Thirty days doesn’t seem like a lot of time when you’re thinking about finishing a project you started and then put off. But 30 days is actually a lot of time! And the thing is, the time’s gonna pass anyhow. So you may as well be doing something you actually care about with that time.
Which is why I’ve put together this quick-start guide for how to finish writing your novel in 30 days.
Now I will add that this list is for writers who have already started the draft of a novel. If you’re still in the planning and development stages, you need a whole different list. And if you’re revising, you’ll need a different (although similar) list as well (the revise-in-30-days list is coming Friday!).
First—why 30 days?
Because I have a theory that when you cut down your timeline, you actually motivate yourself and light a fire under your ass that gets you out of your head (see ya later doubt!) and into action. Anytime I’ve cut my timeline down, whether that be 30 days, 10 days or something else, it always gets me moving in the direction I want to go.
But when I give myself unlimited time to get something done or I don’t set a specific deadline for finishing it, I end up not working on it consistently, making excuses for why it’s not done yet, and then half a year or more passes and it’s still not done.
It’s a vicious cycle.
I started the first draft of my second novel in November 2015. But I didn’t finish it until February 2016. And it’s not because it just took me that long. Not at all. I started it in November and then I stopped working on it for almost 2 months.
I was only a handful of scenes away from being finished with it when I met a mentor in February 2016 who inspired and motivated me to FINISH.
So I did. I wrote the rest of the first draft—as crappy as the writing may have been—and I called it done. (Don’t get me started on how long it’s been taking me for the revision, mostly because I haven’t been being consistent until the last month or so.)
And finishing that first draft didn’t take me very long, once I set my mind to the fact that it was DONE and it would be done that month. Yes, I still had to take the actions and do the writing, but by making the decision that it was done, the words flowed a lot easier and I got it done within the 30-day timeframe that I set for myself.
How did I do it? Here’s how…
1. Decide On A Daily Measurable
You don’t have to write based on word count or page count or even scene count. But you can. And you should write based on at least one of those things. Otherwise you’ll have no idea if you’re making progress or not.
The feeling of doing the writing is amazing and will definitely motivate you, but seeing actual progress in black-and-white will really, really motivate you.
Action Step: what daily measurable will you use to ensure you’re making progress on finishing your first draft?
2. Get Yourself Some Accountability
This is super important. I wouldn’t get half the stuff I get done every day if it weren’t for all of the accountability I have set up in my life.
I’ve got an accountability partner for the things I want to get done each week. I’ve got an accountability partner for things I want to get done each day. And I’ve also got an accountability partner for the things I want to get done each month.
And yes, I need this many. I need more! Because self-set deadlines and keeping yourself accountable only goes so far. At some point, you’ll need someone outside yourself to help you out. (Unless you’re someone who is super good at self-accountability. But let’s just be honest—most writers and creators are not.)
I see myself as a leader. And a leader doesn’t show up to an accountability session and say that they didn’t do what they said they would. Creating built-in accountability has quadrupled my productivity.
Action Step: who can you find in your life to hold you accountable to doing your writing? Choose someone who will actually hold you to doing what you said you would, otherwise it won’t be very useful.
3. Find A Writing Sprints Partner
Writing sprints are basically timed periods of writing where you try to get as many words written as you can. Usually you do a writing sprint with a partner or a group of people (you could do it alone with a timer if you really wanted to, but it’s not as fun).
All you have to do is set a time to meet up virtually (you can check in via Facebook message, email or text message), and then decide on how long you’re sprinting for. Then you’re off and writing until the time is up.
For example—you could decide to meet up online at Noon and then do a 15-minute writing sprint and check in. Or you could decide to sprint until 12:30 and then check in.
How you do the writing sprints doesn’t really matter. But doing them, and especially with a partner, is major motivation to get out of your head and into action.
Action Step: who can you do writing sprints with? Find someone and get some writing sprint sessions set up pronto.
4. Use A Timer
I don’t care what you’re doing—writing, reading, watching TV—almost everything works better when you have a set time for how long you’re gonna do the activity for. Using a timer for my writing and other projects has seriously changed my life and amped up my productivity in a major way.
I like to do things in 15- or 21-minute sessions (sometimes 31-minutes if I really feel like it), and then take a break for a few before starting the next thing. That may not seem like a lot of time to work on your writing or creating or whatever you’re doing, but think of it this way… add 21 minutes a day up over 7 days. Then add it up over 14 days. Then add it up over 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, etc.
And 365 days of writing for 21 minutes a day equals 7,665 minutes, or around 128 hours of time. Now imagine if you actually worked on your novel or writing project for 128 hours over the course of a year.
What you’ll find is that it’s enough. It’s enough time to actually make progress and get somewhere.
I’ve been revising my second novel for 15- to 21-minutes a day for the last month and I’m already more than a quarter of the way through. And I’ll be speeding things up and finishing the rest next month (more details on that below).
Action Step: find yourself a timer if you don’t already have one (or use this timer here). Start writing and creating by the timer. Do it daily.
5. Give Yourself A Deadline
Pretty obvious, but deadlines are a way to motivate yourself to take action. If you know something is due by a certain date, you’ll get it done.
But just in case you’re not great at self-set deadlines (as so many writers are not), that’s where the other stuff on this list comes in.
Action Step: open your calendar right now and set a deadline for when you will finish your first draft. Then use the other action steps to get it done.
6. Create A Distractions Checklist
I created a distractions checklist as a way of helping me focus. Here’s what it consists of:
> 10 minutes to check Facebook and/or email (set a timer to keep it to exactly 10 minutes)
When timer goes off…
> Close browser completely
> Turn on writing playlist
> Flip phone face down on the desk so I can’t see the screen (put it on silent if it’s not already)
> Start writing (use timer—15-30 minutes)
Having this checklist allows me to wind down the things that distract me so I can focus completely on getting writing done.
Action step: create your own distractions checklist that you can use in your writing life.
7. Commit to 15 Minutes of Fitness A Day
This could be taking a walk, lifting weights, running on a treadmill—whatever feels fun for you. When you’re committing to finish something in 30 days, it’s important that you keep up your energy.
Getting in some daily movement, even for just 15 minutes, is enough to do that.
Action Step: choose a movement-based activity that you love and do it for 15 minutes. Repeat daily.
8. Fill Your Fridge with Snacks that Fuel You
Yeah, it’s fine to have some chocolate or other snacks to munch while you’re writing. But don’t overdo it. Otherwise you’ll just feel sluggish and uninspired.
If you’re finishing your novel in 30 days, there’s a good chance you’ll eat several meals in front of your laptop. So give yourself an energy boost and actually stock your fridge with some healthy stuff.
I like to stock up with chia pudding, homemade chocolate, popcorn, raw veggies with dip and things like that. (Although lately I’ve been trying not to eat high-carb stuff, so popcorn is out for me… except for when I go to the movies 😉 )
Action Step: make a list of foods to have on hand when you’re finishing your novel in a 30-day period.
9. Join the FINISH Your Damn Novel Workshop
Sorry—had to plug this one right here. Because this workshop will seriously change your life if you follow along and do the work.
The FINISH Your Damn Novel workshop will help you become a finisher, which is pretty much the most important thing you need to be. At least if you want to be a pro writer.
Pro writers finish what they start. And then they take the next step. And eventually they publish. Then they do it all over again.
Want to be a pro? Then it’s time to step into the big leagues and finish what you started.
Write with a purpose, live with intention,