How to write a novel in 30 days (for #NaNoWriMo)

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Writing a novel? Thinking about doing NaNoWriMo? Writing a novel but getting stuck? Curious how I went about writing the latest Hana Walker mystery? Whatever you need to know, just click on the relevant link below and all your dreams will come true*.

Day 1 video: The tools you need to write a novel. Which is best, a laptop, dictation, a smartphone or pen and paper? I give my thoughts as I hurry to work an hour early to get some writing done.

Day 2 video: Word counts for a NaNoWriMo novel, a good podcast you should listen to (Paul Teague’s Self-Publishing Journeys), a tip of the day (don’t edit while writing) and a Kierkegaard quote to ponder.

Day 3 video: When is the best time to write? A tip of the day to save time procrastinating and a James Scott Bell book you should read (Plot and Structure), and a quote from him.

Day 4 video: You don’t have to write every scene in order (that’s the tip) and a John Cleese quote and video on creativity worth watching.

Day 5 video: Choosing the right point of view. The tip is to do your writing first thing in the day and to use a timer for 25-minute sprints.  Seth Godin’s newsletter is a good one you should subscribe to (and you should subscribe to mine too), and a misremembered Seth Godin quote.

Day 6 video: Don’t panic if you miss hitting your word count for one day. Also, the value of conflict. A misremembered Keith Richards quote. And a recommendation to read Libby Hawker’s book on structuring a novel.

Day 7 video: To win a challenge, write the rules yourself. Tip of the day is keep reading even while you are writing a novel. Read Kurt Vonnegut. Read Graham Greene. Just read. And write. A quote from James Baldwin.

Day 8 video: Include real places in your fiction. Here, I hang out at the teahouse of Shiga Noaya, a famous-is Japanese author. Recommended book is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Also, a quote from Kurt Vonnegut.

Day 9 video: Save the best till last. That is, your novel should be rising in tension, not falling to anti-climax. Tip of the day is to listen to writing podcasts. You do know Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn, right? Also a lengthy quote from George Orwell.

Day 10 video: When you get stuck, get on your bike. Sometimes stepping away from the computer screen really helps solve whatever writing problem you have. Also, just write “xxx.” A quote from author Naomi Hirahara.

Day 11 video: The best words sometimes come quickly. When the heat is on, sometimes that’s what you need to get cooking. Tip: if you are writing an important scene, write more words. Detail means importance. Recommended book is by Ray Bradbury.

Day 12 video: Back to a real location for a fictional story. There is no substitute if you need to get the details right. Tip: Don’t write what you know, write what you are interested in. Quote of the day is from Hemingway.

Day 13 video: Deciding not to make a big change. I’m thinking about changing the narrator of the whole novel, but I decide not to make a final decision. A recommended  US podcast is Sell More Book Show. Quote is from Joanna Penn.

Day 14 video: Why you should “show don’t tell” and a misremembered quote from Arthur C. Clarke for you (and me) to ponder.

Day 15 video: I talk about how my word count is the number of the beast today, why you should read books in your chosen genre (mine is Japanese crime fiction) and a misremembered quote from Keigo Higashino for you to ponder. Also, three Japanese crime writers you should read.

Day 16 video: I talk about how my daily word count is the lowest of the challenge today, why you should amalgamate minor characters into one. Recommended book is by Stephen King.

Day 17 video: I talk about how my daily word count is the fastest of the challenge so far, why you should treat writing like a job, not a hobby and a long quote from James N. Frey’s rather good “How to Write Damn Good Fiction” book.

Day 18 video: We are all going to die, which is the number one motivational tip for any writer; recommended reading in Japanese crime fiction — Masako Togawa — and a quote from mystery writer John Harvey.

Day 19 video: Make your hero do stuff! How my daily word count is just over 40,000, a writing tip to make your hero active, recommended reading is Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis and a misremembered, mangled quote is from Harry Flashman author George MacDonald Fraser.

Day 20 video: A writing tip to not stick too religiously to structure, recommended reading is by Robert McGee and a mangled quote from Freddie Mercury.

Day 21 video: The Simple Art of Murder… a writing tip to write the dialogue when you are stuck, recommended reading is by Raymond Chandler as is the quote of the day.

Day 22 video: How to get inspired. I talk almost exclusively about how a trip to see Munch and Vermeer exhibitions really inspired me to do more with my writing.

Day 23 video: I talk from the shopping mall where I did a bit of writing and offer one tip: Listen to Chopin!

Day 24 video: Writing in a coffee shop, getting loads written in one go, but at what price?

Day 25 video: Write a damn good book. I wrote 600+ words today, leaving me with 2,500 and five days to go. How smug I am. I talk from a posh bookshop in Kashiwa which doesn’t carry any English books about the weird thing about writing the final scenes. I offer one tip: You get the biggest bang for your buck working on your craft early on in your career.

Day 26 video: In the end I wrote 327 words today, leaving me with 1,992 to do in four days. Here I advise finding some finishing energy (which I’m not so good at) and a video that will serve you well if you are worried that it’s too late to become a good writer (or a good anything).

Day 27 video: Could I finish this thing with three days to spare? (No). Here I advise sticking to it and squeezing in any extra writing in whatever minutes you can find.

Day 28 video: I advise not settling on the first thing you think of, but always go for the second, or third thing. Not very stirring words, but they happen to work.

Day 29 video: Here, I offer 5 lessons from showing up and writing every day. Briefly they are: 1. If you know how many words you can write in an hour, you can plan how long it will take you to complete a novel. 2. Doing the writing is when you can be most creative, ie, you needn’t plan every last detail beforehand. 3. If one month is too tight a deadline, feel free to make it two months. 4. Setting a production deadline and reporting on your progress can motivate you to finish a draft. 5. The more you keep a daily writing habit, the easier it gets.

Day 30 video: Here, I impart the bad news that a first draft is just a first draft. What do you do now? I give my thoughts here on how to go about editing what you’ve got after 30 days.

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Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. He lives in Abiko with his wife and two daughters.

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