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Time to Write a Novel in One Month

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Okay, as I mention a little too often, I used to be a writing coach. I got into it because you teach what you need to learn, and I needed to learn how to plow through sloppy first drafts so I’d have something to edit, rather than editing page one over and over and never getting to page two. Here are my top ten tips for FINISHING a first draft, if like me, you’re participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month):

  1. Make a realistic commitment, setting yourself up for success, and do it in quantifiable terms. Along with that, create a set time and safe environment in which to write. For example, I am committing to write from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. every morning in the month of November, no phone or internet, just one document open: the new novel. People type about a thousand words an hour. I’ll have a 60,000-word first draft of a short novel done in one month, in two hours a day. It’s that simple.
  2. Separate your writing from your editing from your marketing. This is a cornerstone of the “Red Room Method.” They are three different skill sets and three different stages of your project. For the entire month of November, be in writing mode only, and don’t even think about editing, critiquing, or marketing it, or what you think the “market” wants.
  3. No premature feedback. Wait to show it or read it to anyone until December. And then, first edit it, and then only show people who are the audience for the book.
  4. Don’t delete. You may find a use for what you’ve written at a later time.
  5. Don’t reread. It stunts your forward momentum.
  6. If you reach a crossroads, don’t become paralyzed. Simply take one path. You can take the other if the first one doesn’t work out. Sometimes you can’t get where you’re going without a little exploration.
  7. Don’t get hung up on character names. You can rename them later.
  8. You can do research or go off on a tangent later. Just insert brackets and note what information is needed or what you need to explore. Make a list when you’re done of everything in brackets and research them.
  9. Don’t worry about some shifting in your voice, tense, tone, or genre. You’ll be in a better position to sort it out later. Most people don’t hit the right tone or even know what they’re talking about until they’re 80% done with their book, which is why it’s foolish to edit and re-edit chapter one before writing the whole thing.
  10. Allow your story to develop organically. Controlling your story and the characters in it works about as well as it does in real life. The meandering path will reward you with more meaningful discoveries than a rigid plan will. If you have an outline, fine, but don’t expect to stick to it.

Remember these things too: Perfectionism means never finishing—it’s unrelated to high standards (which by definition includes finishing). All art is imperfect and created by imperfect people and at some point, you have to step away from the draft and say, “That’s the best I could do in the time I had with the effort I gave it.” The journey of a million miles, as they say, begins with a single step, so just write for one word, one hour, one day, one month, and you’ll get there. Don’t show up to accomplish something you can’t do in an hour or a month (like win the Pulitzer or make your old exes see how brilliant you were). Focus on writing. Writing is your relationship with yourself and it’s more important than worldly rewards later.

Also, don’t forget to surround yourself with supportive, noncompetitive colleagues but don’t show them your work. If you can schedule time to sit and SILENTLY write (in a timed period) together with others, do it. Most people keep appointments with others better than we do with ourselves, so this is another tenet of the Red Room Method.

I wish you the best of luck, but you won’t need it — I know you can do it!

–Ivory Madison, Founder and CEO, Red Room


16 Comment count
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I'll be ready to go at midnight. Don't have a plot yet, but that'll come with time (as it has in the previous three years).


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Another midnight NaNoWriMo participant

I won't stay up all night, but it's fun to do something on Halloween besides scarf down all the Reeses pieces that the trick or treaters didn't get. 

Happy Hallowriting everyone!


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Hey, I'm impressed.

You aren't just another pretty face.

I've been through my share of coaches' pregame pep talks.  You beat 'em all.

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They all live in Texas ...

Damn! I wanted to show my exes how brilliant I am! Oh, wait - I'm not allowed ... some of them are my characters. 

Have fun writing yours; hope to see you at a write-in. 

Katie Burke

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Cheering from the sidelines

I've tried three times, never got past day 3. This year I have no interest. But I'll be watching and cheeringall of you on!! Go! Sit! Write!

I've got ice packs for sore wrists at my house...

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Forgot to mention:

I don't sign in at Nanowrimo under my real name but use a pseudonym. If you want to check on my progress, look under "dormouse."

Why that name? Thereby hangs a tale I shan't narrate now (if ever).

All right. I'm chafing at the bit and pawing the ground.... 

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Hi Ivory

Thanks for the tips. They all make sense to me ... and I should probably follow them. But ... I'm in a bit of a quandry here. I started to post a novel-in-progress on Red Room a few weeks ago and prior to hearing about this thing called National Novel Writing Month.

Now I'm three short chapters in and plodding along at a pace that will give me a complete draft in about a year (not a month). This is fine by me ... I'm in no hurry.

At any rate, I hope you don't mind that I'm "using" the Red Room as a way of cracking the whip on myself by posting as I go. It's helping to provide some discipline and motivation toward the final goal of completing a draft.

All the best,


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(Perfecshunism) - Nothin' to Brag About. . .!

"Perfectionism means never finishing—it’s unrelated to high standards (which by definition includes finishing)."

OK, so I haven't really done anything since joining Red Room this October other than a comment to Aflamu and I really am going to write a Novel for November (it's my birth month so just maybe that’s a good sign. . .) but for now I hafta’ say "Bless You" for your definition of perfectionism!  I have long thought (and stated many times) that being a perfectionist was nothing to brag about.  To me,  perfectionist are those that are so caught up in getting everything just right that they wind up getting nothing accomplished - - - what’s to brag about then?!?!  Anyway, would you happen to know of a solution to the “wandering thoughts process” of a writer wannabe?  Thanks for the tips!   Peace Out  - cb

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Go Ivory!

I'm continually struck by the variance in method going into Nanowrimo - the different focus of each participant, the things that are distractors for one and helpers to others...

 Your list reads just about perfect for someone who has not written a novel, or who has never tried to do so in a short amount of time...I couldn't add a thing to it except for the preparation that is all pre-November, and should already be don.

 Eyes on the goal, move ahead.  Steady as she goes.

That said, I'm letting people read along and comment, as I'm confident they won't derail me ... I've done this before, and I love the rush of creative energy everyone brings to the table ... 

Can't wait to see what November produces.


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I have a friend acting as a science advisor, so he's been reading some parts of my work. It might take some time away from the keyboard, but I wouldn't trade those discussions for anything.

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...for the advice but mainly for reminding me that I had planned on participating this year!!!! My goodness, I'm 10 days behind!



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Hi Ivory,  Even though I'm

Hi Ivory,

 Even though I'm not NaNo'ing, I'm sure taking your good advice!


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10 Tips

The "Red Room Method" makes a lot of sense.  I'm not participating, but will keep your top ten tips close at hand for regular reference.


Kristie Abruzzo 

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"Perfectionism means never finishing..."

So true. I tutor adults in an adult literacy program. Convincing them -- heck, convincing myself -- to just get it down on paper without worrying about making mistakes is Task #1 in our writing workshops.

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 I've always kept myself

 I've always kept myself from finishing the novels I started, by thinking about the names and the origin of them. And it would be a disaster if I was struck by crossroads, because I'd stop writing and go back to editing the plot. 

I'll start writing again in my novel tonight. I'll put all of those tips in mind. 


I'm a perfect devil. Tell me how bad I am. It makes me feel so good! --Lestat de Lioncourt.

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Late to the party

Hello there, Ivory. I'm Lisa. Wandering over here today is a bit like arriving after the party's done and all around are signs everyone had a great time: glasses holding the remnants of Beaujolais Nouveau and plates with the dregs of great spinach dip and crumbled cream crackers. Everyone's gone, but the energy remains. I just finished Nanowrimo for the 4th year, 3rd win. I wish I'd been here 10/28; it would've helped a lot with the motivation. Although all of us have our own unique quirks and peccadillos as writers - must use the handmade wooden pen, or the cushy lap desk rather than a table top, must have hot ginger pear tea and a bag of Twizzlers, your rules of the road are right on and there's truth and nitty gritty wisdom for all of us.

Some might think these tips are for people who've never written or finished a novel - and they ARE particularly good for those overwhelmed at how to approach such a wacky challenge. But they're important for others of us who have completed a novel. I'd basically given up writing fiction altogether when I signed on for my first Nanowrimo in 2005. I only reached 10,000 words total. NO idea what I was getting into LOL. But I went back to some pages I'd written over a year earlier, and hit the ground running. 20 hours a week for 10 months. Bliss.

Since 2005, I've a written a novel and have four other novels at varying stages of completion. I've written all my life - I have two published self help books - but I've been far more prolific in the "Nano years" than in the prior two decades. I write in a different and more productive way. I'm a better self editor, now that the nasty critic has been given the bum's rush. I thought briefly about not doing Nano again. What did I need it for? Well, I learn something new every time I participate; there are different stumbling blocks necessitating different solutions. I continue to utilize some of the principles you outline in your post throughout the rest of the year. And doing Nano, I meet so many creative and enthusiastic people, who just love to write. It's how I ended up at the Red Room;-)