Tips for Writing that First Draft in 1 Month

For those of you who had decided early on that you would be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, the month of October might have seemed just as busy and stressful as you anticipate November to be. I’m not much of a planner when it comes to plotting out a story. But, this year, I’ve talked to and read how others have been working hard to plot everything out. Many have explained they hope this allows them the opportunity to just write in November. No need to figure things out on the fly and limit “writer’s block”. Everything is right there on the outline.

I’ve mentioned it before, I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2014 during the last week of October. I had no time to really plan anything out. I was still deciding if it was something I wanted to try. We host Thanksgiving at our house (We also host Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.), so a lot of my time in November is spent doing fall cleaning. Decluttering rooms, re-painting or re-decorating this room and possibly that room, going through the kids’ toys and clothes, and so on.

It did occur to me that I had to be insane to think I could do all those things around the house and still find time to write That Much Every Since Day for an entire month with so much other stuff going on.

As you also probably already know, I have 5 children. There is really no such thing as alone time or a quiet space in this house. I don’t have a room where I can close the door to the chaos, it must remain open or if I closed it, when I did open it, the house may no longer be there. (They really aren’t that bad, but I do have to admit at times it does sound like someone is trying to bring the house down.) I was also just building my freelancing business, which required a lot of my time.

I finished my first ever first draft that November in 2014. For the first time, I had a novel that had a beginning, a middle, and an ending. I wrote just over the 50,000-word count goal to “win” NaNo, and we hosted Thanksgiving with no issues.

Last year we were in the process of moving out of state. While I didn’t participate through the NaNoWriMo website, I did still manage to write a first draft.

This week I wanted to share some tips with you. These are especially helpful for anyone coming into the game a bit late or those of you with a lot to do in November.

Planning for writing time:

  • What non-writing related tasks (that aren’t necessarily normal for the rest of the year) do you also need to find time for? Make a list of tasks, group them by type. Are there any that can wait? Prioritize those tasks that can’t be put off until December or even January.
  • Schedule those tasks into whatever time planning medium you use.
  • Also write in any potentially longer work days, no school days for the kids, and any events or other plans you have for the month and so on.
  • In front of you, you should be able to see what days will be busier than others. I find myself playing around with the calculator at this point, making sure I’m hitting the minimum word count goal for NaNo. (I tend to over-estimate my total word count goal for the month.) Those days that are less busy are getting higher daily word count goals, while those busier ones are getting much smaller goals. But regardless of what else is planned for that day, EVERY SINGLE DAY has a goal, even if it is only 500 words. Take into account how fast you write while doing this. If you see a free few hours, and on average you can write 1,000 words an hour, plan on that. If you don’t really see any time, plan on at least 20 minutes, how much can you write in 20 minutes? Make that your goal.
  • Once you have your daily word count goals figured, write them in for each day of the month. (Last week I shared my free calendar that I use to keep track.)img_0317

What happens if you didn’t really have the time in October to plan your novel out?

  • What story ideas do you have that could really be a viable option? Which ones could be expanded on now? I didn’t really have a full idea in 2014. I had a world idea.
  • If you have multiple ideas, pick the one that is most interesting to you at this time. Which one is going to get your butt back in the chair to find out what happens next? Which one is going to be in your head all day when you aren’t writing? That is most likely the one that will give you the least amount of trouble to write on the fly, especially if you aren’t used to pantsing it.
  • Choose your writing medium. Software program, pen and paper, or whatever. Take a few minutes (or an hour), and write down what you already know about the story, the characters, the settings, the world, the rules, everything. Note down any interesting thoughts that come to mind while brainstorming too.
  • Decide how you will keep the story organized while writing. If you use Scrivener, you can use the notecard feature for the chapters and scenes. (I do.) I also keep physical paper story progression worksheets to track key pieces of information. This helps when I’m writing a later scene that refers to an earlier scene. After I’m done writing for the day, I recap what I added onto the worksheets for reference if need be.
  • Just write. Don’t let those moments when the perfect or even correct word or words won’t come to you stop you from writing. Decide before you begin your novel what way you will leave yourself notes for the editing (or rewriting) process. I use Scrivener, so I do add some notes in there. Anything that needs more development will usually look like this (describe …..) or (needs clarification), and so on. If a new character isn’t really wanting to give you a name, use a unique identifier for right now. (Keep it simple and constant, it can be a lot easier to use a search and find to replace them all later.)

Finding Motivation:

  • It can be easy to let our writing go as if it is just a hobby. For some of us, it might not be what technically pays the bills at the moment. It isn’t an activity that will make dinner or clean the house. It’s a solitude activity, and spending time with others isn’t normally an easy thing to do if you are also trying to put words on the page. For me, in 2014, just finishing a story was all the motivation I needed. Last year, it was literally to prove a point to myself.
  • It’s ok to let those around you know you won’t be as available this month. Don’t be ashamed, embarrassed, or feel guilty. Writing is a part of who you are, not just something you do. Don’t forget that. Own it, don’t hide it. You may find you have some support you didn’t expect to have.
  • I’ve heard some writers that give themselves some sort of small treat or reward if they hit their daily goals. And at the end of the month if they win, a larger reward.
  • Do your best to NOT go back and read what you wrote. No editing either (it just eats up time.) Especially if you are pantsing it, your draft probably won’t be very pretty. That’s ok. This draft is never meant to be seen by any eyes but your own. The beginning may not match the end, characters may do a complete switch of personality, settings may change, and so on as your story progresses, but again, that is what rewriting is for. Your story is out of your head and onto the page. You have time to read it later, to change things, make the storylines flow and weave together properly.


Even if you decide not to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, some of these times might be useful to you still. I use them often, since I usually try to write all my drafts in 30 days for full length novels. The rewriting process can be crazy, it can be stressful, and it can be necessary to walk away from it for a while. Research can be done after the first draft is done to fill in holes and make parts or ideas believable. (I find this better quite often. No need to over-research when I have a better idea of exactly what I need to find.)

What is your number one writing tip? Whether you’ve participated or written a first draft in a month or not, share your tips with us.

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