10 top tips for writing a novel in a month

 Illustration of Female Author Character with Huge Feather Pen Writing

Follow these top tips to get cracking on the book you've always wanted to write - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Hertfordshire Life's Sarah Rodi's first novel has just been published. She describes her journey from notebook to bookshelf, and offers 10 tips for writing success in National Novel Writing Month.

Sarah Rodi is busy. Not only print editor for this magazine but also three sister tiles in Kent, Suffolk and Essex, she's the one who makes sure the magazines are polished and correct. She's also mother to very active daughters Mya, 11, and Ayda, nine, and  there's the family dog, Elliot, to walk too. So just how did she find time to write her first novel, The Viking's Stolen Princess, published by Mills & Boon this month?

'Whatever else is going on, I've always made time to write romance.' Sarah explains. 'Any spare minutes I get in the evening, or while waiting to pick the girls up from one of their clubs, I jot things down. It helped, too, that I've long had a writing goal that's very specific. I've loved Mills & Boon novels ever since my teens, having been introduced to them by my nan. But I guess I was a romantic way before that - I think it all began with watching swashbuckling 1950s movies with my granddad on rainy Sunday afternoons: The Crimson Pirate, Rose Marie, The Desert Song... I loved the escape that they offered. It's the same with a Mills & Boon series romance - you can lose yourself in them completely for a few hours. Reading them is to step away from the everyday, and, though every one is different, I like knowing that, in a world of chaos, you're always going to get a happy ending. It's because I'm such a fan that I've always dreamed of having a title of my own published by them one day. It's taken me years of working towards that goal - but I've got there!'

Young woman works at the laptop surrounded with books.

Join writing groups, do research and enjoy the journey - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sarah wrote everything from poetry to reviews while at Cardiff University, and her writing ambitions shifted up a gear in her early 20s when she embarked on a career in magazines. She believes joining the Romantic Novelists Association however set her on the right track to publication: 'They have a really thorough, helpful new writers' scheme, where you can submit your manuscript and get feedback from an experienced writer, including authors at Mills & Boon, plus they offer all sorts of writing courses and an invaluable annual conference. With each course I went on, and each conference I attended – where each year I pitched to editors at Mills & Boon - I felt I was getting one step closer to reaching my goal.'

Last year, during lockdown, Sarah landed on an idea for a historical love story set among England's Viking tribes of the ninth century. 'I've always been interested in history, and my editing work on the county life titles has certainly fuelled my interest in the subject, plus the beautiful scenery and histories of these counties have influenced my fictional settings.'

Sarah submitted three chapters at the start of this year, and went on to finish the book during a month of furlough. 'I got the call in spring offering me a two-book publishing deal. It was the most incredible news and I burst into tears. I couldn't believe my dream was actually coming true after so many years of hard work!' 

Keep a notebook to hand and use spare moments to focus on character, dialogue and plot ideas 

Keep a notebook to hand and use spare moments to focus on character, dialogue and plot ideas - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Those who have never have opened a Mills & Boon - or perhaps haven't done so for a while - may be surprised at the contents. Sarah’s book has been described as a 'high stakes, high emotion and high sensuality debut'. 

'I enjoy writing those sensual scenes - I just let my imagination run wild,' says Sarah. 'My husband, Chris, who's yet to read the books, says if he gets any comments on the sex scenes he'll just tell people they were very well researched!'

She readily admits it was a challenge to get everything to a stage where she was happy to see the book go to press: 'Nearly every author will tell you you're never totally satisfied - that's another reason it's great to work with an editor you trust - you have them to tell you that the book is ready. Now, I'll just have to wait and see what the readers think of it.'

So with her first book published, and a second title due out at the start of next year, does she feel her ambition is fulfilled? 'Not at all - my aim to keep on writing for Mills & Boon for as long as I can. Their titles have given me so much pleasure over the years, and it's great to think that something I've written could now be the source of similar pleasure for other readers.'

The Viking's Stolen Princess by Sarah Rodi is out on November 17.
National Novel Writing Month free resources are at nanowrimo.org

Hertfordshire Life print editor Sarah Rodi with her debut novel The Viking's Stolen Princess

Hertfordshire Life print editor Sarah Rodi with her debut novel - Credit: Sarah Rodi

Sarah's top 10 tips for writing a novel in a month
The goal behind National Novel Writing Month might sound like an impossible ask - to write 50,000 words of a novel during the 30 days of November - but Sarah Rodi begs to differ, she completed her manuscript for The Viking's Stolen Princess in less than four weeks. Here, she shares her top tips for getting the literary job done.

1. Dream big
I've always wanted to write romance novels, for as long as I can remember. And I never lost sight of that goal – throughout university; my twenties in London as I worked my way up on women’s magazines, and then into my 30s when children came along. Never lose sight of your goal, whether it's to rise to the challenge of writing a novel in a month or - as was the case for me - to have a novel published by Mills & Boon. 

2. Make your time count
I always think back to Hugh Grant in About A Boy and how he broke down his day into units of time. He had the opposite problem to me though – he had too much time on his hands. I often wondered how I was ever going to find the time to write my novel. I finally decided to stop making excuses and make every moment count. Always have a notebook and pen to hand so you can jot ideas down as they come to you - even at night. Write notes while you're sat in the car waiting for your children to finish their dance class, or during your lunch break. Use that half-hour at the park or washing-up to think about dialogue or plot structure. If you want it badly enough, you’ll make the time. 

3. Fill the blank page 
Challenge yourself to write a set number of words a day. I aim for 2,500 words a day. Once you've got something on the page, in many ways you’re halfway there. It means you've got something to work on, to rewrite if necessary, which is far easier than starting from scratch.

4. Write what you love
They maxim 'write what you love', I believe that to be crucial. I read all kinds of articles and books for work, but my passion has always been romance. And I’ve always loved history. So I combined the two. Research and read books in the genre you’re aiming for. 

5. Try different angles
Despite tip 4, it’s ok to try new things and approaches - I'd written modern romance before I realised historical romance was where my true passion lay, so don't be afraid to play with a variety of settings. Publishers accept un-agented submissions, which allows you to try submitting to various storylines.

6 Take inspiration from your surroundings
Let your surroundings and day-to-day life inspire you. We all know the value of going for a head-clearing walk, but you can derive so much inspiration from people around you and from locations. My novel is set among England's 9th-century Viking tribes on the East coast of England, and much of my initial inspiration came from articles I'd encountered for Kent Life. Hearing about the Viking raids in Sheppey and Thanet, for instance, and looking at the Viking replica longboat at Ramsgate helped me to flesh out my ideas of how the Vikings might have lived and loved.

7 Get support
Join a local writing group - there are many in Herts, such as Verulam Writers, Hertford Writers Circle, Tring Writers’ Circle, Stevenage Writers, Watford Writers, Harpenden Writers and The Society of Author's Hertfordshire Writers Group. Writing can be lonely, and a group is a great way to get unbiased feedback and to bounce ideas off one another. I'm a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and have found them invaluable. I’ve also been on creative writing courses, such as Fishguard, hosted by some of my favourite authors. Getting your manuscript in front of others and receiving a critique is so useful. 

8 Love your characters
It was only when I began to treat my characters as real people, not being embarrassed to talk about them, their hopes and dreams, that I felt my writing really started to take shape. Dig deep and get into your characters' heads and imagine how they're feeling and how they'd behave. When you do this, the dialogue starts to flow and the story begins to write itself.

9 Enjoy the journey
It’s not always about the end goal of having that book in your hand, it’s about the pleasure you gained getting there - the adventure you went on with your characters and the lessons you learned along the way. Chances are, if you enjoyed writing it, people will enjoy reading it.

10 Don't give up
OK, although I wrote my book ok in a month while on furlough, it had been years in the planning. But I do know it's possible to get the words down on the page in a relatively short space of time. The road to publication is tough, and you have to keep persevering despite rejections. Take heart that every ‘no’ comes with useful feedback, helping you become a better writer and bringing you one step closer to achieving your goal.