Write a novel in a month
I wrote my first novel in a month while on furlough... here are my top tips for writing a novel in a month
The goal behind NANOWRIMO, as it's affectionately known, might sound like an impossible ask - to write 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November - but it's possible! Here are my top tips.
Tip No 1 – DREAM BIG
I've always wanted to write romance novels, for as long as I can remember. And I never lost sight of that goal – throughout university; my twenties in London as I worked my way up on women’s magazines, and then into my thirties when children came along. Never lose sight of your goal, whether it's to rise to the challenge of writing a novel in a month or - as was the case for me - to have a novel published by Mills & Boon.
Tip No 2 - NO EXCUSES
I always think back to Hugh Grant in About A Boy and how he broke down his day into units of time. He had the opposite problem to me though – he had too much time on his hands. I often wondered how I was ever going to find the time to write my novel. I finally decided to stop making excuses and make every moment count. Always have a notebook and pen to hand so you can jot ideas down as they come to you - even at night. Write notes while you're sat in the car waiting for your children to finish their dance class, or during your lunch break. Use that half-hour at the park or washing-up to think about dialogue or plot structure. No excuses now – if you want it badly enough, you’ll make the time.
Tip No 3 – FILL THE BLANK PAGE
Challenge yourself to write a set number of words a day. I aim for 2,500 words a day. Once you've got something on the page so it's no longer blank, in many ways you’re halfway there. It means you've got something to work on later, to rewrite if necessary - which is far easier than starting from scratch.
Tip No 4 – DO YOUR RESEARCH
They say you should write what you love, and I believe that to be crucial. I read all kinds of articles and books for work, but my passion has always been category or series romance. And I’ve always loved history. So I combined the two! Research and read other books in the genre you’re aiming for.
Tip No 5 – TRY NEW THINGS
Despite what I said in Tip No 4, it’s okay to try new things and different approaches - I'd written modern romance before I realised historical romance was where my true passion lay, so don't be afraid to play with a variety of settings. Publishers such as Mills & Boon accept unagented submissions from authors, which allows you to try submitting to various lines.
Tip No 6 – TAKE INSPIRATION FROM YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Let your surroundings and day-to-day life inspire you. We all know the value of going for a head-clearing walk, but you can derive so much inspiration from people around you if your story is character-led, and from locations on your doorstep, too. My novel is set among England's 9th-century Viking tribes on the East coast of England, and much of my initial inspiration came from articles I'd encountered through working for Kent Life. Hearing about the Viking raids in Sheppey and Thanet, for instance, and looking at the Viking replica Longboat at Ramsgate helped me to flesh out my ideas of how the Vikings might have lived and loved.
Tip No 7 – ESSENTIAL EDITORIAL FEEDBACK
Join a local writing group. Writing can be lonely, and a group is a great way to get unbiased feedback on your work and to bounce ideas off one another. You can find them either online or in person - thanetcreative.com, for instance, has lots of information about writing groups across the county, or ask at your nearest library. I am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and have found their local Chapters, their New Writers’ Scheme, annual conference and workshops invaluable. I’ve also been on many creative writing courses, such as Fishguard, hosted by some of my favourite authors. Getting your manuscript in front of these experts and receiving a critique is so useful.
Tip No 8 - FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR CHARACTERS
It was only when I began to treat my characters as real people, not being embarrassed to talk about them, and their hopes and dreams, that I felt my writing really started to take shape. Dig deep and get into your character's head and imagine how they're feeling and how they'd behave. When you do this, almost like acting out a play on a stage, the dialogue starts to flow and the story begins to write itself.
Tip No 9 - ENJOY THE JOURNEY
It’s not always about the end goal of having that book in your hand, it’s about the pleasure you gained from getting there - the adventure you went on with your characters and the lessons you learned along the way. Chances are, if you enjoyed writing it, people will enjoy reading it.
Tip 10 - NEVER GIVE UP
OK, I should come clean and confess that although I wrote my book in a month during lockdown while on furlough, it had been years in the planning. But I do know that it's possible to get the words down on the page in a relatively short space of time. The road to publication is tough, and you have to keep persevering despite the rejections. Take heart that every ‘no’ comes with a bit of useful feedback, helping you become a better writer and bringing you one step closer to achieving your goal.
For free guidance and plenty of ideas on National Novel Writing Month, see nanowrimo.org/