How to write a book in a month

and win nanowrimo

Derek Murphy
6 min readOct 25, 2020


It’s nearly November, and if you’re still mostly locked down in 2020, you might be thinking this is the year to finish writing my book.

Don’t give up because there’s not enough time yet, or that the year is almost over and the holidays are coming. There’s still time. In fact, thousands of people will also be working on their books in November to participate in Nanowrimo — a communal writing contest where the only goal is to produce 50,000 new words on your manuscript. If you “win” you get bragging rights, and the confidence that it’s possible, and probably a messy pile of crap that you might be able to turn into a real book someday.

Is it worth it?

You might be thinking, well sure I want to write a book, but I want to write a good book. I don’t want to crank it out or be a hack. I don’t want to rush the artistic process.

Speaking as someone with a PhD in Literature who has “won” Nanowrimo a few times, let me first point out that 2/3rds of every great work of literature in history was written quickly, often for an immediate paycheck, sometimes even to avoid going to debtor’s prison or to cash in on a trend or season.

So the answer to “is it possible to write a good book in a month” is of course yes. It’s been done. It’s been proven. There are very few examples of great books that have taken years to write.

And this is because, it’s those first books, where authors don’t know what they want to say or who will read it or what it’s about… and they struggle through a manuscript with no aim or purpose, jotting down random ideas and notes without every seeing how they fit together: those are the ones that take years, and they rarely turn into something good, because they’re too hard to edit.

Without a clear goal or deadline, the work just doesn’t get done. Spending years on a book actually wins writing for half an hour twice a month. That’s not writing a book. That’s being enamored with the idea of writing a book mixed with fear of actually finishing.

A few years ago, a “real writer” was annoyed at all the Nanowrimites who were using the #amwriting hashtag.

I wrote a long response, and got an #amwriting tattoo to show my commitment to the principle that everyone is entitled to tell their story. But I didn’t get into the specifics of how to actually win Nanowrimo. So in this article I’m going to give you writing tips, plot outlines and templates, productivity and time management tactics, and a bit of motivation so you can get started strong and finish with a decent rough draft that has the beginnings of a strong novel.

The details: word count goals

Let’s break it down: 50K in 30 days is 1,667 words per day.

I’m not going to lie, that’s a lot of words, especially for someone who is not used to writing that much content. Most people who start Nanowrimo don’t finish.

I’ve written about a dozen novels and published over a million words of fiction. I’ve had a decent amount of practice. But I’m not a fast drafter. I prefer to do timed sprints of about 30 minutes, and write using iAwriter on my iPhone, with a lightweight, portable Belkin bluetooth keyboard, or if I’m, at home, an iPad and a heavier logitech I can put on my lap.

There are all sorts of distraction free writing spaces and apps but I find the small smart phone screen, the black screen and faded text and wordcount tracker of iAwriter to be ideal to get in the flow.

I can usually write about 500 words in a 30-minute sprint, so that’s about an hour and a half a day of writing. I’ll usually need to focus on getting the writing done first: it might take me 8 hours of procrastination before I can finish my words, which means I don’t get a lot done in November other than writing.

The practice novel vs writing templates

My first Nanowrimo gave me confidence that I might be able to actually write a book, even though it was a mess, and that was a huge turning point for me. You can do that, if you want to. Personally I feel like if you’re going to practice anything, you must also have a goal and a guide book so you can practice in the right direction and gain valuable skills; so that you get better at writing novels and not just write bad books for years.

Yes, you can write a good book quickly, but most people don’t, because there isn’t a lot of good advice about how to actually write a novel well. I’ve spent years digging into the craft of writing and have developed some pretty useful resources, like my 24 chapter plot outline and the downloadable writing templates I made to go with them.

The reason most people run out of steam in writing novels (or anything else) is because they’re stuck and they don’t know what happens next; or they know the chapter they’re writing is just filler words that will have to be scrapped. Using a tight template like this — basically a series of ordered writing prompts — will keep you on task and let you finish a better novel, faster.

If it feels too detailed or constrictive, then you can start with my simpler “Plot Dot” formula which I’ve also made free on Amazon. (I also have a plotting article on the Nanowrimo blog here.)

The point is, having a quick outline for your story will save you time, so you can focus on the words and not on “what happens next” — it’s much easier to win Nanowrimo if you go into it with a plan.

6 steps to an unbreakable writing habit.

What if it sucks?

That’s ok! That’s kind of the point. You’re only trying to tell the first version of a potential story. All the “good writing” stuff actually comes later, in edits, but you can’t edit until you have a manuscript.

No matter how good or how experienced of a writer you are, the first draft usually sucks, so all you can do is get through it faster.

That said, there are definitely ways to learn how to be a better writer, and avoid amateur writing mistakes, but you shouldn’t focus on or worry about those yet.

When you’re ready to dig deeper, maybe in December or January when you focus on editing your book, here are a couple of useful resources:

I also have a 10-hour, advanced writing course that’s currently *free* on YouTube, but I’ll be taking it down after my new book is finished this year.

Book Craft: Write Books Readers Love

Soft pitch — I’m revising all of my best content into one magical grimoire of writing advice, that will help you master the craft of writing, without losing the magic. If you preorder a copy, on launch day you’ll receive free access to a few of my writing courses.



Derek Murphy

I rent castles and chase kittens into dark alleys. PhD in in esoteric literature, creativity alchemist for authors, finish your best work @