How to Write a Novel in a Month

Hi folks! Since NaNoWriMo is just around the corner, I thought I’d re-post and expand on my piece from earlier this year, How to Write a Novel in Four Weeks.

I wrote the first draft of Hexomancy, the third Ree Reyes novel, in a month and a day (April 14th to May 15th). The draft was 72,326 words, and it was written in twenty-eight days of production (I gave myself Saturdays off to recover, and I had a couple of low-production days).

Hexomancy was written twice as quickly as any novel I’ve written before, and I think the first draft was stronger that any other, as well, partially thanks to the accumulation of experience, but also due to the power of momentum. After the first couple of days, I was averaging 2,800 to 3,300 words a day in two sessions a day of around 45 minutes to 60 minutes each.

Here are some factors that went in to my being able to write a complete, if short, draft in just over a month of calendar time.

1) Hexomancy was the fourth Ree Reyes story, following two novels and a novella. By now, I know the characters, they have pre-existing relationships that I can leverage into lots of tension and sparks, making interpersonal scenes zoom along fairly well. I had a clear vision of what the big concept for the novel was, what the major sub-plot would be, and what the big, explosive ending would be. Those all got me very excited to write the novel, so I started with a ton of energy, writing 15K words in the first week.

2) The series is designed to be light, energetic, and action-packed urban fantasy. Much of the setting is our own world, and most of the rest of the setting I’d already created in previous books in the series. This means I didn’t have to do much world development on top of what I already had, which might slow me down as I have to create whole new systems or settings before moving on with a scene. I broke down the new settings during the outline stage, so I knew enough about each of them to flesh them out on the fly as I wrote. If I were writing sociological SF that was light on action and long on politics, I don’t think I’d have been writing anywhere near as fast. But the important thing was that I was passionate about the story, the characters, and I knew what kind of experience I wanted the reader to have with the story, so I could write to that aesthetic.

3) Most importantly (for me), I outlined the whole novel before I started writing. This was a chapter-by-chapter outline, though some of my chapters were more like beats, as I discovered going through and seeing places where a beat was a chapter, or a chapter turned out to be just a beat. I’ve been outlining more and more for my work, between reading Rachel Aaron’s 2K to 10K, following Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds, and perhaps most importantly, taking the Writing on the Fast Track class with Mary Robinette Kowal, which focused on writing fast by outlining and training for better discipline.

4) Writing quickly meant that I always had the story in mind. I was always excited about the story, even on the days when I consciously stepped away to relax and let myself recovery. But I never spent too much time away from the novel, writing six days a week, usually twice a day. And I always left myself clues at the end of any session as to what was going to happen next, by leaving the outline/beats at the bottom of my Scrivener document. That meant that whenever I started a session, I could take three to five minutes to read what I’d last written and to remind myself what was coming next. And from there, it was off to the races.

5) I used a writing soundtrack – this is something I have done for years, and it helps me get into the right frame of mind. If you’re curious, here’s the playlist I used for Hexomancy.


HEXOMANCY Begins + Process Hacks

I started writing Hexomancy on Monday, and in two days, I’ve hit 5583 words. I’m hoping that this is something of a sustainable pace, since a 2500 words a day pace would be more than double my production rate on The Younger Gods.

What’s different? A few things:

1) This is the fourth Ree Reyes story, so I know the characters, the world, and the tone.

2) My outlining work for Hexomancy is an order of magnitude more detailed than what I did for The Younger Gods – I’m outlining down to scene beats, rather than overall story beats. (For context, when I started writing Geekomancy, I had a sense of what the ending would be, and that was about it. I went in and plotted more after starting, so I had a bit more direction).

3) I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’ve got lots of irons in the fire, and if I want to produce work fast enough to keep up with the various series I’ve got going, I need to work faster.

4) To that end, focus. I’ve been more dilligent about closing out all of my browser windows and making writing time be just for writing.

5) Splitting the time – rather than trying to get all of my words in all at once, I’ve been writing in 45-minute to 1-hour chunks. My writing brain often slacks off after 60 minutes, so I’d rather get two sessions at higher efficiency than one longer session where the last 1/3 is like pulling teeth.


So far, it’s working really well. Life will inevitably throw me some curveballs that will threaten this new habit, but I’m going to do my damndest to keep up the pace, though I’m also going to be wary of burnout. Novel writing is a marathon, not a sprint, and hitting 20K in a week and a half isn’t worth much if I then have to take a month off.