Is it possible to craft a great novel in just 30 days?
But you can do something better: You can craft a reasonably unhorrible first draft of a novel in 30 days.
Here's why that trumps greatness every time:
1) When you embrace the fact that your first draft is going to be flawed, you free yourself from the impossibly high expectations that can make creative projects so miserable. Aiming for completion rather than perfection takes the pressure off, and the ensuing feelings of joy and discovery come through in your prose. As Chuck Wendig has pointed out, the less you worry about the outcome of a writing project, the better it often turns out.
This also helps explain Rainbow Rowell's discovery that, when you write for quantity instead of quality, you can end up getting both.
2) Using a warts-and-all, don't-look-back approach gives you a huge amount of writerly momentum. Novels get derailed by so many things: Work, family, self-doubt, a new season of Game of Thrones, a small turtle crossing the road, etc. Which is why having lots of creative momentum is essential to getting your book finished. The nice thing about bashing out a beautifully flawed first draft is that you are flying, and the hurdles that would normally have knocked you for a loop barely register as speed bumps. Sure, the sentences aren't pretty, but you're focusing on the more important task of getting a beginning, middle, and end down on paper. Which brings me to...
3) Tolerating inconsistent, awkward, derivative, and generally un-great prose in your first draft will save you months of work in the long run. We often don't discover what (or who) our books are really about until we've written through to the end of them. The first order of business in a second draft is often cutting or changing large swaths of the manuscript so everything lines up with the new story, tone, or cast of characters. If you try to make every paragraph beautiful right out of the gate, you'll spend countless hours perfecting prose that will only need to be rewritten or cut. A reasonably unhorrible first draft lets you hold off on the fine-tuning and put those priceless revision hours in the stuff readers are more likely to see.
To me, that's pretty great.
Happy writing, everyone!
Chris Baty is the author of No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.