Writing a novel in a month sounds impossible, but it doesn’t have to be. If you can stress discipline in your life and have the time, you can finish that novel in a month.
How to write a novel in a month? For most fiction writers, it sounds like a nightmare, an impossible task. It’s not.
There are those who will argue that a novel written in a month must not be of quality work. They can be wrong. I will not suggest they are always wrong, but in some instances, they are. It simply takes a certain amount of consideration to understand how a novel could be written in a month, as it would take discipline to be able to complete a novel in a month.
As most regular readers and writers are aware, there are two broad types of fiction, literary and genre. I would not suggest attempting to write a literary novel in a month. Such works can take years. For a writer like James Joyce, every single word, sentence and paragraph was painstakingly gone over again and again, because each meant something, alluded to something, had an intense purpose. Genre writing rarely tries to accomplish such. Genre writing, for the most part, is about plot and character, not so much about themes and sub-texts and the like. For those who might balk at this, I admitted to overgeneralizing here, because sometimes literary and genre writings do mix together, such as with the magical realism genre.
Another thing to consider is that each writer is different and has different circumstances. Some writers are naturally fast, others are not. Some writers have trained themselves to write faster, while others do not wish to do so for a variety of reasons. Some writers must think of each of their works as the best they could complete, while others keep writing and writing and writing, focusing on the current and next work in the belief their writing will naturally improve with each new project and each project will be better than the one before. Some writers, those of us who are fortunate, write for a living and can spend all day writing. Others work a full-time job or several jobs and can barely get out a hundred words a day. Others might be going to school full time or have children or parents to care for. Again, each of us has a different situation, and it is reasonable to expect that not everyone can write a novel in a month.
But those of us who have the time and the drive can do so.
Also, keep in mind that the huge novel of 100,000 to 300,000 words that runs from 400 to 1,000 pages is mostly a modern creation. Yes, there are giant novels from the past (War and Peace, obviously), but until about 1980 or thereabouts, novels were generally shorter works, about 60,000 to 80,000 words, especially genre novels. Look at the works of genre writers such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, early Ed McBain, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and other such writers. Their novels were short by more recent standards, often only 200 pages or less. The reason novels began to grow in size is because traditional publishers realized they could charge more and make more money for longer works.
With the advent of digital publishing and the growth of self publishing, many writers and readers are rediscovering the joys of shorter novels. When one can pop onto their favorite e-book site and purchase a novel for 99 cents or for less than a few dollars, most will not expect to purchase a work the size of The Iliad.
So, how does one go about writing a novel in a month?
Mostly, it takes discipline. Also, a little planning can help in the long run.
For one thing, you need to set a production schedule. When will you be writing? How much will you write a day? What about editing? And if you are self publishing, what about cover design? And formatting?
Don’t worry so much about coming up with a plot. If you’ve been thinking about writing fiction for some while, you probably have several plots and characters already in your head. If not, coming up with a basic plot shouldn’t take longer than a day or two.
First things first, let’s look to of what you can have complete control. The writing. You will need to set daily word counts for yourself, a goal that needs to be met more often than not. I’ll suggest 10,000 words a day. Yes, that sounds like a lot, but for writing a novel in a month, it is necessary. And it is attainable for those who have the time and discipline. Even if you don’t feel today you can write 10,000 words in a single day, you can work up to it.
10,000 words a day means 50,000 words in a standard working week, or 70,000 words if you also work weekends. That’s a short novel. In two working weeks, you can have between 100,000 and 140,000 words, which is a solid length for a novel.
Keep in mind, at this point you are not trying to compete with Shakespeare. You are not trying to be the next Cormac McCarthy. You are simply trying to finish your novel.
If you still don’t believe you can write 10,000 words in a day, time yourself as you write. How long does it take you to write a thousand words? An hour? Half an hour? Three hours? All day? A decent average for most writers is about 1,000 words an hour, but even that can be brought up with practice. But let us say you can write 1,000 words an hour. If you wrote for eight hours, a common day’s work, you would have 8,000 words. Now, does 10,000 words a day sound like an impossibility? Think of all the times you’ve put in overtime at your job. Now think of writing as your job. If you put in a full day’s worth of work at writing, and then a little over time each day for a week or two, you would have the first draft written for a novel. Also, keep in mind that not every word you write has to be pure gold, because you can clean up much in the rewriting and editing phase.
Okay, so you finish your first draft. What do you do now? It truly depends upon what you wish to do with your writing career. Are you seeking traditional publication with a major print publisher? Or are you willing to go it alone, to self publish your own works?
If you seek traditional publication, at this point you should probably set aside your novel for at least a few days to clear it out of your mind. When you get down to your rewriting and your own proofreading and editing, you want to come at the novel with fresh eyes so as to help yourself find what needs rewritten and/or corrected. A longer period of time would be preferable, possibly as long as a few months, but that is not always needed.
If you are planning to self publish, I still suggest setting aside your work for at least a few days. Take a breath. Take a mini-vacation. You’ve earned it.
If you happen to have some friends or colleagues who are beta readers, this might be the time to share your work with them. This way, you can incorporate their feedback once you are in the editing and rewriting stage.
And now, after your break, we are at the editing and rewriting stage. If you are writing genre fiction, with its focus upon plotting and characterization, hopefully you won’t have a ton of work to do here. Dialogue and action drive must such stories, so maybe all you need is a little tweaking here and there. If more work needs to be done, a major re-hauling, prepare yourself for putting in that extra time at work once more.
In theory, it should not take most writers longer than a week or two to edit their own novels. This is a ballpark figure, of course. Some it will take much longer. Some will be able to wrap things up in a day or two. Just remember to pace yourself to the best you can. As with writing, set up a schedule. Try to edit at least 10,000 words a day, if possible. That way, you could potentially edit your novel in about the same time period it took to write it.
Hopefully sometime during your editing stage, you got back feedback from some of your beta readers.
If you are seeking traditional publishing, by the end of the month you should have your novel ready to be mailed to publishers and editors or literary agents. If you had planned ahead a little, your novel should have already been written in a proper format for sending off. If not, formatting should not take more than 15 minutes to a half hour of your time, unless you were writing on a typewriter or in long form, which I would not suggest one attempt if they are attempting to write a novel in a month.
If you are looking to self publish, at this point you still have formatting to consider. If you are publishing in print with someplace like CreateSpace or Lightning Source, then you will need to format for their needs. If you are publishing for e-books with Amazon’s KDP, Smashwords, or at Barnes & Noble’s Pubit!, then you will need to format for those sites. If you are publishing both in print and digital, you’ll have double the formatting to do, but again, it shouldn’t take you long to do and will only become easier the more times you go through the processes.
Also, if you are self publishing, you might want to consider hiring a professional editor, though this will add to the time spent on your manuscript. It is likely time and money well spent, and it you had your ducks in a row before you started writing it is not impossible to already have an editor waiting for your manuscript. The same could be said for hiring a cover artist, unless you consider yourself a decent enough graphic designer to create your own covers. Unless you are expecting a full painting or some such for your novel’s cover, many graphic designers could turn around a cover within a few days, though you might have to pay a little extra for speed.
Now, you are finished. Right? Well, if self publishing you will still need to upload your work to the various sites, but that shouldn’t take you longer than an hour, at least once you’re experienced with such.
If you can’t complete a novel in a month, no big deal! You can always try again. With practice and experience comes skill and self confidence. Actually, if you are a beginning writer, this attempt being your first novel, I would suggest not trying to write it in a month. Give yourself whatever time you feel is appropriate. Your first time out, finishing a novel is prize-worthy in and of itself! Then write the next novel, and the next, and so on. After you’ve got a few novels under your belt, once you have a feeling for your own skills, then perhaps give writing a novel in a month at try.
And if you fail? No big deal. You can always try again.