Writing a short novel in five weeks

For some time now, writing marathons have become fashionable. In these events, the organization may propose to those interested to write a novel in five weeks (or, in other words, in one month). Normally, the challenge is to write a short novel, that is, a novel of about 50,000 words. 

The goal is by no means unattainable, if you follow a plan. It is not a matter of writing faster than the rest of the participants. You simply have to meet the deadline. This turns the task into a competition with yourself. The key, the important thing, is to get there, to reach the goal, to achieve the purpose.

But is it compatible to achieve something of quality with such a specific goal, in terms of time and length of the work? The truth is that not always. In fact, if the aim is to fit all the pieces together, the outcome can be… absolute frustration. Constantly having in your head thoughts like “I’ve already written 5,000 words” or “I’m already halfway through my novel” will not really allow you to focus on the quality of what you are writing.

In the case of someone asking such questions, two options open up. Either they decide to abandon the writing marathon, since this is something that does not suit them. Or one can try to participate by following a few easy tips. Here they go:

Make a good plan

It will consist of doing a good job of preparation before starting to write a single word. This plan will consist of drawing an outline of the story you intend to write. Even if only in broad strokes, this preliminary outline will allow you to determine -more or less- how many chapters the story will consist of and what will happen in each one of them. 

Working on the pre-writing of the story will save time later on. Ideally, in the case of a short story, consider short chapters of no more than 2,000 words.

Converting words into chapters

It is not the same to say “I have to write fifty thousand words this month, today I have to write at least two thousand” as “I have to finish forty chapters this month; today I have to write two”. Thinking in chapters allows you to relax, to write from scene to scene without stopping, every so often, to count words.

Focus on small batches

Actually, this advice applies to participants in literary marathons as well as to regular writers of novels. In order not to overwhelm yourself with the task, the solution will be to divide the overall work of writing the story into smaller goals. The best way to achieve this goal is to set a specific number of chapters to write -about 1,700/2,000 words- per day.

On the Internet there are tools such as Pacemaker Writing Schedule that greatly facilitate the task of planning how many words to write each day. The application is simple to use. All you have to do is set the start and end date of the writing task, as well as the number of words per day. You can also specify other options, such as whether you will work on weekends or every day of the week.

Better weekly than daily goals

Inspiration comes and goes. There will always be better days than others for the writing to flow. For this reason, it may be more realistic – and in the long run, less frustrating – to set goals by the week rather than by the day.

So, if you don’t want to become disenchanted and discouraged – and end up abandoning the challenge – the best thing to do is to set weekly rather than daily goals in your pre-plan, which will leave some leeway.

Find the most productive time

A very effective procedure to locate these moments -and also the places- consists of using cards in which you mark where and when you are most productive. Having this information will be really useful for successfully completing the novel planned for the marathon on time.

The schedule must be realistic

It is important to sit down and analyze how much time a day you will be able to dedicate to the novel (not the time you would like to dedicate to it). If you plan to finish five chapters a day, with only 1 or 2 hours available, you will simply not be able to meet your goals.

A draft is not a novel

The first version of the writing is a draft, not the final novel, so it is best not to become obsessed with achieving perfection the first time around. This means that you should write without stopping to tinker. There will be time to revise when it is finished.