How I Wrote a Novel in 30 Days

Last month, I got suckered into writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month by the process itself–the sticky web of writing–but I can’t complain about the residue. The exercise led to big breakthroughs for me as a writer. The most exciting one was that I wrote a novel, so even in its rough state, I feel I can finally claim ownership of the title “writer.”

The more mundane types of breakthroughs were about the mechanics of writing–particularly, in how to write large swaths of fiction. I started using Scrivener in October. I had the trial version, which offers 30 not-necessarily-contiguous days to see what the program is like. I burned through many of those days poking at the application and fiddling with it to see what it did. I also used those days to write some character sketches, and I created some notecards to storyboard the plot I had in mind. My favorite thing about Scrivener is the ability to easily rearrange scenes, which you can do by dragging the notecards around.

Then I changed my mind about what I wanted to write, so I did the whole thing over again the week before NaNoWriMo started.

I started November with about 16 trial days left, and bought the full version of Scrivener with 4 days still left on the clock. Initially, I had ideas about where the parts began and ended, and some kind of notion of how each chapter was defined, but these ideas was vague and fuzzy. Scrivener changed the way I thought about writing. I stopped panicking about how I was going to write a novel-sized plot, and instead started looking the story as a series of defined scenes. It didn’t know for sure how the scenes would connect in the end, but shifting scenes around in Scrivener is easy, so I wasn’t worried about that too much.

This new focus on scenes made the whole novel seem possible. I started out thinking of NaNoWriMo’s daily word goal of 1667 words as the target, but then I changed that to a goal of around four or five scenes. As my scenes grew in length (and detail), I was writing three reasonably well-fleshed out scenes a day. Defining my writing goals as a number of scenes made the whole endeavor feel much more achievable, and I have continued that habit in my post-November writing. I set aside a short time each day to write one scene–just one–to keep me in the habit of writing.

I’ve also continued my habit of planning scenes during my drive to and from work so that when lunch time rolls around, I can just sit down and write.

While NaNoWriMo gave me the motivation to write a novel, Scrivener changed my concept of how it can be done. I ended November with some good habits and a whole lot of confidence. I feel like I know how to do it now. Novelcraft’s fearsome mystery has been dispelled. I have loved writing short stories and flash fiction (and posts for The Nose) and at last, I will love writing novels as well.

Kit Fox lives in New England and spends her days panicking about whatever is not being done while she’s doing something else. We assure you, it’s all really quite funny once you get to know her.


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