Kurt Vonnegut said that each chapter in Cat's Cradle was meant as a joke, told in three or so pages, and, perhaps the most surprising of all, pushing forward the plot, like a strong man rolling a heavy rock slowly, but consistently.
This is, like everything Vonnegut did, a lot harder than it sounds. I would argue that he wasn't much of a novel writer, because I believe that "novel" generally represents a set of rules used in writing a long work of fiction, and Vonnegut was sure not a man for rules, but there is no sense in arguing in such a one-sided fashion, so I'll leave it as such.
When I tried to write a novel in a month, starting about eight weeks ago now, it was the problem of plot progression that really bore its evil head over my writer's dreams. What my book basically amounted to was about fifty small monologues from various characters like puzzle pieces, hopefully making a plot when being joined. Ultimately, however, I feel the pieces were too jagged and possibly slightly mismatched, and any attempt at actually aiming constructing a plot description falls way short of the idea I was trying to reach, the sketch I had wanted to create.
As a writer, this is discouraging, but it was still something nearly three times as long as anything I'd written before, and I feel that there is some coherence in it; it is something that I am proud of. Christopher Moore wrote once that "perhaps those of you who are aspiring writer's will get some encouragement out of the fact that you can get better" after talking about his own increasing abilities, and I like to think that way about it.
It definitely affects the way I feel as of late, because I really do think that my fiction is reaching places that I've never gotten to before, that I've never even come close to, and with each new story, novel, author, you read, there's the one element, the one trait, that you find yourself inserting into something you write before all that long.
The way I feel about it right now, as a very inexperienced person on the topic, the perfect way to write novels is 11 months on one book and a month on the next, in repetition. There are ideas that gather in the mind, there are tiny pieces of dust that become huge clouds, and plenty of things can snowball, but urgency is a part of the craft, I'd say, and every now and then setting time limits, especially absurd time limits!, has a way of bringing out a slightly different writer in me.
That's the way I'd like it to go anyway. Very rarely do these things go truly according to plan.