The Six Month Novel Writing Plan

Written by Caitlin Jans | September 26, 2016

Most authors have heard of National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. It is a novel writing challenge where participants try to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. Many famous authors, including John Green Rainbow Rowell have participated.

But for many writers that work full time writing a novel in one month is difficult, if not impossible. Before I had a child, I completed NaNoWriMo twice, although I did not have a full time job either time I did it.

Both times I participated in NaNoWriMo I really enjoyed the process, but I was forced to type at such a pace that both books I wrote during it required a great deal of editing. In fact, I never managed to make it very far past the first draft because of that.

Now that I have a full time job, a child, a husband, and any number of writing projects on the go, NaNoWriMo is unfeasible. But even if I had the time to do it, I am not sure it is the right challenge for me. It generates a lot of very raw material, without giving the writer any time to edit as they go. I thought I could write a much better novel if I had more time but still had a strict ‘must finish by’ date.

I believe one of the enemies of novel writing is not having a strict deadline.  If I take too long writing a novel I often forget most of the details and plot that were covered in the beginning of the novel, so the start of the novel and the end do not match. I then have to go back and edit large swaths of writing.

I also have noticed that writers who don’t set deadlines for themselves often end up spending a lot more time working on their novels, and indeed many never finish their novels at all. One of my friends just finished his first draft of his first novel – it took him 10 years to write that first draft. Another friend has been writing for almost two decades and has yet to complete their novel.

Even if you don’t end up following my plan, at least take this away from the article – create a deadline for yourself! It is also important to stick to those deadlines at least loosely. Even famous authors with established fan-bases struggle with this. George R.R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, is infamous for announcing when his next book is coming out and then delaying it by years and years.

I gave myself six months to write a novel and outlined a loose schedule which you can see below. I wanted to give myself flexibility. So when I say ‘write every day’ that is the ideal but not always the reality. Some days my daughter was sick. Some days we had unexpected guests. Even with setbacks I actually ended up about two months ahead of schedule. After a two week break I went back and edited the first draft, finishing my second draft right before the six months were up.

I was able to complete not just a first draft of a novel, but a second. In just six months I wrote a novel from scratch that I am very happy with. Not only that, it is now ready to be edited by my copy editor. I hope to have it out to agents and publishers by December. To put that in perspective I wrote page one in late April.

My novel is 63,000 words in length, which is much closer to the length of most published novels than NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 goal.

You don’t have to follow my novel plan (as I stated earlier I ended up deviating from it myself by finishing in four months and using the additional time to edit) but I have outlined the basics below.

If you do follow my plan, feel free to modify it. For example make sure you account for any big vacation, holiday, or work project that will come up during that period. Make sure to check in with your plan every month to make sure you are on schedule.

I hope that you come up with a 6 month novel writing plan that really works with your schedule. A plan that helps you write a wonderful book. Good Luck.

My Six Month Novel Writing Plan

Month One:

Write One Hour A Day Every Day
Some people plan before writing a novel, others don’t. I plan as I go, but if you need additional planning time, do that before Month One starts. Also limit your planning time. A friend of mine has been planning her novel since high school, she is now 35, still planning it out, and has yet to write more than 20 pages of actual novel.

I wrote for at least an hour every day during the month. Weekdays or weekends, it didn’t matter. I was writing. I chose a specific time (right after my daughter fall asleep at night) but if your schedule is more variable you can be flexible.

Two Hour Editing Binge Once a Week

Once a week I would make sure to do an extra two hour editing stint during one of the days.  Instead of writing new material I went over what I had written so far and edited it a little, just to make sure the story line and character development was as cohesive as possible.

Month Two

Write One Hour A Day Ever Day
Increase the amount of time you are writing each day to two hours if you have not reached at least 50 pages.

One Two Hour Editing Period Once a Week

Workshop the First Chapter
A writing workshop is when a group of writers read and provide feedback on your work. The first chapter is the most important, because it is your first impression not only to readers but to editors and publishers. It was helpful getting feedback on the first chapter because it helped motivate me to finish the book. It also helped me figure out a thing or two about pacing and tone.

Month Three

Write One Hour A Day Every Day
If you are not at least at 100 pages at the beginning of this month you should write at least two hours most days.

One Two Hour Editing Period Once a Week

Month Four

Take a week off
Read but don’t write. You will come back stronger.

Write One Hour A Day Every Day Outside Of The Off Week
If you are not at least 150 pages at the start of this month you should write two hours most days.

One Two Hour Editing Period Once a Week
Don’t edit on the week off.

Month Five

Write One Hour A Day Every Day
If you are not at least at 200 pages at the beginning of this month you should write at least two hours most days.

One Two Hour Editing Period Once a Week

Note: During this month I finished my novel which is 250 pages. I then took two weeks off.

Month Six

Write One Hour A Day Every Day Outside Of The Off Week
If you are not at least 250 pages at the start of this month you should write two hours most days. This plan is clearly for longer novels, as mine was already finished at this point.

One Two Hour Editing Period Once a Week

Note: Since at this point I finished my novel, I spent this month editing it two hours every day. I had completed my second draft by the end of month six.

Additional Notes: I should also say that during this six month period I read a lot of books for inspiration. I read books that related to mine in terms of audience. I was writing a YA adventure book, so I read a lot of YA adventure books and took notes on what worked and what didn’t. My book also required location research, so I also read a book or two about the location. I also did a lot of internet research pertaining to the book. None of these activities ever counted towards writing time. Research is not writing. Only writing is writing.

This article has now been adapted and extended into an eBook that you can buy here.

Bio: Caitlin Jans is a poet, a novelist, and the editor of Authors Publish Magazine. Her writing can be found in The Conium Review, The Moth, Labletter, Literary Mama, and elsewhere. You can follow her on Facebook.