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The best tips for writing a novel in a month 

Although it has passed, November is National Novel Writing, so if you have ever thought about writing a book, now is the time to do it. You might be familiar with NaNoWriMo, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and community to help writers successfully write a book in a month. To “win” NaNoWriMo, the goal is to write 50,000 words, which is the typical length of a novel, averaging 1,667 words a day for 30 days. But whether you’re trying to write the next bestseller or just trying to write a little more, these are some tips from someone who has done it before.

Writing is hard. Sitting down to write an entire novel is incredibly daunting. Some authors take months or even years to write books, and you’re attempting to do it in a month. It can feel next to impossible. But every year, between 10 and 15 percent of NaNoWriMo participants finish a novel. So, it can be done. The benchmark is 50,000 words, but you don’t have to shoot for that. Novellas are only 10,000 to 40,000 words and novelettes have word counts anywhere from 7,500 to 17,000. Whatever word count you’re aiming for, here’s how to do it.

Plan ahead

This one is obvious. Without a map to follow or even a general idea to work from, it’ll take you twice as long to put down good content. Very few people can write on the spot, so taking some time beforehand to plan out the first quarter or plot some of the major events can be extremely useful. This can also help when you aren’t sure what to write or where to go one day. Planning ahead also includes knowing your basics. Know your characters and how you want them to be perceived by the audience. Know what the general premise is and the details of your setting. Having this information out of the way before not only saves writing time, but it also saves brainstorming and editing time because you won’t have to worry about as many continuity issues later on. 

Take breaks

This is another obvious one, but it’s super important. You can’t expect to quickly whip out an entire novel. And if you try to force yourself to, you probably won’t get very far. Taking breaks will allow you to replenish your stamina and get inspiration for more content.

Make time

The biggest thing you’ll need to write a novel is time. If you’re serious about your word count deadline, you’ll likely need to give up some of your free time. That doesn’t mean you have to spend your entire day writing; finding what time works best for your creative flow can help you plan around it. And as mentioned before, you don’t have to do it all in one sitting. It can sometimes be helpful to type a few words out whenever you have a small break in your schedule. By the end of the day, you’ll have met or be well on your way to meeting your word count.

Don’t write in order

This is one of Stephen King’s pieces of advice to writers, the idea being that writing chronologically can feel monotonous and limiting, thus slowing you down. King suggests writing in puzzle pieces. If you have an idea for a scene, don’t wait until it comes up in the plot to write it. Doing so it immediately will produce better work because you’ll write better if you’re excited about the material. I’ve found that reaching my daily word count goal was much easier this way. I also didn’t have to think about how I was going to get to that scene, I could just skip to it. In the end, you can piece together each scene into a coherent narrative — one that hopefully reflects your best and most exciting work. You may have to do some tweaking, but luckily November does not include the editing process, so you can worry about that later. The goal is to get words on the page, and this technique is one of the easiest ways to do it. 

Don’t underestimate 1,667 words

Although 1,667 doesn’t seem like that much, it adds up. There were days when I had to write 3,000+ words because I fell behind one day. And trying to make up that many words is extremely difficult and time-consuming. So, recognize that you’re in for a project and may need to adjust the word count (and the plot of your novel) accordingly.

Don’t overestimate 1,667 words

That said, you shouldn’t let the word count scare you. One thousand, six hundred sixty-seven words is 5.5 pages double-spaced, which isn’t necessarily that long. If you get too caught up in the numbers, you lose focus on the words, and this is a month about writing, not math. We’re busy college students, so 1,667 may not be doable, and this is okay. Writing for word count is like watching paint dry; the more you watch the word count, the harder it is to write. Some days will feel easier than others, and this is simply the process of writing. 

Use your momentum

On the easier days, don’t stop at 1,667 words (or whatever your daily average is). If you feel like you can keep going and the ideas are still flowing, you should continue writing and building up a word bank. That way, if you fall behind one day, you won’t have to write double the next. Your content will also be better; your writing will not be as good if you’re forcing the creative juices. 

Nearly half a million people attempt to write a novel in 30 days during November. Joining this number is hard but so worth it. Writing a novel is a huge feat, even if you don’t finish it, and the end product is pride worthy. And if nothing more, your typing skills and speed will undoubtedly improve by the end of the month. 

Grace McClung is a first-year journalism major at the University of Florida. She is from Denver, Colorado and loves poetry, running, and the beach.