By the Numbers: You Can Write a Novel in a Month

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During the month just past, while many of us who are gluttons for punishment struggled to get 50,000 words written for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), there was a ton of comments on just how difficult this is. I managed to do it for the second year in a row, and quite frankly, I found it easier the second time around.

One of the comments that commonly comes up is that novels are so long (45,000 words and up except for the November exercise) that it just seems daunting. Actually, it shouldn’t be. If you stop and think about it, writing a novel, if you are really driven to write, shouldn’t be any more difficult than completing your income tax return – I find it, in fact, a whole lot easier.

If you’re still tentative, let’s look at the math of writing a full length work and see if it can change your mind.

We should start with the basic assumption that almost everyone can type at least 25 words per minute. I know two-finger, hunt-and-peck typists who can do 50 wpm or more, and thanks to a typing class in high school many decades ago, I can still manage 60, but for convenience, let’s use 25 wpm as the starting point.

If, like me,  you no longer have a full-time day job to interfere with your creative efforts, that gives you from four to eight  hours per day to devote to writing. Let’s use four under the assumption that you haven’t gone completely around the bend. Here then is how the numbers crunch:

–   25 words per minute = 1,500 words per hour. If you write for only four hours per day, you’ll end the day with 6,000 words.

–   Assuming you write every day, that gives you 60,000 words in 10 days. If you’ve gone around the bend, and glue yourself to your keyboard for a full eight hours, you get 60,000 words in five days.

That, my friends is the equivalent of a full-length novel in five to ten days.

I know, you’re saying: it doesn’t work that way. Keeping plot threads and characters straight takes time. I have that covered as well. Before you start actually writing the darn thing, I recommend a week to ten days of preparation. Outlining if you swing that way, develop character biographies, plot twists, timelines, etc. Now, you’re ready to write. So, that makes 15 to 25 days to completion. Let it cool off for two days, and then spend another 10 days rewriting and polishing your prose.

In the end, you have your novel in 27 to 37 days from start to finish. I kid you not – the numbers don’t lie.

3 thoughts on “By the Numbers: You Can Write a Novel in a Month

    acflory said:
    December 6, 2013 at 12:51 am

    lol – I’ve done Nano twice now too, and getting to 50K words was not hard. BUT… anyone who thinks they’ll have a ‘novel’ by the end of Nano is deluded. At best we all end up with a first draft. Maybe it’s a decent first draft, but let it sit in a drawer for a few months and you’ll wince when you re-read it. First drafts are not novels. They are the writer, telling him or herself a big, messy story with huge plot gaps and masses of backstory.

    We need to know all these things but the reader doesn’t. What the reader needs is a tight story that unfolds gradually. No writer can achieve that with a first draft.

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      Charles Ray responded:
      December 6, 2013 at 1:39 am

      I completely agree, which is why I figure in the editing part. Not sure it needs to sit for a few months – but, that’s just a personal preference – but, I do agree that it needs to cool off and than be looked at with eyes that are not totally unfocused after the toil of the first draft.

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        acflory said:
        December 6, 2013 at 3:43 am

        lol – I know, it’s hard to let the cooling off period happen, but I’ve discovered to my cost that the longer I can leave it [read : forget about it] the clearer my eyes will be. We authors fall in love with our own work so it’s hard to see the words for the rainbow forests. Has to be done though. 🙂

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