Can you write a novel in a month?

November, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), will be upon us within a matter of days and across the world, writers are preparing for this particular marathon. Their aim is to complete 50,000 words in just 30 days. It’s an extremely popular event in the writing community, but this year there seems to have been a bit of negativity towards it. I’ve seen several tweets, mostly from well-established authors and agents, lamenting the number of people who believe they can write a novel in a month.

To me, this isn’t what NaNoWriMo is about. For a start, 50,000 words probably aren’t long enough for your average novel (depending on genre obviously) and what most people will have at the end of 30 days is a pretty bog-standard first draft. However, this is a whole lot more than they had at the start of November!

In reality, NaNoWriMo is simply a good excuse for writers – whether professional, amateur or wannabe – to pledge to work continuously on a project for 30 days. This is no mean feat. It takes planning and preparation but, as I said before, the ‘End of November’ manuscript will not be a finished product. It will need weeks, months of hard work and editing before it is fit to be seen by another human’s eyes. But again that’s not the point. The point is that each person will have 50,000 words of whatever genre novel they’ve chosen to write to play with. They’ll also have much better idea of whether they have what it takes to be a writer.

Some very good books started their lives in NaNoWriMo – I’m thinking in particular of Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. I don’t believe for one moment that the finished product I read was anything like what Elizabeth wrote during NaNoWriMo 2008. But what NaNo did was give her the incentive and the motivation to begin working on the book she wanted to write.

So my advice to NaNoWriMo participants is:

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare – have your story planned, your daily writing schedule devised and make sure you’re physically ready to spend a lot of time sitting around.

2. Moderate your expectations – It will be tough, writing 50,000 words in 30 days will push you to all your limits, and the final product may not be pretty, but it could well be the start of something fantastic.

3. Be ready for more hard work – Give yourself a break after the NaNo marathon because this is where the real work begins. You’ll need to rewrite, revise and edit before you think about sending it out anywhere.

I suppose the short answer to my question is that, no, you can’t really write a fully polished novel in a month, but you can make an excellent start on a first draft. Don’t think of NaNoWriMo was a way to get published – use it as a tool to boost your creativity and an excuse to get down to some serious writing.

Happy NaNoWriMo to anyone taking part! The best of British luck to you all!

Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? What’s your main reason for signing up? If you’ve done it before, what were your experiences? I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.

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One thought on “Can you write a novel in a month?

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  1. I’m trying my hand at NaNoWriMo this year after an epic fail at it last year (I didn’t begin planning until Nov. 1st, didn’t start writing until about 8th and then kept stopping due to lack of inspiration) and I’m mainly doing it so I can push myself to write constantly. I look for any excuse to procrastinate on writing, so NaNoWriMo gives me a reason to go out and prove to myself that I can be motivated enough to actually get some words down. I’m not expecting to end the month with a serious 50,000 word novel. My only expectation is that I write.

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