Each November, more than 100,000 brave souls take part in National Novel Writing Month. The aim is simple: write a complete novel in one month, beginning on November 1st and finishing on or before November 30th. The only condition is that your novel must be a minimum of 50,000 words.
It’s a worthy cause, aimed at stopping people from just thinking or dreaming about writing a novel (something that most of us might do forever), and instead actually getting on and writing it. That can only be a good thing. It’s only for a month, so it isn’t going to disrupt your life for too long. And it’s in November, when nothing much else happens anyway.
So, is it actually possible to write a novel in 30 days? Don’t most novels take at least a year to write? Well, 50,000 words in 30 days works out at 1,667 words per day – that’s the same length as a short story or a moderately long article. Journalists should have no trouble achieving that – it’s the sort of thing they churn out every single day.
And in fact some very famous writers have written much longer novels in a fraction of that time. Take the example of Ray Bradbury, who wrote ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in a little over nine days. Okay, it’s not a particularly long novel at 192 pages – but nine days is still pretty impressive.
But nine days is by no means a record. Bradbury was easily beaten by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) who wrote one of his novels in just seven days. Interestingly, King started using his Bachman pen name because he was writing novels faster than his publisher was prepared to release them. One Stephen King novel per year was more than adequate, they said. The public won’t accept more than that. So along came Mr Bachman, and King’s productivity (and indeed wealth) doubled. At the rate of one book every seven days, King would have needed another 50 pen names to keep his publisher happy. As far as I’m aware he only has the one, so he must have decided to take things more leisurely after that!
But seven days is hardly a record either. One of the world’s most prolific writers was the Belgian novelist Georges Simenon, creator of the police detective ‘Maigret’. Simenon regularly produced up to 80 pages per day and could write a novel in just six days. And, yes, he too had a pen name that allowed him to publish more books. But for him, one pen name just wasn’t enough; he had more than two dozen of them! During his lifetime Simenon wrote several hundred novels and novellas, as well as short stories, articles and autobiographical works. His famous detective ‘Maigret’ appears in 75 of his novels, and in a further 28 short stories.
Even more amazing – though not when you know the secret – is the story of the French writer Alexandre Dumas. As well as being a prolific novelist whose works include ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and ‘The Three Musketeers’, Dumas was also a successful playwright. He once placed a wager with a friend that he could write an entire play – one of his ‘Boulevard Comedies’ – in just three days. His friend accepted the wager, feeling sure that Dumas was attempting the impossible and would lose the bet. He was wrong. Dumas emerged from his office less than 72 hours later clutching the finished script.
Not to be outdone, the American writer Jack Kerouac wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ – another fairly short novel at 192 pages – in just three days too. Now admittedly Kerouac was a bit of an oddball, and he probably stayed up all day and all night for those three days to finish it. But when the muse strikes, it’s always a good idea to stick with it if you can – even if it means doing without food and sleep (but not alcohol – in his case at least). Kerouac once worked as a sports reporter, which is undoubtedly excellent training for anyone wanting to break novel-writing records.
Speaking of records, let’s consider the Guinness world record holder at this event: Dame Barbara Cartland. Dame Barbara was a prolific writer throughout her long career, publishing 723 novels during her lifetime and well over a hundred more posthumously. Her most prolific year was 1983, when she published 26 novels – conceived, written and edited at the rate of one every 14 days. That record is unlikely to be broken for some considerable time. Cartland is also listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s top-selling author, with more than a billion books sold.
With all that in mind, let’s return to National Novel Writing Month. Yes, a whole month! It doesn’t seem so difficult now, does it? All you need is a great idea, and most of us have at least one novel cluttering up our heads dying to come out. I know I do. Perhaps this is the year when yours finally gets written.
If you’re thinking of joining the 100,000+ people who will enter National Novel Writing Month this year – NaNoWriMo as the aficionados affectionately call it – here’s some advice from a published writer:
- Try to make your novel longer than 50,000 words. Most commercial novels are at least 80,000 words, so aim for that if you hope to get your book published.
- NaNoWriMo is only about the process of writing. There’s nothing to stop you planning your novel and writing a detailed outline before the event begins. And similarly, editing your novel and turning it into something publishable can be done after the 30-day deadline has passed. In fact there’s another event called National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo) that caters for this process and takes place each March.
My typing speed isn’t particularly fast – let’s say 50 words per minute. If I was entering NaNoWriMo this year I’d set my target at 80,000 words or 2,667 words per day. I’d have done the planning already, and I’d leave the editing for later. So, typing away at 50 words per minute, it should take me less than 55 minutes to achieve my daily target. Even the busiest person should be able to manage that – after all it’s only for a month, and you’ll have a finished novel by the end of it!
You can find out more about National Novel Writing Month at www.nanowrimo.org
If you’d like more help writing your novel in 30 days or less, take a look at Dave Haslett’s book, ‘The Fastest Way to Write Your Book’. It shows you how to come up with great ideas, plan your story, create a detailed outline, write your novel, edit it, and find a publisher or agent – all in the fastest time possible. (And it covers nonfiction books too!) Full details at www.ideas4writers.co.uk