Hello hello! It’s been a heck of a busy time here, mostly becaaaaause: I wrote a new novel in 30 days!
Whew! To be clear: this is the first draft of a new novel (my third), and there will be many revisions to come. But still, it’s a fully built novel from start to finish.
This is the second time I’ve written a first draft in 30 days, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I did it. I’ve written my top tips here, especially for those looking to participate in NaNoWriMo in November!
Note: these were things that really helped me personally. No writer has an exact path or an exact life, so you’ll have to find what works best for you.
1. Have an outline ready before you start drafting. Especially if you’re new to writing novels, it’s incredibly helpful having a plan for how you envision your story from start to finish. My recent blog post is all about outlining tips if you’d like advice, but it doesn’t have to be exhaustive.
2. Figure out the best time for you to write during the day. When do you feel most productive? When do you realistically have the time to dedicate to writing? With me, I work full-time, and I really struggle with writing before work (I am NOT a morning person, try as I might to become one). But I’ve found through trial and error that I’m most alert during the work week right after work ends, but before dinner. Sometimes I’m able to get a few words in during my lunch break too. On weekends, I enjoy writing earlier in the day and find I’m the most motivated and productive then.
3. Decide how many days you want to write this draft, then build in days off. I took the NaNoWriMo approach of 30 days with an approximate 50,000 word count goal, but I built in 5 non-writing days. I looked at the 30 days ahead: my husband’s birthday landed during that time, so I knew I wouldn’t want to write then. I also wanted to buffer in time in case I got sick (which I did), or if I had a bad day and lost all motivation to write (which I also did). I’m a big believer in making ambitious goals while still being practical, and having days off kept me from feeling guilty or behind if I simply needed a break. Breaks are important!
4. Let your partner/kids/those you see all the time know this is a priority for you. I told my husband weeks ahead of time that I planned to write a novel in 30 days. This meant I’d be looking to him for a bit more support some nights, and to be aware I wouldn’t have as much free time in the evenings for a bit. He really stepped up and offered to make more meals, bring me tea and chocolate some nights, hug me when I was having a rough time, help keep me motivated, and so on. Writing a novel isn’t a solitary thing where the rest of your life politely stops–you have to be dedicated to making the time, and having people in your life to help and understand your goals is invaluable.
5. Plan your meals/tasks out in advance each week. Every Sunday, I put together the list of dinners for the week, and they were often easy-to-cook recipes or crockpot recipes we could have twice that week. I planned out which work days I knew would be busy (I work in the video games industry, and this is the busy season), and I’d plan to keep dinner easy that night so I could dive into writing after. Staying organized was key for me to make this draft happen so quickly.
6. Track your progress. I had a little calendar page that I marked off each day, and on the back, I wrote my word count for the day. It really helped remind me how far I was going and kept me motivated with something tangible.
7. Pay attention to burn out. Around day 20, I was mentally drained. Work was busy, life was busy, and I was heading down a slump. I was trying to stay motivated, but more than that, I needed to recalibrate. I was losing the joy of writing this story, a story I am *so* excited about, because I was letting work and stress and tiredness take that joy from me. So I mentally recalibrated and reminded myself *why* I was doing this. Not because of some deadline, but because I love writing itself. I find writing fun, except when I put so much pressure on myself it gets clouded. I recalibrated, took a little break, and finished the rest strong.
8. Try not to fall behind on your word count; it’s easier to get ahead than to catch up. I had a daily word count goal of 2000 words, and though some days those last few hundred words were a struggle, I never stopped early. Falling behind is a slippery slope, and it would cause me extra stress to think “I’ll just catch up and do 2500 words tomorrow.” I occasionally wrote over 2000 words when I was in the zone, so the next day I’d maybe have 1700 words to write. That was so much better for me mentally!
9. Stay focused, but make sure to still move around. I’ve become a much more digilent writer over the years, and I can usually turn off distractions when I sit down to write. I tend to write faster in general now, because I’m not sitting idly on social media or whatever else (*cough* usually!). I also have a dedicated space to write, and when I’m there, I focus as much as possible on *only* writing. That said, I still got in exercise each day during this drafting fest. There are studies about how exercise can contribute to better creativity, but for me, it was more about making sure I wasn’t *so* focused on writing that it was the only thing I thought about. So I went on long walks each day and still ate pretty healthy (#5 above was helpful for this!).
10. Last but definitely not least: write now, revise later. I see writing a first draft as a blueprint for greatness to come. My first drafts are not inherently great. Hard stop. They’re about figuring out how to tell the story to myself only. I was careful not to revise my work while drafting; I just let the words flow as best I could, and occasionally I took broad notes on the side (not on my drafting doc) where I’d note things like “character X is currently flat; villain not introduced soon enough; voice for character Y isn’t bringing enough conflict,” and so on. I want to remember certain things for later, but I wasn’t going to slow down while drafting to fix things, especially when I might change my mind.
I already know there will be huge changes to this book–for example, I wasn’t sure before drafting if I wanted to do a dual POV story. I decided to go with just one, with the main character I’d built out best, but while drafting, it became clear I definitely want a dual perspective. But I kept going with the story as is, because that’s a much bigger change that will include new chapters, changing the perspective for some chapters already written, etc. And I really want proper time to think that all through before just throwing it at the wall in draft one.
And now, I’m taking a BREAK! I’ll come back to my story in a couple weeks after I’ve had time to recharge and figure out how I’d like to tackle revisions. I hope this helps anyone looking to draft more quickly, and if you have any questions or need advice, please don’t hesitate to ask!
Sending good vibes,
P.S. Above photo taken by me, from a lovely quote block purchased from Barnes & Noble!