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A Guide to Writing Your Novel in One Year

FEATURED A Guide to Writing Your Novel in One Year

You’ve probably heard the tales of people who spend their entire lives writing a novel. It seems so noble. Year after year, they churn out a chapter or two, carving out characters as real to them as family members. They work on an unpredictable schedule that’s dictated by mood or inspiration. Then, after years of slavish dedication at the altar of idea, the writer dies, and along with him, the unpublished, unfinished manuscript.

Ain’t nobody got time for that!

You tell yourself that writing a novel takes time. That’s true. But it doesn’t take a lifetime. In fact, it may not even take a year. Some writers have completed entire books in as little as a month. Now, that sounds extreme because it is, but the idea behind it is brilliant:

Get it done, and get it done as fast as humanly possible.


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I firmly believe that writing novels and peeling Band-aids have one thing in common: it’s best to do it quick! The longer you wait, the less likely you are to actually write your novel.

The longer you wait, the less likely you are to actually write your novel.

So, let’s get a move on. Here’s how to finally get your novel written in a realistic but fast-paced fashion.

Change the Way You Think of Writing

Step one: change how you think.

A lot of us have a hopelessly romantic view of writing. We think it should take years to complete, but that’s simply not the case. You don’t have to absorb some huge life lesson in order to write a novel with meaning. You don’t have to take a sabbatical from your job, travel halfway around the globe, and live in a monastery on the side of a mountain, either.

Writing, just like everything else, improves the more you do it. As a novelist, you don’t need to work from an exotic locale or have an open schedule in order to create a spellbinding story. You can work your regular 9 to 5 job and spin tales at night and on the weekend.

Writing is not mystical, and it doesn’t demand that you be inspired (more on that later). Novel writing, in particular, is about discipline. Having an idea is cheap, but seeing that idea to completion is extraordinary-- and something that most mere mortals won’t do. So, instead of thinking of your novel as your life’s work, frame it as one accomplishment out of many.

Understand it’s the First Draft

When I talk about writing a novel in one year, I actually mean that you’re writing the first draft. You simply want to get your ideas on the paper and out of your head. From there, you can start polishing and perfecting your prose.

Your first draft is a draft that no one else will see but you. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make it perfect. Here’s why:

It won’t be perfect. In fact, it will be far from perfect.

There has never been a perfect first draft in the history of written literature. I don’t have hard statistics on that, but just trust me.

Misspellings, missing facts, unnecessary characters, scenes leading nowhere-- all of that belongs in the first draft. It’s when you return to edit that you truly create a story that you’re proud of.

Don’t Wait for Inspiration!

As I mentioned earlier, you should never, ever wait for inspiration to write. Here’s why:

You’ve already been inspired. You already have a story to tell.

As I write this post, I can think of at least one story that I could turn into a novel right now. I’m willing to bet you’re the same way. My point is that inspiration has already visited you. Don’t expect for it to keep circling around. It won’t wake you up in the morning and tell you to write, and it definitely won’t sit there and keep you motivated as you write.

After the initial spark of inspiration (that may have occurred years ago), you’ll need good old-fashioned, steely determination to actually write your novel.

Copy the Greats


It’s time to crack open your favorite novels and determine what makes them so successful.

Hint: it’s not just the story.

As I mentioned earlier, ideas are cheap. Some of the best stories are obscured by horrible writing, and some mediocre stories are saved by sharp, witty writing.

You may be surprised to realize that some of your favorite novels have stunningly simple stories. It’s the presentation that’s complex and satisfying.

And that’s exactly what you’ll study: presentation. The mechanics and structure of the book. Grab five of your favorite novels, and answer the following questions:

  • How does the first chapter start off?
  • Does it go directly into action, or start with a little background?
  • What type of pacing does the author use?
  • How does the author introduce characters?
  • How are chapters structured?
  • When is the climax of the story?
  • How is the story resolved?

Be prepared to rip that book apart with analytical eyes-- and take notes. These notes will help you understand how to structure your own novel.

Have a Game Plan

Speaking of structure, do you have a plan for writing your novel?

I know this is a hotly debated topic with novelists. Should you outline or should you let the words flow?

Personally, I feel that you should have a plan, especially if you’re imposing a one-year deadline for yourself.

But if outlines make you itch, consider asking and answering these questions that I’ve borrowed from StoryFix before penning your novel:

  • What is your story’s hook?
  • What is the central theme of your story?
  • How does your story begin? What’s the hook?
  • Does your story have a twist? What is it?
  • What causes your protagonist to engage?
  • What stops your protagonist from reaching his/ her goal?
  • What is the secondary plot in your story?
  • How do you resolve the problems within your story?

I love those questions, don’t you? For a more detailed look and follow-up questions, definitely check out the entire supporting blog post on StoryFix here.

Give Yourself Strict, Frequent Deadlines

You need a hard deadline if you want to actually accomplish your goal of writing a novel in one year.

Don’t just say, by this time next year, I want my book to be done. That’s way too nebulous, and it doesn’t give your brain the right marching orders.

Instead, use language like, I will write 500 words every day or 5000 words every week. This gives you mini checkpoints that keep you from wandering too far from your goal.

Make it part of your daily routine to write. In fact, mark “500 words” on your daily schedule, right next to exercising and your doctor’s appointment. Penning it into your routine will make it much more likely for you to just do it.

Also, consider taking the 365-day book writing challenge. This challenge could not be simpler. Basically, you download the chart and start on day one. On the first day of the challenge, you’re tasked to write one word, the next day, two words, and so on. By the last day of the challenge, you’ll write 365 words and have written 66,795 words. write at least the number of words listed.


Image Courtesy of WordCounter.Net

Participate in NaNoWriMo

Ever heard of NaNoWriMo? It’s short for National Novel Writing Month and it takes place every November. During NaNoWriMo, thousands of writers from around the world participate in writing a novel in 30 days. But even if it’s nowhere close to November, you can still challenge yourself to write as much possible in 30 days.

This can be the perfect jumpstart to your novel!

I know that at first blush, it may seem like a crazy huge number: 50,000 words by the end of 30 days. But, when you break it down into chunks, it’s only 1,667 words per day. Totally doable.

I highly recommend that you check out the resources section at NaNoWriMo, too.

Additional Resources

Before you brave this incredible feat, here are a few resources to help you write your novel in one year:

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Make sure your book isn’t a "long shot"

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  • 5 Unconventional Techniques to help you finish your Draft
  • The Key to Getting Readers to Care About Your Characters
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  • What You Need to Know to Hold Your Reader’s Interest
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