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How To Write a Book in 30 Days (Kind of)

November 7, 2019

It’s been a hell of a year.

I knew back in January it’d be a challenge. I had decided to take on more travel than I’ve had before—I was honored to be invited as a keynote speaker and teach a masterclass, and then there were some conferences I needed to attend, including Paris (because who says NO to a signing in Paris?!) and I also needed to write books.

A lot of books. Again, I didn’t plan it because sometimes things happen that you need to jump on with contracts – but when 2019 unfolded I realized I needed to write 5 books in a year that I wasn’t around much.

Hmm. Good thing I love a challenge.

It went much better than I expected. The first three books I churned out had some ups and downs. At one point, I went into panic mode about my first women’s fiction novel, but it ended up being a gift and a treasure and a book I’m so excited about –I’m counting down the days to the release.

But what happened to me probably happens to many other writers who are writing full time and suddenly find their work schedule/family life/travel life intercepts and explodes. We look up one normal, every-day morning, and realize OUR BOOK IS DUE IN THIRTY DAYS.

One month to write a book.

In some households, this is called NANOWRIMO. For those who are not familiar with the term, it’s National Novel Writing Month which is always held in November and encourages writers and anyone who dreams of writing a book to write it in thirty days. Balls to the wall type of guerilla writing.

Now, I like to be able to CHOOSE to participate in this program, but this month, I’m forced into it. Because I woke up on October 14th and started my brand new book, realizing it must be delivered in thirty days.

How shall I do this?

I will explain how, and teach you how to do it, too.

Kind of.

First off, anyone can write a book in thirty days. It’s the type of book you write. We’ve all seen The Shining, and we can just type All Work and No Play Makes Jen a Dull Girl over and over and call it a book. I’m talking about a book with a plot, strong characters, a growth ARC, an interesting setting, with some type of theme, great banter, sexual tension and the all-important emotion.

No problem.

Now, I would recommend a few things to start. One—make it a second or third book in a series. The first one is too hard – you’re setting up an entire world and arc of additional books and need more time to do it justice. But with second and third in series, you pretty much know the characters you are going to write, and you are familiar with the world. You can even lean on your first couple to give you some confidence, reminding yourself you did this once and they ended up great and readers loved them.

Writers need to take props anywhere they can.

Another thing is: this works much better for seasoned writers. Let’s be honest, a newbie is still learning, and putting pressure to write a decent book in thirty days is too much. You need time to learn the craft well, and though there’s nothing wrong putting out a first draft, you shouldn’t be pressuring yourself to actually make it decent for public consumption at this point. You have much more work to do. Take the time and do it, but commit to getting your initial draft on paper – that will be a great starting point.

Now, with these two caveats in mind, let’s move forward.

I started by sketching out a few paragraphs about the characters. Physical attributes, hopes and dreams, some fears, their goals and motivations, etc. Then I bullet pointed some big scenes or turning points that got my juices flowing. Sketched in the greyish type black moment I thought could happen. This is very rough outlining and can veer off the path quickly – this is the kind of outlining I like. I need the surprises to keep me writing along the way. If you’re a plotter, you may want to take more time to plot it out but not too much—the bulk of it has to be writing.
Then, I look at my month and I take out days where big activities are happening, or appointments, or holidays. I try to be realistic about what I could expect to write. Sometimes I give myself a day off on the weekend. Sometimes, I estimate 2-3K per day instead of 5-6. You need to be ruthless and honest looking at your month but also be balanced. If you’re gonna get all ruthless on your ass and pretend you need no down time, you are probably going to stumble. By giving myself some time off with permission, I escape the dreaded funnel where I’m sinking fast and blame it all on that hour my husband’s car broke down and I had to drive across town to pick him up and missed a good 2K of words.

At the end of this, your book must total your word count. If your contract says 70K I go with that. If it says 100K I feel very sorry for you. Hopefully, it’s more like 50K which is a more reasonable amount to push in one month.

Then, write. Write to your schedule. Write no matter what surprises pops up along the way—including a brand new season of your favorite show on Netflix. Practice saying no to things. NO to cooking. No to favors. No to going out to dinner with friends for a three hour fun night. No to laundry. No to the kids. One month of No to anything but the writing – which includes your tight social media schedule, those extra cute posts on IG, blogging, promo work, FB ads, etc.

Just say yes to writing.

There will be many times you want to die or scrub toilets rather than see the blank page. If you’re a writer who needs to write in logical order and are blocked, you may need to jump around and write a scene that’s more interesting. You may need to do things you thought you’d never do before. You may need to change POV’s in a scene. You may need to write really stupid scenes just to keep going and get momentum. Your main primary focus is MOTION.

An object in motion has momentum. More writing begets more writing, not the opposite. It becomes a habit ingrained in the core of who you are, a fingerprint on the keyboard, a constant whispering in your ear that says more, more, more.

Write messy. Write raw. Write honest.

Now, the most important thing moving forward after this mess of a draft is TO RELY ON YOUR EDITOR.

A good editor saves me. My editor is pure gold. As I write the draft, I will put in XXX (some put in TK) where I’d normally need to do research, but I don’t want to take the time to lose momentum. Also, I know where scenes are weak and I will put it in there as a red flag for the editor to take a look at.
I will give my editor my own notes on what troubles me on the book. I will ask for help in suggesting a better ending, or black moment. I use my editor because I hired her and she’s excellent at her job.

Give her a job to do.

While she’s working on that, I begin my research that I left away. I fill in blanks. I tweak things I suddenly understand because I finished the book. I’m clearer and know how to fix shit.

What comes back is suddenly a form you can work on and shape into a good book. Now, you know the characters. You can go back and layer. Make it stronger. Tighten.

The next round is faster –you’re getting closer—and if you’re breathing this book, you can get a quick turnaround again for the final third draft.

That’s the one that goes to copyedits.

So, are you really writing a book in thirty days?

No. More like 45 if you include your edits.

I bet you’re asking if I’m afraid the book will be weaker than my others because I rushed it.

The answer?

No, I’m not. I know a good book when I write one—whether it’s fast or slow. The fast ones are like immersing myself so deep, I don’t see or hear anyone else but my characters. It’s harder to live with me during those books because I’m not really here. I’m in the book. I dream about it. I have conversations in my head with the characters rather than my family. It drives me forward –the momentum—but it’s still good stuff.

Also, I am able to do this and know it’s good because I have forty books behind me. My Muse and my subconscious takes over more and I can let them. I couldn’t have written a book that fast when I had only ten books to my name. It would have been sloppy. But with so many hundreds of hours logged in from writing (I’ve been writing book after book since I was 12 years old) my professional instinct and knowledge kicks in and helps level up.

My job is to trust that instinct and let go. Not fight it. Not fight my process, but surrender to it. That’s how my best work develops.
Now, I would rather choose to write a book in three months, it’s much more comfortable for me. I can take my time and play. Layer. Breathe. But once in a while, this needs to be done, and I rise to the challenge.

So, can you.

For everyone out there pursuing their dream of writing a book – you can do it. Go big. Go deep. Write every day. Push harder than you think you can handle. Say no.

Happy NanWrimo.

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