Writing a novel can be an exhilarating yet frustrating experience. Writer’s block is a real thing, and only around 3% of writers actually finish their work. Of course, there’s no rule saying you need to write a novel in a month, but is there a way to make the process go a little faster?
Here’s how to write a novel in four months:
1. Summarize your chapters before you start.
2. Dictate your work.
3. Think of your work like a movie.
4. Finish at least one chapter per day.
5. Edit one chapter at a time.
6. Take notes as you work.
7. Don’t be afraid to add chapters.
8. Kill your darlings.
9. Use Grammarly to edit for spelling and grammar.
10. Read your book from cover to cover.
11. Find beta readers.
12. Make one last sweep of edits.
If you can just get through that draft, making it rough and full of errors, you’re already halfway there. Let’s take a look at how to speed up your writing process to get your book out faster.
How to Write the First Draft of Your Novel in One Month
I know how that sounds, but it is possible, I swear! The key is to remember that your first draft is exactly that - a draft!
To write the first draft of your novel in one month, focus more on the general outline of the story and not the details. Work through, chapter by chapter, writing as much as you can think of - or use a dictation software to think out loud. Just get the basic story down, and polish it later.
If you’re a pantser, you might think this is sacrilege. You’re not used to planning, and I get that. So, don’t think of it as planning - think of it as summarizing your chapters.
1. Summarize Your Chapters Before You Start
Let’s take my novel, An Easy Target, as an example. It is just under 98,000 words and has 48 chapters. Now, I’m definitely a pantser and rarely write plans or notes. However, even pantsers know the basic outline of their work, even if it’s not written down anywhere.
I decided I wanted to start with my main character, Grace, already working on a case. She’s a professional fixer, and I wanted to have the reader dive right into her life rather than try to explain it all in pages of mindless description.
A summary of the first chapter might look like this:
- We meet Grace in the middle of a case
- Talk about her job a little - include her boss, Nico
- She’s in Miami chasing a drug dealer, Kane, and we find out that her client’s daughter died of an overdose
- Through her following Kane, we find out that she’s also looking for his boss. She wants the “head of the snake,” so she’s keeping her distance
- She’s taking pictures and following him, and she’s also bugged his office
- When she sees a shipment come in, she knows Kane will report to his boss, and she catches their conversation on a bug in his office
- She gets the phone number and has her tech guy run a trace
- She now has the location of Kanes, boss, and decided to go after him
- She leaves Kane alive so as not to draw too much attention
That might not seem like much to go on, but you have a basic outline of what you want to happen, you can start to build it out.
I decided to start with her in Miami, already working on a case. So, I then go into a bit of detail about what she’s been doing. The reader finds out little bits of information and gets a good idea of who she is and what she can do.
Read the whole first chapter for free right here!
2. Dictate Your Work
A great way to flesh out these details is with dictation software. This speech-to-text software will allow you to speak your thoughts and get them down on “paper” much faster than you can type.
Most computers these days have such software already installed. For example, with a Mac, simply tap the ‘function’ key twice, or hit the microphone on the keyboard (on newer models).
I like this because it’s so much faster, and you can easily describe things.
Let’s go back to my summary from above. Here’s how I would begin dictating the first few bullet points (using Mac dictation):
“So we’re going to start out with Grace in Miami. She’s on the hunt for a drug dealer.
Her boss Nico called her in, and the client wants the guy, Kane, dead. But he also wants Kane’s boss dead. His daughter died of an overdose, so he’s a bit impatient.
She’s been following Kane for a week or so and watching him. He’s a bad guy, beats on women, and sleeps with underage girls.
Start out with her watching, and then she sees a shipment arrive. She’s going to assume he’ll call his boss, so she waits. She hears the call and gets the boss’s number, which she can trace out of the city.”
If you want to, you can even go in with your actual story. Start this way, dictating your writing rather than typing, and you’ll find it might come a lot easier.
3. Think of Your Work Like a Movie
One thing that really helps me is to think of my work as a movie. I picture the scenes as I write, seeing the characters moving around. This way, I can decide what to add in and what to leave out, and it’s easier for me to flow into the next scene.
For example, for this part, I pictured a montage of this guy in Miami. The reader is basically getting a summary from Grace, rather than a whole page on her following him up the beach:
“Grace spent a week in the Florida heat watching Kane and his men. His days were mostly the same, which made following him easy. He was up by 7am every day, running along the beach to his gym with two men in tow. The three men worked out for an hour before running home and chugging protein shakes. All three were showered and ready for the day by 9am.
Kane would then check on his businesses, of which there were many. He had his hands in a lot of pies in Miami, which was undoubtedly his appeal to McCall. Kane had connections that she could never have. He was a local, born and raised, and used his notoriety to his every advantage.
Night after night, Grace watched Kane go to his club and peddle his product. Well, McCall’s product. Kane had been small-time before McCall, with her money and connections, came into play. He was a Florida Kingpin with a decent reputation, who just couldn’t reach past Tallahassee. Working for McCall, he branched out into the surrounding states, and he was happy with his upper management position in her organization.”
Being a movie buff, it’s much easier for me to picture the scene, with actors and locations. It makes it so much easier for my brain to then move to the next obvious scene, which should help to cut down on writer’s block.
Just think: what should happen next? If we’ve had the montage of her following the guy and some information on what he’s doing, what’s the next logical scene? In a movie, it would be a real-time scene of Kane’s call to his boss, right? Since that’s what Grace is waiting for and what she needs to move on.
Needless to say, that’s exactly what happens next!
4. Finish at Least One Chapter Per Day
Now, with my novel being almost 50 chapters long, working on one chapter per day will mean I could finish my first draft in just under two months. But, since we’re not writing the whole thing to perfection, chances are, you can actually write two per day.
Think about it; you’re not spending hours pulling together descriptions and sentences. You’re just getting the basics down - which can include anything you want, even dialogue.
So if you can keep it simple, I think you should be able to do one to two chapters per day. In this case, you can get your first draft done in 30 days with ease.
And yes, it will be full of holes and errors, and it needs a lot of work. But by the time you’ve finished your first draft, no matter how rough it is, you should have a solid idea of the story as a whole. You’ll have a beginning, middle, and end, and lots of stuff in between.
And if you’re worried about the other stuff, that what the next round is for!
How to Edit Your First Draft in Two Months
If this is your first novel, it’s going to be so hard not to sit and write each chapter to death. You want it to be perfect and chances are, you’ll spend way too much time on that first draft.
If you take one thing away from this article, it’s this: your first draft is supposed to be bad!
To edit your first draft in two months, commit to one chapter per day and work on it until you are sure it’s perfect. Take notes where necessary for future reference, but focus on this one piece of work and make it as good as it can be. This includes spelling and grammar.
I know that saying your first draft is going to be bad might come off as rude, but I promise, I don’t mean any offense. Ask any published author and they’ll tell you the same. It’s going to be full of plot holes, flat characters, and possibly confusing sub-plots.
Writing a novel is incredibly difficult, which is why so few people do it, and even fewer see it through to the end. If you’re working on something epic, like a high-fantasy, there is so much to keep straight and get on the paper. You want to draw your readers in, but you don’t want to overwhelm them either.
In a lot of situations, it’s so easy to over, or under-do it with back-story. Nobody likes an information dump where the writer just unloads all this history onto the page. But you reader will be confused without it. Finding that balance is hard, and why your first draft will likely not be so great. You’ll have to go back over it and add and cut where necessary.
5. Edit One Chapter at a Time
Now you’re done with the first draft, your story should be more or less worked out. You should know who the main characters are and what’s driving them. You should know what they’re doing and what they’re fighting for. And you should know your ending.
With this new information, go back to the very beginning and start working on that first chapter. This is going to take much longer than the rough draft, which is why you’ll need more than a month.
That being said, depending on how much information you were able to get down in the first round, it will be faster than if you were to start with a blank page.
6. Take Notes as You Work
Note-taking is going to be key for the story as a whole. You want to take note of anything essential, such as dates or names, that will come into the story later so that you have your facts straight as you work through the chapters.
As you begin to flesh out the story and write in earnest, you might think of things to consider later. You’ll also likely decide to change some things to make them fit better or be easier to understand. Keeping notes of such things is not only going to make writing easier but will help you to retain the information better.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Add Chapters
Like I said before, expect the first draft to need some work. And that might include adding chapters. As the creator of this story/world, you know all the relevant information, but it’s not uncommon to find parts of your story are confusing because you haven’t added enough back-story.
For example, I know that Grace is a professional fixer who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. I know she’s been working for Nico for years and that she’s very good at her job. But if I didn’t say it in some way, the reader may become confused at her willingness to kill. She seems like a good guy, working to right a wrong. When in reality, she’s doing her job and sees it as such. She’s no martyr.
So, if you feel you need to, go ahead and add in some work. Flesh out that back-story if you need to and don’t be afraid if it stretches into a new chapter.
This is the reason you’ll need a whole two months. Chances are, working on one chapter a day will turn into adding some here and there.
8. Kill Your Darlings
You’ve heard this countless times and I’m sure you know what it means. If you don’t here’s a quick description:
To kill your darlings is to cut work from your writing that you love, but is irrelevant. It’s work that provides nothing to the story or to character development and is just taking up space. It’s great, and you love it, but it’s filler. If you can read the book without it and not feel lost, it’s time to kill.
This is especially hard for new authors who pour their hearts and soul into a book. I get it! You worked hard on that chapter, and you want it to stay, no matter what. But you have to be brutal in this industry, and useless information isn’t needed or wanted.
9. Use Grammarly to Edit for Spelling and Grammer
I use Grammarly Pro, which is an online tool into which you can copy-paste your work. It will go over your work and point out errors, along with any other grammar mistakes or even sentences that feel too long or complicate.
If you want to write full-time, I highly recommend getting a pro package of one of these online software services. They don’t catch everything, but they help cut down on mistakes a great deal.
How to Make the Final Edits in One Month
By the time you’ve been through your novel, working on one chapter per day, adding scenes where needed, and cutting them out where they’re not, your book is almost finished.
To make the final edits in one month, start by reading your book in full and taking note of any mistakes or parts that need to be changed or tweaked. Give your book to some friends or family and have them give feedback and notes, and make the edits where needed.
Now, in truth, most novels go through several rounds of editing. There are typically first, second, and third drafts, and then alpha readers and beta readers and editing and editing and editing.
If you want to take your time with your work, and maybe don’t know where to start, I have a three-part series called Novel Writing for Beginners that I highly recommend you check out!
I also have an ebook on Amazon: Novel Writing for Beginners: Novel Writing Tips for Beginners with everything from scheduling your work to publishing to Amazon’s KDP.
However, with the approach laid out in this article, you can have a thorough and edited book ready to go in just four months. At that point, any further edits or beta reading will be minimal and you shouldn’t need to change much at all before it’s ready to be published.
10. Read Your Book from Cover to Cover
It might sound silly, but you need to read your book. Set aside some time over a weekend and read the entire thing from start to finish. It’s a good idea to put it on a Kindle or eReader to do this, and maybe even take it out with you.
The idea is to read it all and get a feel for the pacing, characters, and story as a whole. Just be sure to have a notebook ready because you may come across small errors or things that need to be tweaked.
11. Find Beta Readers
Ask family or friends to read your book - but only those who you know will be honest. Ask them to read it and give you feedback on everything from the plot to the characters. They may pick up on things you missed, including spelling errors or plot holes.
Make the edits where necessary, and then read it through yourself once more.
12. Make One Last Sweep of Edits
For one last time, go through chapter by chapter and read and edit, line by line. One great way to do this is with text-to-speech software. Unlike the dictation software mentioned above, this will involve copying your work into a webpage and having a bot read your book back to you.
Hearing it read out loud will help you to pick up on small errors very easily, and most offer a highlighted read-along feature where you see each word as it is spoken.
Can You Really Write a Novel in Four Months?
There’s no right or wrong way to write a book, and if you have a method that works for you, it’s best to stick to it.
But I’ve found that many authors will hit that writer’s block, or feel fatigued in their writing because of how long it can take. No matter how much we may love our work it’s not unusual to feel exhausted by it - not every chapter is an exciting fight or love scene, after all.
You can write a novel in four months if you commit to writing at least one chapter a day to finish in under six weeks. Next, commit to polishing one chapter per day, fleshing out the story to perfection. The last edits will be much faster, and you should be able to work through three per day.
In using this method, you can get through that first draft so much faster, which is often the hardest part. And once you have its outline, it’s much easier to move ahead and write the fun stuff if you feel yourself getting bored.