How to Write a Novel in 30 Days

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Have you ever dreamed of writing a novel? Like a big-boy chapter book? I certainly have, and I’m almost to the point where I can check off that goal of mine. I’ve always felt like I could do as well (or better) than a lot of the novels I’d read, and since I read a lot, I figured I might as well give it a shot.

The problem, I quickly found, was that writing a novel wasn’t difficult. Figuring out a plot idea, or developing character sketches, or even the basic research wasn’t hard. The tricky part was–and still is–keeping everything organized. 

I’m currently participating in an event called “NaNoWriMo,” which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual no-holds-barred writing extravaganza every November that exists solely to encourage and promote the idea of writing a full (50,000 word) novel in a month. Since I’d started my project a few months ago, I’m going to be shooting for 50,000 words in November that I can use to stuff my blog with great posts for a year (!). But here’s a bit of what I’ve learned, 70,000+ words into my book:

Planning

In my head, my book makes sense on a general level. You’ve got the good guy–the unassuming stereotypical hero archetype who saves the world, against all odds (I did mention it was a genre thriller, right?). But it was when I tried to get slightly more detailed; slightly more granular, when things got out of hand.

How does Person A get from Point A to Point B, while taking out Person B? What about Person C, who’s supposed to be with Person A the whole time? What about Setting A? What time does the sun even come up in Setting A in December? Will people be able to tell that I’ve never even been anywhere near Setting A?

Arg!

As such, I thought it might be helpful to all you other aspiring novelists out there, or anyone who’s engaged in the process of or considering writing a large, multifaceted work. Here are a few tidbits I’ve learned from doing this only once:

  • Don’t try to keep everything in your head. You will fail, and your book will suck.
  • This means to write everything down. I thought it was sort of a waste at the beginning of the project to go through and figure out who each character was and write it in a character sketch–who cares what they eat for breakfast? But it was a huge help to be able to write freely, knowing what their twitches, quirks, and characteristics were.
  • Spend ample time outlining  each section before you dive in. I can argue that it’s great to just “jump in” and go nuts, but after awhile you really will be better off if you take some time to plan your attack. For this process, I use a combination of Scrivener and Evernote. More details below.
  • Plan to rewrite. Everything. This is the phase I’m sort of in now–going back to the prologue and figuring out what parts don’t make sense (most of them) and which sections need to be rehashed (all of them). Don’t take it as an insult, but (especially if this is your first time scoping and writing something of this magnitude) it’s probably not nearly as good as you think. Unless you think it’s terrible. Then you’re probably right.
  • Figure out which sections/paragraphs/sentences/words you don’t need. Then chop them out.

These are just a few tips that I now swear by. I’ll keep everyone updated as to my own progress, and I’d love for you to do the same. Leave a comment or drop me a line.
Finally, there are some workflow issues that I needed to resolve:

  • How should I keep everything organized on my computer?
  • What should I be writing in? (hint: it’s DEFINITELY NOT anything that starts with “Micro-” and ends with “-ord”)
  • How should I organize my research files and links so that everything’s in the right place when I need it?
  • What if I want to write at work, on a PC, or at home, on a Mac? Or what if I need to type an idea into my phone to sync with a server somewhere?

Well, I found my answers. They may not be perfect, or all-inclusive, and I might change my mind in the future. But for me, it’s a good start:

In short, I use Scrivener to write and get creative. But I use Evernote to plan, store, and organize the stuff that starts in my brain. The three notebooks I currently have are:

  • Ideas: This is where the book got its start. Everything starts as an idea, and I’ll have notes called “General Plot Ideas,” “Plot Holes,” “Questions,” etc. in here.
  • Research: I love how Evernote has plenty of ways to “clip” stuff–this feature is paramount to incorporating into my workflow. If need to quickly find out how tall a monument is (’cause I’m gonna blow it up or something…), I’ll find it online, clip it, and do the bibliography info way later, so I don’t need to remember anything except my data.
  • Current: This is a developmental notebook that came about from my differing day-to-day workflow. Usually I write from my MacBook Pro, but sometimes I’m on my PC at work. I don’t have Scrivener at work, so I need a way to keep my current place in the novel that I can immediately and effectively sync at a moments’ notice. Keeping a scratch file or two is a headache-solver for me.

That’s pretty much it. I like to keep my workspace clean–both literally and figuratively–and these two programs are really helpful for this. You probably have your own thoughts/ideas, and I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below for your thoughts, and happy writing!

Nick ThackerHow to Write a Novel in 30 Days
  • OhPun

    I rewrote my first novel three times. The original draft did, as you say, made sense on a general level. Due to my "decision" to write it on notebook paper, I used it as a rough outline to write the second draft on the computer. I'd like to suggest this as an option. Don't think of it as a first draft, think of it as an outline, particularly if you have learned how to "show, not tell" while writing your first draft. It may not be worth revising.

    The second rewrite lost one of the major characters as he became even more useless after the second half of the book. The third rewrite seriously improved the story. Unfortunately, after getting feed back, I need another rewrite. It is either an adventure or a romance, so I have to fix one half of the story. *sigh* From talking to (published) authors, having to rewrite half the story is not uncommon. I've learned a lot about writing while going through this process.

    Currently I am 115,484 words into the first draft of my next novel.

    Also, everything is a "genre." If everything but "literary fiction" is considered "genre," what does that make "literary fiction?" Despite the jumping up and down that "literary" writers will do to distract you from what I am saying, "literary fiction" is simply another genre. So, to say you are writing a "genre" novel is merely saying that you are writing a novel. Saying that you are writing a thriller is good specific information.

    If you have never been to a place, talk to several someones who have. The skill of the writer is including enough information, in an unobtrusive way, to make things believable. This is true about both characters and setting.

    • NickThacker

      Ouch–three times?

      I've heard we'll need to rewrite, but I was thinking more along the lines of rewriting and reworking individual parts of the novel.

      As for the genre part, just meant it as the thriller I'm writing will be mainstream, stereotypical, cliche, you know…

      I really like your advice on asking people who've been to a place in my novel for their input. I think I'll head over to the NaNoWriMo forums right now to see if I can track down anyone who's been to Petra, Giza, or Easter Island.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Nick

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  • Bisque

    I just discovered this post and hope it’s not too late to ask questions. Do you use Evernote for all three of the notebooks you’re describing? What do you put in your “scratch” file–is that where you write your novel? I got a bit confused as to how you were writing your novel on your Mac at home and syncing it to your PC at work, or maybe I misunderstood it altogether! Thanks for this info, though–it’s very helpful.

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Hi Bisque — nope, not too late!

      I do use Evernote for all of those — the research goes into one notebook, the outline into another, and the current chapter/section I’m writing goes into the third. At home, I use Scrivener to organize and plan everything, but if need to write on the go I copy/paste the latest chapter into Evernote.

      Hope that helps!

      • Bisque

        Ah, I get it–Evernote is your access point for both computers to “share” stuff. Thanks for clearing that up.

        • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

          No problem!

  • http://seraheshoes.tumblr.com/ Serahe

    you could have said “big-kid” book…unless you only want men reading your site? Just sayin!

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Haha, I guess you’re right — but I probably don’t want that idea floating around…

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  • Charlie Bucher

    You’ve made my night, good Sir. I just grabbed Scrivener’s indefinite Linux beta the other night, and managed to get Evernote setup. I’ve been a fan of Evernote for a little more than a year (even got me an Evernote tshirt :). I’ve been trying to think of a good way to begin structuring in scrivener and laying down ideas. I really like this idea so I think I may just have to give it a go, and as I get into it more see what ways I can tweak it, if need be, to maximize my workflow. Unfortunately, the Linux beta has no syncing capabilities like what you see in the Mac version, so your “Current” notebook is another great idea. I can see myself using that to get writing done on the iPad when I’m mobile. However, I don’t have Evernote Premium, so I can already see where I am going to need to tweak this to fit a workflow when I’m offline on the iPad. Call me crazy, but it’s an enjoyable process. I might not be saying that when I have notebooks full of research and scene and character sketches that I’m struggling to keep track of but regardless, I am excited to find out. All the tips you gave in this video and post are excellent jumping off points for me, so I appreciate it and am glad I found this site. Thanks!

    Charles Bucher

    • http://www.livehacked.com/ Nick Thacker

      Great! Glad to hear it, Charles! I don’t have Evernote Premium, either, BTW, and it hasn’t slowed me down yet!

      • Charlie Bucher

        Fantastic!