How to write a book in 30 days: 8 key tips

How to write a book in 30 days | Now Novel

If you’re searching for advice on how to write a book in 30 days, you’re not alone. Questions like these are common on answer-finding websites such as Quora for good reason. Writing is both fun and challenging, and its natural to want to pick up the pace. Here are 8 tips for writing a novel in 30 days:

Tip 1: Make sure your aim is attainable and adjust it if necessary

Reaction to ‘how do I write a book in x days’ is often discouraging: ‘Never write a book with a deadline as small as 30 days!’ Says one Quora user. Some of the reasons people cite for why you shouldn’t write a book in 30 days include:

  • The possibility that the quality of your writing will be bad due to time constraints
  • The fact that 30 days will give you a first draft if you reach an impressive target daily, but you will need to factor in time to revise and edit
  • The fact it’s best to take  breaks between drafts so that you can return with fresh eyes and see what is and isn’t working in your novel

These are all valid concerns. Yet that doesn’t mean you have to give up the idea of writing a book in 30 days (whether during NaNoWriMo or at any other time of year).  It could be that you need to write a book in this time frame to meet a contest deadline, or you simply want to draft faster. Whatever your motivation, you may have to adjust your expectations and work around what you can realistically achieve. To work out it you can finish your novel in 30 days:

    1. Calculate how many words you write per minute: Use a free words-per-minute checker such as Typing Speed Test (the average person who takes the test writes between 28 to 33 words per minute, according to the website’s data).
    2. Keeping in mind that you will also need to pause from time to time to think what happens next in a scene you’ve outlined, halve your word count per minute. If you can type as fast as 60 wpm, take 30 as your base rate.
    3. Work out how many words you write per hour: If you can write 30 per minute, you can write approximately 1800 words per hour (assuming you don’t stop to edit or rest). Factor in resting time for a more conservative estimate (e.g. 1000 words).
    4. Work out how many hours you will have to write each day on average over the next 30. If you write 1000 words of draft per hour on a good day, an 80, 000 word novel should take 80 hours of writing to complete.
    5. Eighty hours of writing over 30 days would mean spending an average of 2.6 hours of writing per day. This is a lot and is a very optimistic target unless you’re on a dedicated writing retreat.
    6. Based on the amount of time you have available to write each day, adjust the length of your first draft until you have a word count you can achieve – you can always expand during subsequent drafts.

If you’re adamant your first draft must be an entire 80 000 -word novel, you will need to have plenty of time to write. If this seems like an impossible task, give yourself more days or give yourself licence to write a first draft that sketches in only the most pivotal scenes: You can add connective tissue to your story during your following drafts.

Tip 2: Set a realistic target word count for each day and schedule each writing session

You might say to yourself ‘I can write for an hour each day, easily.’ The truth is that surprises, last minute obligations and life in general can hijack your precious writing sessions. Set a realistic daily word count target from the outset. For every hour of free time you have, bank on getting half an hour of that to write.

If you’ve resolved to write a half-length, condensed forty-thousand-word draft over the next thirty days, for example, you will need to write around 1333 words per day. This is still a large number of words, so think about how to make your target attainable:

  • Cut down time taken up by other tasks (make simpler, quicker meals, for example, and watch less TV – it’s only temporary)
  • Ask for help: Rally friends and family who are most supportive around you and don’t be afraid to ask for a little help so you can be consistent with making your writing appointments

Once you know exactly which hours you have free, block them out in a calendar in a colour that separates them clearly from other events and obligations. Draw an ‘X’ through each day once you’ve reached your word target, because this action will keep you motivated to continue.

Justine Larbalestier offers advice on improving your daily word count that might seem strange on first read through. She suggests that instead of setting a minimum daily word count, you should start out writing a small volume daily. If you’re aiming for 1366 words per day, write 300 to 500 words per day to begin with and increase this count daily or weekly. This might add on extra days to your initial 30-day period, but the positive effect is that as you reach each word count comfortably, you will likely find yourself writing more than your chosen minimum. The sense of achievement this creates will encourage you to keep writing more than (and not less than) your minimum target.

Tip 3: Allocate time within each writing session to separate parts of the process

How to write a book in 30 days - calendarThe different elements of writing a novel require different types of problem-solving and combinations of left- and right-brain processes. Sketching characters and inventing breathtaking fictional settings is more imagination-dependent, while editing is a somewhat more rational (though still creative) process.

If you’re wondering how to write a book in 30 days, being structured is key. This includes dividing up each writing session for optimal productivity. If, for example, you prefer writing dialogue to introducing scenes and settings, leave your favourite part of the storytelling process for the end of each session. This makes your favourite part a mini-reward that you work towards every time you sit down to write.

Divide each writing session into parts so that you complete different sections of outlining or drafting simultaneously. This keeps the process varied and diminishes chances of getting stuck.

Tip 4: Maintain a motivating reward scheme

Writing a novel under ordinary circumstances requires creating a reward scheme for yourself so that you remain motivated. When you attempt a marathon sprint of novel-writing, it’s even more important to keep your eyes on the finish line. Maximize your commitment to reach daily word count targets by:

  • Scheduling short breaks as micro rewards for reaching small targets such as completing scenes
  • Scheduling greater ‘bonus’ rewards for completing larger sections such as chapters. This will create a sense of constant forward momentum

Rewards don’t have to be expensive, indulgent or distracting from your primary task. Take a walk somewhere inspiring or beautiful, read a few pages from a favourite book or grab a coffee with a close friend. Make your rewards relaxing activities that will help you return to the track renewed and focused.

The risk of burnout is high when you rush an extensive task. One crucial piece of advice on how to write a book in 30 days:

Tip 5: Make it a game so you don’t place yourself under excessive pressure

If you’ve ever watched competitive reality TV, you might have seen cases where the most competitive and committed participant cracked early under pressure. Placing too much pressure on yourself is a fast track to burnout. Instead, treat writing a book in 30 days as an impossible goal that you’ll see whether you can reach, playfully. Because of the amount of time you’ll need to spend writing, it’s crucial that this time is fun and varied. Some ways to make it a game:

  • Enlist a friend to join in the challenge: You can have your own NaNoWriMo any time of year. No need to wait for November
  • Create engaging prompts for yourself before writing sessions: Instead of saying ‘In this scene, the villain will discover a secret that sets him back’, tell yourself ‘Imagine a villain has just been informed of a development that ruins his plans. What does he discover? How does he react? Write 500 words’
  • Find an inspiring picture via an image search tool to look at while writing a specific scene: A picture that evokes a similar mood to the one you want for your scene will feed your creativity

Try to write as freely as possible to maximize your speed:

Tip 6: How to write a book in 30 days: ‘Write drunk’

Ernest Hemingway portrait

Ernest Hemingway

The quote ‘Write drunk; edit sober’ is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though it’s not clear whether Hemingway actually said this. Regardless of authorship, the quote does say something true about writing. It’s not that you should write drunk literally (unless you want to write an incomprehensible mess). But drunks have freed words and movements.

A big part of how to write a novel in 30 days is letting your controlling side take a back seat. Let the sober editor in you control when the time comes for that. The writing part should involve as little critical interference as possible if you want to create a first draft quickly.

Some ways to ‘write drunk’:

  • Make the font colour of your word processor match the background so that everything you type is invisible. Only change the font colour back when you reach your target word count. This will prevent you from focusing too much on what you’ve just said and snapping into  ‘sober’ editing mode.
  • Give yourself licence to be bad. Write terribly. Use clichés at every turn. Do this with the understanding that once you have the full draft and you’ve met your targets, you can go through your book sober, with a fine comb, polishing the text.
  • Leap in anywhere: Just because your novel tells a linear story doesn’t mean you have to be linear in your approach. If you’ve written the start of a scene, skip to the ending if you have an idea where it will go and worry about the middle later. Writing with this kind of freedom can be liberating and can speed you up.

On the subject of speeding up, use shorthand in places to keep up your momentum:

Tip 7: Cheat and use shorthand

Who’s to say that a first draft has to be complete and fully sketched in when you’re writing to extreme time constraints? If you’re trying to write a novel in 30 days, you’ll likely only have time to fill in essential details of character, setting and the most important events of a scene. If your characters go sailing and wind up stranded on an island, worry about the exact details of how they get to shore or what the coast looks like later. To keep going at all costs:

  • Fill in names of characters, places and other nouns with generic words and agonise over the right choice later (e.g. ‘[Character Y: Add character name meaning stubborn/headstrong here]’)
  • Leave connecting sequences reduced to their basic elements. Instead of describing in detail how the party escapes the collapsing building, write ‘[Party manages to escape collapsing building; minus characters X and Y]
  • Keep filling in these blanks for moments when you are tired and your powers of invention feel diminished. The basic connective tissue between plot events and character names are easier to fill in when tired

Tip 8: Remember that progress never counts as failure

What people don’t always tell you when you ask how to write a novel in 30 days is that the most important part of this challenge is committing to it and convincing yourself you’ll do it. This kind of determination and dedication will help you make progress. If, by the end of the 30 days, you don’t have a continuous, polished first draft, congratulate yourself for the progress you have made. You have a sturdy skeleton for a book you can turn into a living, animated read over the next 30 day challenge.

Commit to finishing a novel and write 500 words per day in your private Scribble Pad on Now Novel. Just 500 words per day will become 15 000 words or more within a month.

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