The Writing Process for Creating a Novel In Less Than a Month

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) begins today for 2016 and I will be once again taking this challenge – completing the first draft of my new novel “Director’s Cut”. nanowrimo-2016-participant Here is an article I wrote when I was 3 weeks into the 2011 challenge, in order to write the first draft of my second novel “A Passionate Spirit”. Everything I said then still applies now; and my extra challenge is to take my own advice! I hope some of you who are setting out on this challenge today will find it a source of inspiration.

The task is: write a novel of at least 50,000 words in a month; and by the word “novel” we must mean, of course, “the first draft of a novel.” For I have not yet ever created a novel in a month; but in nine days time I will have done that very thing; and therefore I consider myself qualified to write the article.

Here are three tips to have that completed first draft of a novel in a month:

1) Do your preparation work before the month begins. Ideas will have been hatching in your mind for the last couple of years, perhaps; and now you have a ground plan. You have created a one-sentence storyline, and expanded it to a blurb and a synopsis and perhaps you have drawn up a list of scenes for your novel. Not everybody needs to have done this before they begin writing the novel. Some like to plunge into the writing with two or three characters and a conflict in mind, and let the story emerge. But I had already been thinking about my characters for a year or so before beginning my novel. And I know from experience what it’s like to allow your characters to take over. Characters will do that anyway, even if you have a plan. But I now believe having a plan is a very good way to start, even if the plan is radically changed by the time you’ve finished your first draft.

2) Begin writing, and don’t go back to edit. Control your desire to look over previous chapters and assess or improve them. This needs great discipline. Just keep writing even if you suspect what you are writing is rubbish, because you are going to go back over your manuscript anyway after the month is up and use it as the basis for your second draft.

3) Don’t fall into the trap of slacking or subsiding or falling away because your novel feels as if it’s sinking in the middle. Introduce something crazy or bizarre that occurs to you; just follow that instinct, introduce it into your plot, set your characters the task of dealing with it and keep on writing.

Those who find their minds go blank at the prospect of producing a full-length work of the imagination should remember this one thing: creating a first draft of fiction requires only motivation and courage. It requires you to forget everything negative you ever believed of yourself, and to believe in whatever ideas come to you, believe in them enough to incorporate them in your first draft. When you read your manuscript through in a month’s time, you may be amazed at what you came up with apparently “out of nowhere.”


n.b. this article, first published online in 2011, forms part of my upcoming non-fiction book, Perilous Path: a writer’s journey

Published by SC Skillman

I'm a writer of psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction. My latest book, 'Paranormal Warwickshire', was published by Amberley Publishing in November 2020. Find all my published books here:

7 thoughts on “The Writing Process for Creating a Novel In Less Than a Month

  1. I can’t imagine working a full time job and writing a novel in a month… I think my best in a month might be 10,000-15,000 words. You’re right; making a full novel work would take loads of preparation!

    1. Thank you for your comment – yes, I need to follow my own advice, as given in this post! Currently I am two thirds through the first draft of the novel I began to write for Nanowrimo 2016 – and I have just gone back to re-writing my character bibles, because some of my characters are taking over, others have fallen by the wayside, and some have started telling me they want to be in different roles, and I need to get to know them better!

  2. Reblogged this on Lance Greenfield and commented:
    NaNoWriMo 2016 started yesterday. I was at a conference which included a dinner, so I only got a couple of hundred words written. The important point is that I registered more than a zero. I am going to have to work hard to catch up, but catch up I shall.

    When I first took up the challenge in 2014, I took the advice of fellow NaNoers combined with Sheila’s advice in this article. I particularly like her second point, which I have passed on to many writers. Keep on writing until you reach the end of your novel. Never go back and edit the previous day’s work. If you do that, you will never finish.

    Once you have completed your first draft, you can set it aside for a while then go back and review and revise, over and over, until you have your publishable novel.

    1. Thank you for reblogging this, Lance, and also for your comment on my second point. Once I’ve finished looking through my emails, I have to follow my own advice, and get down to writing the next 1700 words of my novel! Good luck to you too for your own book – see you at the other end, as a 2016 Nanowrimo winner!

  3. It must be in a way a great challenge and your article is very interesting. Saying that from some one who wrote a long time ago but the writing was lost put me off ever trying to write .

    1. Thank you for your comment Isa. I’m glad you found the article interesting and I’m hoping that this and the other articles in my book will be of interest to people who don’t write, but just love reading, as well as aspiring writers.

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