Write It Sideways

5 Ways to Avoid One-Month Novel Insanity

Today’s post is written by Mercia Dragonslayer, a semi-finalist in the Write It Sideways regular contributor search. Thanks, Mercia!

“Write a novel in thirty days? How does one do that?” I wondered, as I read the website for National Novel Writing Month.”That just seems like a quest for absolute insanity!”

Until November 2009, I had never finished a novel. Sure, past attempts up to 15,000 words littered my desktop, but finishing?


This “NaNoWriMo” business promised great things for young writers like me. Finally, I could finish something worth showing off! I could be the hero of my favorite writing website! I could claim bragging rights and the recognition due to me!

The only thing stopping me? “How do I write a novel in thirty days?”

Since then, I’ve learned more about writing and speed-writing. Now that November is here once again, I want to present budding writers with the chance to complete their own novel right on time.

Here are a few tips to make one-month-noveling an easy breeze. (Or maybe a hurricane force wind, but no tornadoes, right?)

1. Plan, Plan, Plan

It’s rarely a good idea to dive into any writing project without some sort of outline in place.

NaNoWriMo is no exception. A loose outline of the main events and characters will keep you on track and give you plenty of information to work with.

In 2009, one of the main problems I ran up against was, essentially, lack of story. NaNoWriMo requires 50,000 words in order to win, and my novel simply lacked that. While planning your novel, make sure the plot has enough twists and turns to last for 50,000 words.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

See how long it takes you to write 1,667 words (50,000 divided by 30). This will give you an estimate of how long you need to write each day to make your goal.

Practice under a number of conditions—at your kid’s soccer practice, at the lunch table, at your desk. Unless you’re an insanely fast writer, plan at least two hours a day to get your words in.

3. Sleep

It may be tempting to pull an all-nighter because That Idea will go to waste otherwise. This is a very bad idea. Work, school, and family will suffer if you decide to go the whole month without enough sleep. A finished novel is wonderful, yes, but don’t sacrifice your health to do it.

I know from experience that once one stays up late for too long, it becomes a habit too hard to get rid of. You don’t want to be sleep-deprived in December too, right?

4. Exercise

“I can’t! I’ve only written 2000 words in the two hours I’ve been sitting here! NOOO! Don’t drag me away!”

Okay, so that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s very important to exercise throughout the month. Otherwise you could end up with one novel under your greatly loosened belt at the end.

This year, I plan to take a break every 2000 words and go for a two-mile bike ride. It gets me out of my seat and burns those calories I’ll take in with candy and hot chocolate.

5. Reward yourself

Eat tacos every 10,000 words. Have a candy every 1,000 words (keeping tip #3 in mind!). Go out to lunch at the halfway point.

By rewarding yourself, you have that extra motivation to keep going and you learn self-control. An especially wonderful treat at the end will make winning even sweeter.

Alternatively, you could use reverse psychology. Take away the TV until the day’s word count goal is reached. Keep the phone off if you’re behind. In addition, by making the consequences of not finishing your novel horrifying and disastrous, you will desperately want to finish, if only to not be deprived of tacos for December.

Events like NaNoWriMo stand as mere conduits for your creativity. Remember to eat, sleep, and exercise properly, and you’ll be off to an amazing start.

Mercia Dragonslayer blogs on Slaying Dragons when she has something fun or crazy to say. In 2010, she was published in The Young Writer’s Magazine. She lives in North Carolina with her family and two cats.