Can I Write a Novel in a Month?

In author circles, November is known as National Novel Writing Month, or more commonly, NaNoWriMo. Now in its 20th year, it challenges authors to write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days.  I’ve known about it since I started working in earnest on Star Riders, but this year is the first time I’ve decided to participate.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world participate in NaNoWriMo. I decided to sign up this year primarily because I’m trying to discipline myself to write more consistently.  I recently resolved to write at least 500 words every day, and aim for 5,000 words per week (obviously I have to beat that 500/day metric at least once per week). And I’ve been doing pretty good with that, but when I plotted that out, I realized I wouldn’t finish my sequel’s first draft until March. So I decided to step up my game.

Before I go further, let’s just clarify that I don’t think I’m going to have my novel done and published on December 1. A typical sci-fi novel runs around twice the 50,000 mark, and the goal is just to get to a first draft, not a finished novel. But the benefit is to learn to write every day, and to just get those words down.

One thing I’ve been trying to learn is to just write and not re-write as I go.  It’s hard for me to not correct spelling errors, or tweak something I just noticed in the last paragraph. But as one of my early engineering managers used to say, “We have to resist the temptation to make things better.” At least at this point.  The goal now is to just get a draft done. A whole draft.  Then (and only then) rewrite it.  Most beginning authors don’t get hung up on rewrites. They don’t even make it that far; they get hung up on finishing that first draft.  Enter NaNoWriMo.

By participating in NaNoWriMo, an author joins a community of other authors facing similar struggles to find the time, face down the beast that says you don’t know what you’re doing, and plain old procrastination. There’s a website to help you stay focused and connect with others who have stepped up to the challenge.

NaNoWriMo’s objective of 50,000 words in a month works out to 1,667 words per day. That’s a lot more than 500.  But I’ve been keeping track of my writing every day, and I find I average around 700-800 words per hour.  So I could meet the NaNoWriMo pace in just two hours per day. Still, that will require dedication.

The NaNoWriMo people say there are several things to do to prepare:

  • Get your novel planned out, plot and characters – check
  • Decide when and where you’re going to write every day – check
  • Let your friends and family know what you’re doing and to give you some slack for one month – check

The website has a “NaNo Prep 101” course to help you walk through all of those steps through September and October so you’re ready to pour out the words in November.  I didn’t do that (mostly because I just decided yesterday to do it), but I’ve also already got the book planned out and have written over 17,000 words.

So tomorrow I start, and I hope to beat the 1,667 word mark the first day, and every day for a while.  If I’m successful (called “winning” NaNoWriMo), I’ll have 67,000 words a month from now, and should have the first draft done in mid-January rather than early March.

I’ll do a quick post every week to let you know how I’m doing.