How to Write a Novel in a Month and Live to Tell About It

If you’ve ever dreamed of, or just considered, finally writing the great American novel spinning around your head all these years, November is the time to do it. Why? Because it’s National Novel Writing Month, of course! To help you put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, we’ve sketched out the basic plot of how to conquer this daunting task in only thirty days.

November is right around the corner and that means…Thanksgiving. Okay, it does mean Thanksgiving, but it also means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), wherein thousands of folks commit to writing a 175-page novel (that comes out to 50,000 words if you’re doing the math) between November 1 and November 30.

They do it for the same reason others base jump or enter Cherpumple eating contests – simply because the possibility exists. I think you also get a snazzy certificate for finishing.

NaNoWriMo is a formidable commitment and many who attempt to conquer its challenge are left broken and twisted along the literary roadside (although less broken and twisted than if they’d jumped off the Eiffel Tower with a “coat parachute”). In 2009, only 30,000 of the 165,000 participants completed their manuscripts. Thinking about taking a run at it this year? Here are a few tips to help you make it to the finish line.

If you’re a gamer, a coder, or a model builder, you’ve got a leg up

Considering that you’ll be cranking out the equivalent of a term paper a day for a month (deep breath), experience in long periods of concentration and singular focus is definitely going to help you keep on task. So go ahead and hunker down with Call of Duty for a few hours in the name of training.

Prep yourself before you wreck yourself

Do as much prep as is technically allowed. While the official rules say that only writing done between Nov 1 and Nov 30 counts, you’re free to create outlines, character sketches and conduct background research in advance. Instead of wasting precious time trying to figure out what you’ll write about, develop your concept and a general idea of the story arc in advance. Use the pre-launch period to set up your writing area, too. Hint: If you try to manage hunched over your laptop on the couch, the month is gonna feel twice as long and you’ll end up looking like Quasimodo for your trouble.

Now is also a good time to lay in a stock of Red Bull and peanut M&Ms baby carrots and ransack iTunes for writing playlist fodder.

Think quantity over quality

In this case, size does matter. You need to reach 50,000 words by November 30 and that won’t happen if you’re hung up on creating a work of art. If you get to Nov 13 and realize that your plot has striking similarities to one of the lesser works of H.G. Wells or your dialog sounds as if was lifted directly from The Empire Strikes Back, don’t throw in the towel! Keep plugging away.  It’s not as if you’re gunning to join Oprah’s Book Club or submitting this as your senior thesis. The goal is to just to finish.

And really, how many times in your life are expectations gonna be so low? Embrace it. Besides, Tucker Max’s latest tome made the New York Times bestseller list. Literature ain’t what it used to be.

Exert a little peer pressure

The official NaNoWriMo site has its own forums where you can get virtual writing kinship and maybe even find other locals to pal around/procrastinate with, but if you want to avoid becoming the butt of your buddies’ jokes because you’ve been blowing off socializing (or even braving daylight) in favor of penning elaborate underground chase scenes, why not try recruiting other members of your social circle into the cause and making NaNoWriMo a group endeavor? It’s like a much less annoying pyramid scheme. Moral support and snazzy certificates for all! Talk about a win-win.

Good luck and try not to develop carpal tunnel!

J. Maureen Henderson is a writer, Gen Y expert and general know-it-all. She blogs pithily on personal and professional development at Generation Meh and can be wooed/stalked on Twitter or Facebook. If you’re nice, she might even tell you what the J. stands for.

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  • http://www.nailyournovel.com dirtywhitecandy

    Planning is essential. Professional writers rarely start at chapter 1 and grind on until they reach ‘the end’. If they did that they’d probably never get to the end!
    The buddy system for NaNo is what makes it such a great experience – lots of other people out there, doing this crazy thing, juggling other bits of life out of the way while they get their words down. For some people who’ve flirted with the idea of writing a novel but wondered if they’d ever be able to cope with a story that long, NaNo can be a great way in.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Hey Dirty, Thanks for the awesome comment. Care to share more about your personal experience doing NaNo? Sounds like you have a lot of great insight.

  • http://passersbyillustrated.blogspot.com Steven

    This is crazy. This year I made a goal to write a short story every week, and I’m only trying to hit about 600 words for this. This last story of mine took three weeks or so. Granted I don’t get to spend all day writing, but it’s like doing 50 weeks worth of writing in 4. I don’t know, I think I’ll have to pass.

    But if you’re interested in reading my short stories, check it out at passersbyillustrated.blogspot.com

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