How to write a novel in a month

Yesterday, as part of a job interview, I had to give a five minute how-to presentation on a topic of my choice. I decided to talk about how to write a novel in a month. This is what I said:

Two years ago, I decided to write a novel. In a month. Many people’s response was some variation of “Are you crazy?” And maybe I was–but I did it. In 30 days, I cranked out the rough draft of a novel–not perfect, but plenty to work with.

Just in case you think that would be a fun challenge for you or someone you know, I’d like to talk with you for the next few minutes about how to write a novel in a month.

We’ll use the acronym CRAZY to talk about the five factors I think it takes to succeed at this effort.

Many people think of writing as a solitary occupation, but most writers actually need some form of writerly companionship–other people around who get it.

If you’re going to attempt a novel in a month, I’d recommend doing it in November and joining the ultimate writing group: NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month. Every year people sign up online to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. Sign up and you can meet up live with other Wrimos in your area. You get pep talks from established writers in your inbox. You’ve got community.

If you’re going to tackle a big writing project, you’ll need to figure out a writing ritual that works for you. The formula I use is this:

T + P + M + S → 1667

You want to find the right Time + Place + Method + Snack that will yield 1667 words per day, which is what you’ll need to hit 50,000 words in a month. (1667 words usually works out to 3-4 pages and takes 90 minutes to two hours to write.)

For me, the best scenario turned out to be:

Afternoons + Chick-fil-A + MacBook + Refillable Soda


Late nights + Couch + MacBook + M&M’s

Your best scenario may look very different than mine, but you’ll want to discover the ritual that works for you.

The tag line for NaNoWriMo is “30 Days and Nights of Literary Abandon.”

Let go of your perfectionism. Write like crazy & don’t edit. You can edit later; just get the ideas out now. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.


Zzzzzzz deprivation
If you’re going to carve out two hours a day to write, you’re going to need to sacrifice something.

Might be sleep. In fact, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll need to give up some sleep along the way. But there will likely be other things you’ll need to sacrifice as well. Might need to fill up your DVR with shows and wait to watch them next month.

What would you need to give up if you wanted to carve out two hours a day to write? Which sacrifice do you suspect would translate into the most productivity in terms of word camp?

You’ve got to want it. You’ve got to have a deep enough want-to to get you through the days when you’d rather not. You’ve got to find a motivation deep enough to hold you steady when other things are trying to blow you off course.

And that’s how you write a novel in a month: Community, Ritual, Abandon, Zzzzz Deprivation, and Yearning. Come to think of it, it’s a pretty good way to tackle any seemingly insurmountable goal. The kind of goal that makes people ask, “Are you crazy???”

So…got any seemingly insurmountable goals you might want to tackle? Any aspects of my CRAZY acronym jump out as potentially helpful? Let me know in the comments.

The Road to Seen

As a writer and speaker and artist, I often explore the longing to be seen that lives inside all of us–right alongside the fear of being seen. I’ve put together a collection now available at the Kindle store, called The Road to Seen: Reflections on Invisibility (and its Flip Side). It’s a series of pieces reflecting on this theme through essay, visual art, monologue and poetry. Take a look and let me know what you think. If you want, you can even write a review!

Truth in Advertising: The Road to Seen is more of a booklet than a book. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll recognize several of the pieces I’ve included in the ebook. But it’s not all reruns. And you might consider buying it if:

You want something to tide you over until a full-length book of mine hits the bookstore shelves.

You’ve heard me speak, liked my voice, and wish the conversation could continue.

You like that I’ve collected some of my thoughts on one theme–rather than making you dig through my blog archives to collect them yourself.

There’s some content I’ve never published on the blog, and you’d like to see it.

You think your Kindle (or other device) would like me.

You think reading books without paper is kinda cool and techy.

So, check out The Road to Seen.