Should you write a novel in 30 days?
This week I focused on creating a series bible for my James Lalonde Thrillers. Part of the process I went through to create this bible was reading the first draft of Silence. I originally outlined the story and wrote the first draft for Silence during National Novel Writing Month in 2016. I let the novel sit in Scrivener in favour of revising my first novel Immunity. This week I performed the first-ever read-through of this book. It’s safe to say I’ve created enough distance between myself and the manuscript for me to be relatively objective. And, let’s say there are some great scenes in the novel and some not-so-great scenes. Unfortunately, there is a lot of the “not-so-great” variety. This realisation leads me to pose an important question.
Should you write a novel in 30 days?
Or, in my case three days of outlining and eighteen days of writing.
A Quick Disclaimer
I believe it’s important to point out that I’m not saying as a first-time writer you should not participate in programmes like National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. I love NaNoWriMo purely because of the community it creates and the deadline it places upon you as a writer.
As you already know by now, I’m a massive procrastinator. Yep, I just wrote that, left it in the final draft, and hit publish. Why? I believe it’s important that as a writer, that I’m 100% real with you. My writing journey isn’t all tip-toeing through daisies. I’m lazy, and I favour creating and writing a story over revision and re-writing but, I’ll leave that honesty for another blog.
Write a novel in 30 days. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?!
The interesting thing about whether you should write a novel in 30 days is you need to be prepared. As a writer, you need to lay the necessary foundation to end up with a great story. I’m not talking about a perfect first draft because that’s not possible. It might be possible for Lee Child but, last time I checked, I’m not Lee Child. And, that’s okay.
When I put pen to page or fingers to keyboard, I’m expecting to lay the foundation for a great story that my readers will love. If I lay a foundation that lacks the necessary ingredients for a great story then I will need to spend time filling in the cracks, patching up major holes, or starting again from scratch. After these corrections are made, I will then need to continue to revise my novel.
For me, that’s my worst nightmare – starting from scratch.
And, I’m guessing, if you’re still reading this then it’s something at the very least, you want to avoid.
So, what went wrong with Silence?
The Most Important Lesson
I learned quite a few things from reading through the first draft of Silence. But, as I reflect there was one mistake that I made that I can safely attribute to the quality of my first draft. I would like to point out one more thing.
Mistakes are a beautiful thing.
And, no this isn’t my attempt to be philosophical.
Making mistakes is how you learn and grow as a writer.
And, after I learn my lessons from last years successful NaNoWriMo attempt, there will be many more writing mistakes waiting for me.
So, what was this mistake?
Not Enough Time Spent on Outlining
Yes, I didn’t allow myself enough time to outline my novel, Silence. My decision to join NaNoWriMo was made last minute. I had just finished writing the first draft of Immunity, and I decided to give myself a month off before starting revision.
And, then I got Instagram envy.
So, I signed up on 31 October 2016 with the intention of writing the prequel novel for my James Lalonde Series. An event occurs just before Immunity starts that explains why James has a few injuries. This event also changes James’ entire world forever. There is simply no going back from this event. The story opens in the aftermath of this event. In light of this event, decisions are made which trigger another life-altering event, which is the focus of Immunity. The reader doesn’t necessarily need to read Silence for Immunity to make sense but, the book is written for those readers who are curious.
I started my first successful NaNoWriMo event with a super vague idea of what needs to happen in my novel Silence. With every intention of winning this attempt at NaNoWriMo, I committed to spending three days outlining my Novel before writing the first draft.
And, by three days, I mean three writing sessions.
The Result of My Minimal Plans
As a result of the lack of planning, my novel has some serious plot issues. After reading the first draft, I discovered that I need to go back to the drawing board and edit the outline of Silence.
Naturally, this means major re-writes.
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t all writing re-writing?
The short answer to that is yes.
And now for the long answer.
I guess this is the beauty of hindsight but, I feel these plot issues could easily be resolved if I went through and edited my outline. If I had spent longer than three writing sessions fleshing out a vague story idea, then Silence would need less work.
Remember, I just finished writing the first draft of Immunity.
I finished the day before. So, it’s safe to assume I was probably suffering from writer’s fatigue. I needed to give myself a break, even just a few days to fill my creative well. But, all is not lost. There’s a chance that I can keep the majority of the great scenes in Silence and just re-write the not so great ones.
How did I spend those three days of outlining?
I spent my first three writing days: fleshing out the story, creating the cast of supporting characters, and researching.
A Well Researched Novel
Before I could write a scene for Silence, I needed to understand a few things. I needed to understand a bit of information about the UK police force, police procedure, and crime scene investigation. Because the story features a British Police detective, I needed to understand information about reaching that position in the police force. My story also involves homicide. This story point means I need to understand the Who, What, and How of crime scenes. I didn’t need to be an expert but, to know enough to give the story a sense of realism. I like for my reader to think, “OMG! This could happen.”
A well research novel is what helps blend reality with fiction.
The characters were well developed
I spend the final two writing days creating the supporting cast of characters and researching at the same time. I already had created a protagonist and a few other characters that crossed over or needed to be referenced to, in my novel Silence. But, I did need to create a short profile, so I knew where they were before the events that unfolded in Immunity.
Because Silence unfolds during an impromptu reunion with James university friends, I got to explore his rich backstory and create a new world for him. I’m glad to say these characters are well developed and have mostly believable goals except for a few characters. One of these being the victim of the crime. I realised the decisions the victim made didn’t make any sense and needed to be re-worked. This is super important because the storyline does affect Vertigo, the third book in the James Lalonde series and other books.
What did I do differently with Immunity?
The decisions I made when I first started creating the story for Immunity happened by accident. I spent an entire month outlining and creating characters before I wrote a word of the first draft.
It all started on my first ever date with my husband, Roland.
What can I say?
I love a man who inspires and encourages ideas.
At the time, writing fiction was a hobby and something that I intended to become a full-time career. I shared a few ideas with him and one of them being a web series I was super excited to write. This series hasn’t been written yet, but it’s a project I still want to bring in to fruition. I told him that I started writing a novel within the romantic comedy genre. I confessed to hating the genre and story but loved the characters and my protagonist career. Back then, Sophie was called Emma and James was a typical American guy.
Four days later, I started to flesh out the early stages of Immunity.
Over time, I became immersed in the French culture and realised how different James would be if he were French and raised in France. James isn’t in any way like Roland. They don’t share much in common other than where they grew up and their nationality.
Preparing to Write Immunity
I ended up spending 30 days outlining, creating characters and fine-tuning the story. I didn’t put pen to paper until November. And, thus started my first ever NaNoWriMo in which I failed. I fell off the daily writing bandwagon and only wrote 18,000 words. I went on to spend far too long writing the first draft. The first draft of Immunity was written between November 2014 and October 2016.
Yes, it took me two years.
And, it didn’t need to take that long.
I also spent too long in the revision stage. Or, if I was being completely honest, avoiding the revision stage. This was partly due to not knowing how to revise a novel effectively and largely due to procrastination and a whole host of other excuses.
So, what are my recommendations for aspiring authors like you?
You should still do National Novel Writing Month. Just learn from the mistakes I have made. I recommend that you use the month of October to outline your novel and create the characters. This doesn’t mean you need to marry your outline. Instead, use your outline as a guide to help you write the best possible story. As I wrote Immunity, I added extra scenes because the plot was a little complex and needed more depth. There were plot points that needed to take place for the story to move forward and make sense for the reader.
If you’re reading this and it’s November, I recommend you take the time to outline your story, create characters then go over the outline and look for plot issues. These plot issue usually come in the form of holes in your story or moments and character motivations that do not make sense. After you have done this, start writing the first draft.
Are you considering writing a novel in 30 days? Or, have you written a novel in 30 days or participated in NaNoWriMo? What was your experience? I want to hear from you. Let me know by sharing your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the Lawn, and the Candidate. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.