Unleash Your Inner Novelist
Write a Novel in 30 Days – Without Losing Your Sanity.

Do you have a novel in you, waiting to get out, but just can’t find the time to write? Well, I have the perfect opportunity for you, one that “forces” you to write every day and get that novel done.

Plus, it offers all sorts of other benefits to writers, including building your confidence, tapping your creativity, and establishing good writing habits.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, begins every November 1 at midnight. To “win,” you must write a novel, or at least 50,000 words, by midnight, November 30.

There are no judges and no prizes. No one ever reads your submission. Yet, over a quarter of a million people stepped up and took the challenge in 2011, with almost 37,000 completing it.

NaNoWriMo was founded by freelance writer Chris Baty in 1999. From its humble beginnings — 21 participants and 6 winners — it’s grown into a massive, worldwide event. Many of these would-be novelists are kids and teens, participating in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. There’s also a Script Frenzy contest in April for aspiring screenwriters.

But, if there are no prizes, why do it?

“The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity,” says Baty. “When you write for quantity instead of quality, you end up getting both. Also, it’s a great excuse for not doing any dishes for a month.”

All kidding aside, writing a novel in 30 days forces you to be disciplined and committed to your writing schedule. You will tap your creativity not only in your storytelling, but also in your time-management skills.

By the end of the month, you’ll feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment about what you’ve achieved. And, NaNoWriMo can do wonders for your self-esteem. Tackling such a large project on a tight deadline — and finishing it — will give a boost to your confidence that will carry over into other projects you work on throughout the year.

And, while there are no official prizes, there can be rewards. More than 90 novels begun during NaNoWriMo have been published, including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, both #1 New York Times bestsellers.

NaNoWriMo is an immense undertaking. It can be tricky juggling your writing with work, family, and the Thanksgiving holiday (if you’re in the U.S.). But, if you’ve ever dreamed of writing a novel, the feeling of satisfaction upon completion makes the effort worth it.

I participated and won the last three years. From my experiences, I’ve come up with some tips to help you not only make it to your 50,000 words (or beyond), but also enjoy the ride.

  1. Plan your story in advance. If possible, get your story down in outline form before you start. Usually I have some notes about my characters and a few paragraphs about my story. One year, I started with no plan, and I struggled all the way to the finish.

  2. Set a daily word goal. But remember, there may be days you won’t be able to write. If you have any family gatherings, special projects you’re working on, or are going to be out of town at all, that should figure into your calculations.

    To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words a day minimum. But, suppose you’re going out of town for four days. If you don’t want to worry about writing during that time, then you only have 26 days, and need to write at least 1,924 words per day.

  3. Exceed your daily word goal if possible. If you have extra time, take advantage of it to knock out 3,000 words in an evening, or do a marathon of 5,000 words or more on a Saturday. And then stay ahead. If life gets unexpectedly hectic, you’ll appreciate the extra cushion!

  4. Avoid the NaNoWriMo forums. The forums may be a great way to connect with others, but the conversations can take up a lot of your time. Time that would be better spent writing. The exception to this is …

  5. Take advantage of the word wars, sprints, and prompts on the forum. Have writer’s block? Can’t get motivated? Need help getting your plot going again? There’s a thread for that.

    Word wars and sprints are informal contests to write as much as possible in a short amount of time. They are great tools to get your creative juices flowing again. And, if your plot is dragging, you can go to the Plot Doctoring forum and get all sorts of suggestions to rev it up. One of my favorites was, “When in doubt, just add zombies.”

  6. Get creative about time management. I’m not much of a morning person, but I usually get up an hour earlier to write during November. It’s such a sense of accomplishment to start the day with 1,000 words! I also write at lunchtime, and right before going to bed.

    If you’re short on time, ask family or roommates to help you out with chores (you can return the favor in December), and promise your friends you’ll get together next month. They will understand, and you might just inspire another budding novelist.

  7. Treat yourself. That might mean splurging on your favorite coffee creamer, some meditation, or carving out the time to go to the gym. Indulge a little in whatever energizes you and gets your creativity flowing. Also, try to stay caught up on your sleep. By the end of the third week of November, you’ll be glad you did.

  8. Don’t delete anything you write during NaNoWriMo. Editing can wait until December! The folks at NaNoWriMo suggest that if you feel you must revise, simply strike-through or change the font to white, but leave it in place for now. You wrote the words; let them be a part of your word count.

  9. “Stop when you are going good and you know what will happen next.” Employ Ernest Hemingway’s trick and end each day’s writing in the middle of a thought. I’ve found it’s a good idea to take down a few notes to remind myself in the morning what I was planning to write next.

  10. Backup, backup, backup. Every year, I hear about someone losing their entire novel to a corrupt file or faulty hard drive during the last week of NaNoWriMo. Don’t be a statistic! Back up early and often. Each evening, I make a new copy of the file, email a copy to myself, and back it up on a thumb drive. I also set my word processing program to automatically save every five minutes.

  11. Finally … bask in your success. You did it! You wrote 50,000 words, or more, in 30 days. Take a bow, take a nap, email your friends, get a massage, and start outlining next year’s novel. See you in November!

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Published: February 1, 2012

4 Responses to “Write a Novel in 30 Days Without Losing Your Sanity”

  1. Great article, Li. I'm impressed that you followed through three years in a row.

    Steve RollerFebruary 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm

  2. Thanks for this article, Li! Excellent tips.

    MindyFebruary 2, 2012 at 7:33 pm

  3. Li, you make this novel writing seem so doable that I just might accept the challenge. Thanks for sharing.

    Oriel MacCaullSeptember 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm

  4. Dear Li, I see that you wrote this article in 2012, but I've enjoyed reading it, and want to respond. I did NaNoWriMo for the first time last year, and won. Reading your article, I'm excited to do it again. One thing, I planned my story in October, and when November 1st hit -- nothing. I wrote something totally different, pantsing it all through November.:)

    Riding the SailsSeptember 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm

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