A couple of weeks ago a colleague from my magazine writing days said: “I’d love to write a novel, but I can’t spend $60,000 on it. I need a steady income.” She makes six figures a year, and looks on writing a novel as a risky investment of time and energy. Maybe you feel the same way — you’d love to write fiction, but you can’t spend months on a writing project without a guarantee of a return on the time you invest.
You don’t need to spend months writing a novel. You can write a novel in a month. If hundreds of thousands of newbie novelists write a novel for NaNoWriMo each November, YOU can do it too.
If you want to write a novel, develop an “of course I can…” mindset first
Start by getting your mindset right. To write a novel in a month, you need to write around 2,000 words a day if you’re aiming for a novel of 60,000 words.
Too many words? OK — write a thousand words a day, and you’ll have 30,000 words at the end of a month. SHORT fiction sells on the Kindle. One of my students wrote two series of short fantasy novels/ novellas. He made five figures a month after eight months. He’s well on track to make a six figure income, working four hours a day.
Book length doesn’t matter. Write a good story. Make it the first novel in a series or serial, and build your audience with every ebook you write.
Here’s what matters: an “of course I can” mindset.
Start by working out how long it takes you to write a thousand words, and follow our tips.
1. Start by listing titles, until one sparks inspiration
Got the right mindset? Great.
Let’s get started.
Here’s Dean Koontz’s method of starting a new novel, cold. He doesn’t prepare, he just starts listing titles, waiting for one title to spark his inspiration.
Too much preparation can kill your inspiration:
I started hitting best-seller lists as soon as I stopped using outlines. With Strangers, I started with nothing more than a couple of characters I thought I’d like and with a premise.
I like to sit down with a yellow legal pad and a cup of coffee to list titles. Usually, by the time I’ve written ten titles, I have an idea for a character… and I start the novel.
2. Differentiate your characters: decide who wants what (and why he’ll never get it)
The key to the “just write” process is to connect with a character. Your title has given you a character. By the time you’ve written a few paragraphs, you’ll have another character.
Keep writing, and aim to differentiate your characters. Let’s say you’re writing a mystery. You have a sleuth who’s an aging alcoholic; a detective who’s avoiding his AA meetings. His partner is young, strait-laced, Armani-wearing.
Making your characters different introduces conflict.
Fiction is all conflict, all the time. You need major conflicts, and minor ones too. Never make things easy for your characters.
In your first few scenes, you’re exploring your characters. A story will come to you. Create a goal for your major character which he’s unlikely to achieve. You want to make life as difficult as you can for your main character.
3. Write to milestones: setup and midpoint (by then you’ll know the end game)
In Writing Fiction: Show It, Don’t Blow It, I suggested these milestones for a novel:
▪ The setup (approximately a quarter of your novel, in which you set up your story. After you’ve set things up, you’re moving to…
▪ The midpoint — what it says. This is the first big turning point of your story, where everything changes. Your story goes in a new direction. Next you head for…
▪ Story twist number 2. Another turning point. Your main character has tried to change. It’s not working. Things look black, and you’re heading for…
▪ The showdown. The make or break. The big fight your character needs to win. The story winds down, with…
▪ The resolution. The killer’s identified in a mystery. The world’s saved in a thriller, and it’s hearts and flowers in a romance.
When I start a novel, my first ten scenes (around 15,000 words) are devoted to showing the main character in everyday life.
Avoid labeling. Don’t say: “Freddy is a drunk.” Show Freddy sprawled on his sofa when he gets home from work. He’s hidden a bottle of whiskey in a cupboard. He calls his little daughter; his ex insists that his visits with the child are supervised.
Your aim in the setup is to show that to achieve his story goal, your main character will need to change. Freddy’s a drunk. In our mystery, his goal will be to find a serial killer before he kills again. You need to make Freddy likable, while making it unlikely that he’ll achieve his goal.
4. Carve time out of your day: dump junk activities
To write a novel in a month, you’ll need a couple of hours a day. On some days, you may only have an hour or less. That’s OK. Before you start writing, think about how you spend your day.
What activities can you drop?
5. Mind map each scene, and write the scene’s dialogue first
I write the first ten thousand words of a novel without worrying about mind mapping and setting up scenes because I’m exploring and getting to know the characters. After that, I pay attention to the story milestones, and I mind map my scenes.
Because… From Nanowrimo Made Easier: Mind Map Your Novel:
Within a few thousand words, whether you use an outline or not, your novel wanders off-track. Characters morph. Your plot splutters and fizzles. Then when you get your plot running smoothly again you find you’re headed in the wrong direction. Pretty soon, you find that you’ve written yourself into corner.
Look on your novel as a journey. Your first milestone is at 25%.
The next is the midpoint, at 50%.
Sticking with our alcoholic detective. In the setup, Freddy gets suspended. He’s told to straighten himself out, or he’s fired. Freddy starts attending AA meetings again. Then he’s called in to work, to track the serial killer.
At the midpoint, Freddy misses a clue, and the serial killer takes another victim. His wife takes his daughter out of state; she tells Freddy she’s remarrying.
Freddy has a choice. Drink, or commit to finding the killer? This is the big turning point of the novel, where Freddy commits to changing his life.
Here’s a useful way to write your scenes: write the dialogue first. Then “fill in” the scene with description, character thoughts, and other bits of business once that’s done. This helps you to write tighter scenes and cuts down on revisions later. (Always a good thing.)
You can write a novel in a month — get started today
Everything starts with you.
Start today. Write a list of titles, until one inspires you. Then start writing your novel.
Have fun. 🙂
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