How to write a novel in 30 days

betty ming liu Art, Inspiration, Relationships 20 Comments

November is National Novel Writing Month. And the celebration of this event is very specific: You must sit down and complete a 50,000-word fiction manuscript by Nov. 30. The idea is so insane that I definitely want to do it!

For the past few Novembers, I’ve sat longingly on the sidelines. There was always a very good reason to hold off. I mean, really. Can you imagine the logistics involved? Could I really crank out 2,000 words a day, every day, for an entire month? Could I accept the fact that the novel will suck?

Now we’re onto the genius of this event. A bad novel is the goal here. It’s not about quality; let’s just get the damn thing done. There will be plenty of time to rewrite later. Or the opposite might happen…maybe getting my concepts down on the page will be enough. Maybe that’s all the release they need, which would free me to go on with my life.

For those of you new to NaNoWriMo, it began in 1999 with 21 people in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Fast forward a dozen years to 2010, when 200,530 people from 40 countries joined in on the fun. The history of NaNoWriMo is on its website. Check out and you’ll find an online community that offers cyberspace forums as well as hundreds of real world chapters. There are also instruction tools for teachers of students in every age group, advice, pep talks and more.

My November project will be my third novel. I’ve written two the old-fashioned way: Alone, in a room, tormented by the confusion of my life. The first one was a Chinese herbal ghost thriller. After I finished it, I got divorced. The second one was about a middle-aged Chinese-American woman who just got divorced. Both manuscripts are sitting in my closet, which is where they’ll stay.

But there is a character from both works who wants out. And she will journey with me next month. That’s right Mom, we’re going for a ride!

It’s been nearly two years since my mother died. Yes, I truly miss her. No, I don’t want her physically back in this world. Ugh, if she was here, she’d make me crazy all over again. But having her visit as a fictional character — that might actually be dandy. She could hang out for an entire month, um, I think. 

So… anyone with me on this adventure? This will be quite a creative experience. For an idea of what it can be like, there’s a great post on — “NaNoWriMo: The Right Rite of Passage for Writers.”

And if you’ve already been there and done that, please do tell. Your advice and insight would be most welcome.  :)


Comments 20

  1. Unlike a few of my writer friends, I am not interested in writing a novel but I think this is a great idea! Maybe I should challenge myself tto work on sthg I am really interested in, like writing a brand new play or finishing one I started years ago.

    This sounds a little like the 24-Hour play festivals done by colleges and avant-garde companies. I might include the timeline I thought of after reading your ”Becoming more Asian, becoming more American” post. (Will have to share it soon).

    No matter what we write, November seems like a great time to get creative.

  2. You can write a bodice-ripper in much less than 30 days. Here’s a “Chinese menu” formula:
    A poor but depressingly moral young woman is employed as a shop girl in a London millinery establishment (catering to The Quality) around 1890. She: (pick one) 1. meets an incredibly handsome, tall dark gentleman who comes in to purchase a bonnet for his housekeeper. After a whirlwind courtship, they marry in a small private ceremony at St. George’s, Hanover Square. She thinks it odd that the only people in attendance on the Groom’s side are his elderly lawyer and his warm but scatter-brained old governess, long retired. a harbinger of doom is noted when the lawyer says “candor compels me to state. madam, that I advised his young lordship against this alliance in view of…well…certain facts which I am not at liberty to reveal but he would have his way and now we must make the best of it, though what She In The Tower will say, I shudder to contemplate”
    OR, 2: She receives a letter from a firm of lawyers informing her that her great-uncle whom she never previously heard of, has passed away, leaving her his estate in Howling, Sussex, named St. Abdomen’s Priory. Using a small sum of money forwarded by the lawyers, she engages a coach and travels to the estate. It is a crumbling ruin attended by two unkempt, very old servants, Mr. and Mrs. Moldbasket. Mr. M. greets her as he slowly forces open the rusty gates at the entrance to the drive by saying “You be t’ new mistress, be ye? Aye, ’tis a peck of troubles ye’ll be havin’. Well, I expect we mun find ye a crust and a jug now, and a pallet to sleep on… though what She In The Tower’ll say aboot it I canna think.” Mr’s M. merely scowls, wipes her hands on her filthy apron and vanishes back into the gothic shadows. Next day she encounters the owner of the neighboring estate, who is a tall, dark, incredibly handsome young lord. A whirlwind courtship ensues.
    Plot issues to resolve: 1. What are His Lordship’s ulterior motives? Why is he so eager to marry? 2: Who is She In The Tower – what drove her insane and how is she going to get finished off? (mysterious poison? Mysterious fall from the tower? galloping consumption? etc)
    3. Will that pillar of rectitude, the London lawyer, rescue the young woman from the terrible morass of lies and deception she has fallen into through her saccharine innocence?
    You see? It’s easy. The whole book can be knocked out in about a week or less. Barbara Cartland used to do it in 4 days with a good typist.

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    haha! so the upshot here is that yes, we can do something amazing in just 30 days. forget about “someday.” that “someday” is here.

    now that i’ve got nanowrimo to help my inner writer, i’m wondering what else i can do to nurture my painter side.

    there are painters who do paint-in-a-day little 6″x6″ square paintings. i don’t think that that approach would work for me. but it’s not about the specific project. it’s about the idea of getting outside the box in order to be with the activities that you love most. i’ve gotta come up with ways to spend more time in the studio.

    looks like we’re planning for a busy, exciting november! xo

  4. Ooh this sounds like a lot of fun! If I wasn’t working on graduate school applications I would be tempted to join in… or at least try. Good luck Betty! Keep us posted!

  5. Betty I’m going to do it with you! I’ve been working on something, and coming up with every reason why I can’t finish it. Your blog is going to inspire me to go for it! Thanks for kicking me in the butt, even if your no longer my teacher. Great piece!

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    isha, maybe another november! and BILLY — yessssss!!! once you’re outta my class, we move onto being friends. so grateful to have you here as part of my buddy support network. okay. time to start planning for november.

    we. can. do. it.

  7. I think I’ll put this on my list of things to do next November, but I’m looking forward to reading about your mom in your NaNoWriMo project!

    And I’m loving the Carpe Diem feel of this post!

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    carpe diem = latin for “seize the day.” yes!

    thanks, to you all. let’s see what happens. today, i woke up around 5:45 a.m…my goal is to see if i can stand being up early in the morning. that will have to be my writing time. if spend the next two weeks training myself to get on this schedule, i should be in good shape to take on nanowrimo in november. :o

  9. Hey Betty — I’m in too. I’ve been looking for something to keep me focused and motivated during this lovely job search process (obviously I’m being quite’s an awful process). Over the summer I trained for a half-marathon so my original idea was to start training for a regular marathon, but I’m frankly sick of running. This sounds much better.

    Buona fortuna!

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  11. Sounds like fun but won’t be able to do it this year. Maybe next year when things are hopefully lighter.

    Have fun working on this and maybe you’ll share it with us : )

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