an ingrained writing schedule, the better. Decide when your writing time will be each day, and then guard that block of time with your life. Don’t give it away. Show up for it when it arrives. Treat it like a job you are required to be at. And then use it to its very fullest.
The best thing you can do is clear out all distractions, especially electronic devices. If possible, turn off your wifi, then silence your phone and put it in another room. Treat this writing time as a gift you don’t want to share with anything else. Planning out your daily writing ritual ahead of time will ensure you’re not figuring it out on the spot, when your thirty-day clock is ticking.
A novel written in thirty days is not going to be perfect, so the first thing to do is accept that this will be a “discovery draft,” rather than anything resembling a perfect draft. Give yourself permission to let it be messy. Nothing freezes a writer faster than the fear of not being perfect.
Then focus on writing forward from the second you start. No going back and editing. No rewriting. No second-guessing. If you make a major change as you’re writing, continue writing forward as if that change has already been made, with the intention of polishing it up later. All of your major edits will take place in your next draft; this one is for writing the story through to completion. For a more in-depth look at how to do this, read our 3 Tips for Fast Drafting a Novel.
Getting stuck is one of the worst motivation killers when you’re trying to write a novel on a deadline. There are lots of different ways to be stuck, however, and the same approach won’t work for all of them. Let’s break down some of these writing blocks, along with strategies for dealing with each one.
Stuck on a word or detail?
Sometimes you can’t think of the right word, and a flurry of different choices hasn’t made you any happier. However, jumping on a thesaurus until you get it absolutely perfect will suck away your precious time. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that the perfect sentence you spent so long on might end up in a cut scene in your next revision. Instead of finding the perfect word, put a placeholder on it, such as “TK” or [WORD], so it’s easy to find and replace later.
If finding the perfect word can pull you down a rabbit hole, imagine what researching a technicality might do. Rather than accidentally give your whole writing session away next time you’re stuck on a detail, like a piece of clothing or a backdrop, flag the section with a bracketed message, such as [add details on 18th-century ballrooms].
Stuck on a scene?
Even when you have an outline, sometimes you can’t figure out how to start a scene, or even what needs to happen next. When this happens—especially if you know you’re good and stuck—just skip the portion you’re having trouble initiating and write the next big plot point coming up instead. That’s the part you’re most excited about anyway, right? Chances are, when you write your next draft, it will be much more obvious what needs to go in that missing chunk—if anything needs to go there at all.
Stuck on inspiration?
There are several points during the novel-writing process where you might find yourself needing inspiration. It could come during the planning stage, when you realize your initial idea isn’t big enough to support a whole novel. Or you might start writing and find your prior excitement for the project elusive. Motivation is also key, as the daunting prospect of writing an entire novel might keep you from starting at all.
If possible, find a time outside your writing time to kickstart that inspiration. Find pieces of art that inspire you or chat your ideas over with a friend. Try to find the spark that excited you in the first place, and write toward that. Most importantly, don’t let lack of inspiration freeze you in your tracks; you will find it again. For more help on reigniting your enthusiasm, check out our post on finding inspiration.
Stuck on your own fear?
The worst type of block isn’t when you can’t think of a word or a scene; it’s when you get caught up in your own head and let your doubts take over. You might start thinking that you’re not a real writer and that no one cares about your novel anyway, or you might start imagining all the rejections you’ll get once you start querying. If these thoughts gain traction, they can become real motivation-killers and prevent you from finishing your novel.
But it’s important not to let fear of rejection or imposter syndrome get to you. They’re all normal feelings that writers of all levels not only have dealt with, but continue to deal with, intermittently throughout their careers. Finding writing communities can make a huge difference in feeling less alone. You’re here, writing this novel, because it’s something you want to do for yourself, and that matters more than anything else.
For more tips on working through doubts and insecurity, read our post on dealing with fear as a writer.
Writing a novel in a month is possible—even for you! With the guidelines in this post, you have all the tools you need to successfully complete your novel in thirty days. It’s one of the most rewarding journeys as a writer you’ll ever take!