How to write a book in one month
Every November, people of all ages and backgrounds determine to write a 50,000 word book in one month for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Some may wonder what kind of crazies would engage in such behavior. It’s simple really. We’re writers. That’s just how we roll.
Besides, writing a novel in one month isn’t any crazier than training for a marathon.
Both runners and writers set an “impossible” mile or word count goal. Then they split their larger goal into more manageable, daily subgoals. When they accomplish those goals or get into the flow, they both receive a dopamine high (really, the science backs this up. Crazy, right?). They strengthen their abilities. They experience a sense of purpose and accomplishment. You get the idea.
My point is that writers and sports people can actually be friends! Nah. All I’m trying to say is that you can write a book in a month if you BELIEVE you can (gotta love the cheese). It may end up being less impossible than you think.
So how do you write a book in one month?
In order to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, you will need to write 1,667 words every single, stinkin’ day (6-7 pages per day). Before you start hyperventilating, imagine writing an exciting scene from your book or explaining an interesting point. With that scene or explanation on your mind, the 6-7 pages seems a little easier, right? Maybe? Hopefully?
Word count isn’t really your biggest challenge. Your biggest challenge is to make those words actually amount to something semi-decent.
Most people could write 1,667 words a day if they put their mind to it. But the goal of writing a book isn’t just to write words on a page. After one month of possibly painful writing, I don’t want to end up with 50,000 words of garbage that I’ll have to throw away anyway because it doesn’t make any sense and ends up being a story that isn’t worth writing. I don’t want to spend precious time working on something that isn’t worth my time at all.
I want my 1,667 word daily sacrifice to matter. Don’t you?
Now, I don’t mean that we should expect a perfect rough draft. Oh boy, that would be unrealistic. But I think it is reasonable to expect our daily sacrifice to add up to a draft that could become a legitimate book.
Although we may end up deciding to rewrite the entire story (yes, I’ve had to do that many a time), we can still put our best foot forward instead of aimlessly wandering through a daily word count, hoping we’ll end up with something great. Knowing myself, just dumping my brain for 7 pages each day will amount to a million ideas and no story.
Instead, we can complete the monthly challenge in such a way that will have the best chance of becoming a great book.
In that spirit, I’m going to challenge you to look beyond the 50,000 word count goal. I challenge you to write a BETTER, maybe even GOOD novel in a month. (Gulp!) Hopefully by the end of this blog post, you will start to believe it is possible.
The secret to writing a BETTER book in a month is to take a little time to prepare before you dive into the deep end.
With a little preparation, we can write smarter now to avoid making it harder in the long run.
If you can, give yourself a week or two to implement these simple preparation strategies. It will make your daily writing sacrifice a lot more productive.
Start where you are.
Maybe your story is just an image, character, or scene right now. Represent your ideas verbally and/or visually in writing, drawing, painting, or collaging. Get those creative juices flowing.
Map your mind.
As soon as you represent your initial ideas verbally or visually, you’ll start to make connections between ideas, people, and scenes. Your mind will start to hum and your vision will expand. A mind map is a useful tool to help you document this energetic thinking process.
Here is one way to map your mind:
Place your central idea, character, image, or scene in the center of the page.
Add branches. For example, if you placed a character in the center of the page, your branches could include personality, motives, family, background, strengths, or weaknesses.
Add words or images to your branches. If you were exploring the character’s strengths, you could write empathy, wit, openness to others, etc.
Connect ideas. Maybe your character’s weakness of trusting people too quickly is connected with her strengths empathy and openness.
The mind map will expand your ideas and deepen your understanding of your own story.
Brainstorm with a buddy.
Writers need other people (even if they don’t like to admit it). Many writers love explaining their ideas to someone else because it helps them to clarify their own. Talking through your ideas with someone else will help you explore your story and discover your overall structure.
Here is one way to effectively brainstorm with a friend:
Meet in person or on Skype/Google Hangouts if you can. Brainstorming is often better in person rather than online.
Choose one person to be the writer and the other to be the listener. You will eventually switch so that each person has equal time to be the writer.
The writer explains the characters, scenes, story structures, or other ideas they have in their mind. The listener just listens.
Once the writer finishes explaining, instead of making suggestions, the listener asks the writer questions. For example, the listener could ask the writer, “What motivated your character to run away from home?” Or “Could you explain your point about ___ a little more? I didn’t quite understand.”
The writer shares the answer to the listener’s question and jots down any notes.
After a designated amount of time, switch the role of writer and listener. Rinse and repeat.
Create an outline.
An outline can serve as your daily guide. Instead of focusing on the overall goal of writing a book (which is overwhelming), you can focus each day or week on one bullet point.
The first section of your outline should define your tentative overall vision for the book.
If you are writing nonfiction, I recommend starting your outline with your answers to these questions:
What is your overall message? This is your main point or theme.
Who needs this message? This is your audience.
How do you want to influence the way your audience thinks, feels, or acts as a result of your book?
If you are writing fiction, I recommend starting your outline with your answers to these questions:
Who are your characters?
What is your main conflict?
What are your characters’ goals or motives?
How do the characters grow as a result of the conflict? Where do you want your characters to start emotionally, physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually at the beginning of the book? Where do you want them to end up by the end of the book?
These questions will help you gain a sense of where you want to go before you start trying to get there. Your daily sacrifice will feel a lot more meaningful with your vision at least partly defined.
Next, I would recommend using some common story structures to complete your outline.
If you are writing nonfiction that is centered on a problem, use the problem/solution structure. Your book could define a problem in the introduction and provide a solution to that problem in each chapter. Or every chapter could define a different problem and provide a solution (this structure works well for self-help books).
Your outline could look something like this:
Introduction: What is the problem?
Chapter One: Solution #1
Chapter Two: Solution #2
If you a writing nonfiction centered on a person’s life (or your life), use the chronological story structure. Write a list of details and events from the person’s life and place them in order by time. Even if you ultimately decide to rely on a different structure, this structure is a great place to start.
Your outline could look something like this:
How parents met
Starts school early
If you are writing fiction and you are a plot driven thinker, try the three act story structure. I’ve included a very simplified version below.
Base your outline on the following sections:
Act I: The Setup
Introduce the setting and your characters (protagonist, antagonist, and any secondary characters), their relationships, and their goals.
Present a situation (or inciting incident) that pushes the main character out of their current reality. This situation should present a choice for the main character but also provide them with enough motivation to leave their comfort zone.
Act II: The Confrontation
Explore the main character’s emotional development through the challenges they face along their internal or external journey.
The conflicts and pressure should increase with each turn of the story; every challenge interferes with or complicates the protagonist’s main goals.
The antagonist should eventually create a situation in which the protagonist’s plans completely unravel and they reach an all time low.
After a time lost in darkness, the protagonist discovers a little light, something that provides additional strength or knowledge. The protagonist uses this light to take a very difficult step forward.
Act III: The Resolution
Increase tension to an all time high (the climax) where your protagonist confronts the antagonist.
The protagonist triumphs, learns something, and/or becomes better.
Your reader should find answers to big questions or experience emotional closure.
If you are writing fiction and you are a character driven thinker, try the hero’s journey story structure.
You can base your outline on this very simplified version:
Introduce your hero in their known world. The reader should be able to identify with the hero in some way.
The hero receives a call to adventure that prompts him to leave their known world.
The hero is tempted to ignore the call due to insecurities, fears, or their situation. The hero decides to accept the call when the stakes are raised.
The hero receives some form of supernatural aid in the form of knowledge, advice, confidence, or trinket.
The hero crosses the threshold between the known and unknown worlds, possibly by completing a difficult challenge or proving their worthiness.
As the hero experience the unknown world, they learn about good and evil and overcome smaller challenges.
When the hero starts getting comfortable in the unknown world, an event shakes them up that marks the point of no return. Now your hero is fully committed to the goal.
The challenges, doubts, flaw, and fears only increase as the hero fights to move forward.
The hero pauses to confront the reality of their life-threatening (internally or externally) situation and decides to move forward despite potential repercussions.
The hero eventually faces the ultimate ordeal: the antagonist. Using everything they’ve learned thus far on the journey, they may have to fight a dangerous external or internal conflict or solve a complex puzzle. Ultimately, they may have to confront death, overcome their deepest fear, or make a costly sacrifice.
The hero is rewarded by receiving wisdom, power, a magical object, or a saved relationship.
The hero starts a dangerous journey home. They often feel like although they achieved what they set out to achieve, something feels off and they want to repair it.
When crossing the threshold between the unknown and known world, the hero encounters death through danger, the antagonist, or a difficult choice. The hero emerges completely reborn. Whatever the hero chooses in this moment will have great consequences for the known world.
The forever changed hero returns home with something that will improve the known world.
Now you have some great strategies to try. I bet you 50,000 words that if you take at least a week to prepare using these strategies before you start your challenge, you will end the month with a BETTER book. Something that may one day become a bestseller.
Dare to dream dudes!
If you have other preparation strategies, feel free to share them in the comments below.
Let’s free the writer!