10 Tips for Writing a Novel Fast(er)
Writing a novel is a long game, no way around it. But I’ve helped many writers get to THE END, and I know there are ways to shorten the curve. I’ve listed my favorite get-your-novel-written approaches below. From first concept to first draft, these tips will help writers get their novels onto the page.
Fast(er) novel-writing strategies
1) Think “draft,” not “polished manuscript.” We read published novels and see that they proceed from cleanly edited start to well-honed end. So it’s natural to imagine our book-writing process should follow suit. We decide to create a polished novel—complete with sharp prose, fully developed characters, and beautiful images—as we go.
But it’s actually much more efficient to write our novels as a series of tdrafts. On the first pass of your story, go rough. Next draft, revise to fulfill what’s missing from the first. And save the polishing for your final version.
2) Save editing for later. Rather than stopping to tweak grammar or manage a particular sentence, keep the words flowing! It’s important to get your story DOWN, and broad strokes will help you do that. Don’t want to risk losing your story-telling traction for an errant period or awkward bit of description. Come back and fine-tune later.
3) Make margin notes while writing your novel. Rather than editing as you go, add margin notes to your document. When you revise, these will act as a sort of breadcrumb trail, reminding you what you thought might improve a scene, character, or plot thread. It’s quicker—and less of a creative interruption—to make a general note to consider later than to halt your momentum to wrangle a specific passage.
4) 1000 words a day will get you there—fast! Does 1000 words seem like a lot? Too much?! What if I remind you that 1000 words is actually only four lit-industry standard pages? Does that make it seem more doable? 1000 words a day (even with weekends off), will net you a complete draft fast!
Map it out to write your novel faster
5) Outline your novel. Know where you’re taking your characters before you pack their bags and hit the draft-writing road. Just clarifying your major plot points will help. However, the more detailed your outline, the more quickly you’ll be able to complete your initial draft.
Some writers fear outlining will make their story feel contrived. My work with novelists has shown otherwise. The outlining process can be just as creative and deep as any other aspect of writing your novel.
5a) “I’m a pantser,” you say? Okay! Go ahead; pants your way through your first draft. Before revising, though, outline what you have. That should help you see if you need to create better flow or more suspense or stronger character arcs.
My book, PLOTTING YOUR NOVEL WITH THE PLOT CLOCK, is a quick read and explains a basic approach to outlining your novel.
6) Hop around! Take the advice “Pick Only Ripe Apples,” from LIFE, PAINT, and PASSION, by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley:
To keep your process flowing, to feel the enjoyment of creation, you first need to go where it is easy. Easy means ripe. Go where you are attracted…. While you work on the part that is easy, other parts will mature in you, and they will be ready and waiting. You move step by step, from the easiest to the easiest. It is never tedious or tiring because there is no need to force anything. Depth resides more in surrendering to spontaneity than in hardworking struggle.
Apply this to writing your novel. Follow your instincts. No need to pick up where you left off. And if you’ve created an outline, you’ll never get lost in the dark woods of your story!
7) Limit yourself to a single point of view. Sure, there are times when one point of view (POV) won’t get the job done. But a single POV story can be quite compelling—and surprisingly complex. Mystery phenom Tana French writes many of her best-selling novels from a single point of view—IN THE WOODS, for example. Her psychologically rich books have won critical and popular acclaim.
Multiple POVs require multiple character arcs—which is both complicated and time consuming. Want to fast-track your novel? Try focusing on a single POV character.
8) Write for just one hour. It can be a huge accomplishment to carve out time to write. And I’m suggesting you stop after just sixty measly minutes?
Yup. I am. Well-regarded artist Nicholas Wilton suggests we limit our creative sessions to an hour. That’s when we’re most effective, he says. I find this to be true. As I enter the second hour of painting or writing, I get circular in my thinking and tight in my expression—neither of which is conducive to making fresh and exciting work.
9) Walk daily. Many writers swear by their daily walks. Why? Walking gives us an oxygen boost. Also, a change of scenery can enliven our brains. And taking a walk can help us solve story problems. We set out for a stroll feeling stuck, only to return with the solution in hand.
10) Write your novel in November. “NaNoWriMo,” short for National Novel Writing Month, is a month-long, nationwide novel-writing fest that takes place every November! Participation is free—and knowing you’re part of a coast-to-coast cadre of novel writers will fill your tank.