Writing a novel is no easy feat, least of all while writers juggle various commitments like day jobs, family and social lives. Which is why we’ve put together the ultimate guide on how to write a novel in 30 minutes per day.
No matter what your life’s like, everyone has 30 minutes to spare. Use your lunch break at work, watch half an hour less of that b-grade TV show, or wake up a little earlier…
Everyone can squeeze 30 minutes from his or her day to dedicate to writing. This special, in-depth article takes a look at crucial elements to making the 30-minutes-a-day method work.
We cover forming a writing habit, setting rules for your writing time, psychological and physiological best practices, estimating how long your novel will take, and writing vacations… If you’re after something specific, check our table of contents, or if you’re after everything you possibly need to know, sit back and read on.
Part One: Form a writing habit
1) Write, every day
Creating any new habit is all about getting your mind and body to accept that this new habit is part of your life now. You clean your teeth every day (hopefully!) – it’s part of your daily routine and your mind and body accepts this.
Set aside 30 minutes of every day in which to write your novel, and after a few weeks – your body will become accustomed to it and the ‘willpower’ required to write will be significantly reduced.
Top Tip: Writing *every day* will significantly reduce the willpower needed to start writing in the first place.
2) Set aside a specific time for your writing sessions
Many writers find that first thing in the morning works well for them, others are ‘night owls’ and don’t start writing until after midnight or later. Decide what time of the day is best for you and your lifestyle.
3) Commit to your writer friends
Tell your friends:
- when you’ll be writing.
- how long you’ll be writing for.
- how many words you’ll be writing.
- to ask you how your writing is going, regularly.
Making this verbal commitment to people you care about will make you far more likely to persevere with your daily writing routine, because you’ll feel obligated to provide a positive answer when when they ask you about your progress later on.
4) Track your writing
Before you start writing your novel – grab a notepad and pen (or use a spreadsheet), and make a mental note to track the work that you do. It’s best to use columns, but it doesn’t have to be complicated – just:
- the date
- the amount of time you spent writing
- (briefly) what you wrote about
- the number of words
- anything else you personally feel is relevant
After a few weeks of doing this – you’ll be able to look back at how consistent and reliable you have been, and will feel a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement. This is a massive psychological ‘win’ and will further inspire you to continue with this routine.
Top Tip: Blog or Tweet about your writing process so that your community holds you accountable for your commitments
5) Don’t edit
There are a number of really important reasons why you shouldn’t edit while you write your novel, especially if you’re undertaking the 30-minute-per-day method, here they are:
- The 30 minutes you have, is for writing.
- Editing while you work can be disheartening, not only will it feel as though you’re taking one step forward, and two steps back but you may also start to be too critical of your own writing at an infant stage. As Hemingway said: “The first draft of anything is always shit.”
- Writing and editing are conflicting processes – writing is about the big picture, while editing looks at the tiny details. Trying to do both at once is not only unproductive, it’s stupid.
- Editing will interrupt your writing flow, and then you might struggle to pick up the momentum again – leading to the cursed ‘writer’s block’.
- No matter how much you edit now, your first draft is always going to need reworking – don’t waste precious time on making sentences perfect that may not even make it into the final draft!
TIPS to stop yourself from editing while you write:
- Use a loud timer. This will remind you that every second is precious time that should be used only for writing.
- Allow yourself to edit after each chapter, to help silence that nagging voice in your head.
- Reward yourself for not editing – positive reinforcement is key!
6) Troubleshoot your problems
If something’s not working, try to work out why it’s not working. There’s always an underlying reason.
- Are you too stressed or tired before work first thing in the morning?
- Does writing before bed mean that you’re trying to go to sleep with an overactive mind?
Identify what’s going wrong and make changes to address the problem(s).
Part Two: Set Rules for Your Writing Time
In order for what little time you have for writing to be productive, every writer needs some ground rules. No matter where you live, or what environment you choose to work from, there are always going to be distractions and interruptions to your work. Here are the rules we recommend you apply to protect your writing time:
1. Put your mobile on aeroplane mode
You are working – you wouldn’t answer personal phone calls and texts in the middle of an important meeting. Give your writing time the respect it needs and deserves – deal with your calls and texts later.
2. Tell others that you are working
No, you cannot hang out the load of washing and no, you cannot quickly run down to the shops to get milk. To the people you live with – these are all seemingly small, non-intrusive tasks for someone to do who works from home – but these requests and interruptions are disruptive.
Politely request that they avoid seeking your attention while you’re writing, unless it is absolutely necessary.
You also don’t want this to become a habit of theirs; assuming that you’re available to run errands just because you’re in the house, when you’re supposed to be writing. The same applies to requests from friends;
3. Do not check your emails
Just hitting refresh pulls you out of your fictional world and into the real one. Inefficient workers waste hours (and hours) reading and replying to emails intermittently throughout their day.
By all means answer your emails in a timely fashion, but unless there’s something urgent – assign a period of time to answering your emails (just like you do your writing), and stick to it.
4. Do not check social media
This almost goes without saying. Don’t even have Facebook open while you’re writing. Logout, switch off notifications and remove yourself from social media so that you cannot be distracted by the latest viral kitten videos or pictures of what your half-friend had for breakfast / lunch / dinner.
5. Have a neat and tidy workspace
The last thing you want to feel when you sit at your desk is claustrophobic or stressed. Make sure that you only have the essentials out on the desk, with the rest tucked neatly away into drawers and folders. The less clutter you have on your desk – the more you’ll be able to focus on your writing.
6. Create a comfortable writing environment
Generally speaking; a comfortable working environment is a productive one. Make sure the temperature isn’t too cold for your hands, or too stuffy for your head. Try to have as much natural light in the room as possible, at least – don’t sit their writing/typing in the dark – it will damage your eyes.
Noise is a difficult issue to advise on because many people are comfortable with having the TV on or children screaming in the background, others prefer non-vocal music or even complete silence.
Decide what works for you – try to make sure the level of noise around you is consistent and not too distracting.
7. Maintain good health
In-depth advice on maintaining good health is beyond the scope of this article (and indeed – this whole site!), however – it goes without saying that (again, generally speaking) a healthy body is more energetic, more creative and more productive.
By all means – enjoy the odd fast food treat, but try not to make a regular lifestyle choice out of it. Your arteries will thank you for not doing so, and so will your novel. Furthermore – it should be noted that many of the greatest innovators come up with new ideas when they aren’t working. Take a walk and let your mind wander – see what happens.
Part Three: Employ Best Practices
There are just never enough hours in the day.
It’s a common excuse among writers – there’s just not enough time to fit your writing in around work, social life and family commitments. Go ahead and change this mindset right now.
Time is one of the very few things in life that is given to all of us in equal measure, and it’s what you choose to do with this time that matters.
1. Decide which tools you need
Granted – not everyone has a multitude of ‘tools’ that they use in conjunction with their writing practices, but with the continued development of the internet and technology – there is no shortage of resources that could help you write your novel and/or become a better writer in general.
If you’re not using any particular tools outside of the standard paper + pen or word processor – ask yourself if you should be.
Investigate the possibility of using of novel-writing software. Thousands of writers worldwide use software such as Scrivener. Microsoft Word is great for standard word processing but if you’re serious about writing a novel – consider Scrivener as a better alternative.
2. Plan your writing, before you start the timer…
Make sure you plan what you’re going to write, before you start your 30 minute session. That way – you won’t feel like you’re already running behind schedule when you press ‘go’, and you won’t spend a meaningful chunk of your session, planning.
Try to make sure the whole 30 minute session is dedicated to getting words on paper.
3. Time yourself
There’s something about setting a timer that just makes us just that little bit more focused on what we’re doing. Furthermore – if you know you only have 30 minutes in which to write – it means that you’re going to focus 100% of your attention during this short period of time.
Work hard for 30 minutes straight, and when the timer sounds – stop, you’re done. If you stay disciplined with this – over time, you will gradually condition yourself to make this 30 minutes count. And on that note…
4. Maintain Discipline
Probably the single most important factor in this whole article.
Writing a novel in 30 minutes per day is about setting a goal, planning your route to achieving that goal, and then disciplining your mind to stay on that route until your goal is achieved.
Make it your absolute priority to write for 30 minutes every day no matter what – even a single missed day suggests that it’s ‘Okay’ to skip a day. Unless you train your mind into thinking that writing is just as important a habit as cleaning your teeth – you will forever be prone to requiring the willpower to sit down and write.
Eventually – your mindset will change, and it will start to feel unusual whenever you have a day on which you don’t write. Remember: that’s a good thing!
5. Stay resilient
There will be days on which you’ll suffer the dreaded ‘Writers Block’, or you just won’t be inspired to keep going with your writing. We’ve all had these days, and it’s OK – don’t be alarmed. Try to do an activity which energises the body and releases endorphins (positive hormones) into the brain such as walking, cycling or swimming.
Meet a friend for coffee and speak to people who have good things to say about the world. Believe in yourself. The hard times will pass.
6. Reward yourself
When you have made meaningful progress or have achieved a pre-determined milestone – it’s important to actually reward yourself. Provide yourself with a positive outcome from all of your hard work.
If you don’t do this – you may end up procrastinating and/or simply not having enough willpower to sit down and write, because if nothing good comes directly out of writing – your subconscious may up thinking – what’s the point?!
Part Four: Take A Writing Vacation
While the above quote certainly does apply to us writers, it doesn’t mean we can’t try! A writing vacation can be interpreted two ways: 1. You take a holiday with the sole purpose of focusing on your writing while you’re away, and 2. You take a break from writing. Both types of ‘vacation’ can be beneficial to your craft in the long run.
1. A Holiday For Writing
Nowadays, there are specific locations and venues that cater for what are known as ‘writers in residence‘, you can apply to stay at the Varuna Centre, for example, with the idea being that you work on your writing in beautiful environment full time, surrounded by other writers.
There are workshopping classes, mentors and other benefits to using a facility like this. Alternatively, some writers prefer to organise their own writer’s retreat, where they may rent a cabin in the woods for a time somewhere, and work on their novel at their own pace, in a place of their choosing.
However the writer decides to handle it, a holiday for writing can provide the writer with much-needed time to reflect on their work, and much-needed time to work on their work. A new environment can stimulate the imagination and spark new ideas.
Basically, a retreat of this kind acts as a ‘shake-up and wake-up’ for the writer. Many authors swear by them.
2. A Holiday From Writing
Taking a break from your writing is equally as important as writing itself at times. Writers who are finding the time, and getting a lot of work done can end up feeling burnt out.
They most likely work two jobs – their day jobs (with all its stresses and complications) plus their writing job, which fits in wherever possible. Juggling these two is often exhausting, but not as exhausting as the pressure writers usually put themselves under to get the job done…
This pressure can often start doing more harm than good in terms of productivity. The writer can begin to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Never underestimate the benefit that a break could potentially have on your writing.
Take some time off, guilt free and return to your work refreshed and enthusiastic!
Part Five: Estimate how long it will take to write your novel
So after all is said done – how long will it actually take you to write a novel, when you’re writing for 30 minutes per day?
The following table shows how many days it will take you to write a novel, based on the intended length of the novel and your average typing speed.
Length of Novel 60,000 80,000 100,000 120,000 Words Per Minute 20 100 134 167 200 40 50 67 84 100 60 34 45 56 67 80 25 34 42 50 100 20 27 34 40
The table caters for both slow & fast writers, and also a broad range of novel-length. You will likely already know what sort of average words per minute you’re capable of typing at, so add the respective number of days to today’s date, and you have the date by which you would theoretically finish if you started today.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s this:
Maintaining the discipline to keep going, even when it’s tough, is the real key to writing a novel. While this guide provides numerous tips and lots of helpful advice, at the end of the day, there’s only one essential rule to writing a novel, and that is to sit down, and start writing.