Writing a full-length manuscript of any genre should be thought of as a marathon, and not a sprint. Writing a truly great work is not a race.
With that said, writers around the globe are attacking NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - with the mindset of running a race. Writing 50,000 words in just 30 days or less.
In over a decade of professional journalism and publishing experience, I’ve found that one of the biggest problems that most writers face is actually just sitting down and writing.
If you can get yourself in the practice of writing sprints, and “hack into” some of the methods I’ve listed below, you can crush NaNoWriMo - and meet your 50k goal way ahead of schedule.
The biggest thing is just putting yourself into a state of hyperfocus on the task of just writing.
Write, WRITE, WRITE! Rest…
If you can think of your writing sessions like a runner thinks about running sprints, you can cover more ground and use less time. Writing 3,000 - 5,000 words at a time is a great target.
If you can write in these blocks, resting for a day or two between three days of writing, you could be looking at 10-17 days of actual writing to hit your 50k mark.
A lot of people think that a necessary prerequisite for this is that you have a clear idea of who your characters are already, or that you've developed your world a fair deal to be able to do this. As a disclaimer, it does make it much easier if you know who your characters are and what you want their journey to look like. However, this is not a requirement. In fact, letting your characters come to life on the page and screen is a powerful way to write, if you can release the intuitive, spontaneous, and improvisational part of your mind, and not over-analyze the details just yet.
Which brings me to the next very crucial point...
No Editing or Second Guessing
This is absolutely huge.
Do not edit or second guess.
If you write a few paragraphs, and think, "No, that sounds stupid!" Keep writing.
In fact, re-write in the same page if you must, because you might come back later and think, "No wait... the original part made sense."
Something I've learned as a professional designer is to constantly duplicate and make copies of what you're working on. If you imagine a different way for a chapter or scene to play out, or you want a different ending, duplicate, don't delete and start over just yet.
It's important that you keep the stream of consciousness moving if you're going to reach your goal of 50k words by the end of the month.
Hold the Exposition… seriously
“What? But that’s my favorite part!” Yea, I know. And you need to hold on to it for now.
It’s like every lit class you’ve ever taken (or never taken) says: show don’t tell.
No matter how hard it is to resist, don’t tell too much. Show us through the actions, words, and internal dialogue of the characters.
Jump right into the story. Keep the exposition in the back of your mind to explain as the story plays out. Show the story piece by piece through the little things the characters do, say, and think.
Brevity is the Soul of Wit… and Crushing NaNoWriMo
This may seem counterintuitive. After all, you're trying to write 50,000 words in only a month!
But wait - this is actually huge.
What I've found is that writers tend to overthink things when they attempt to over-explain and include burdensome amounts of detail.
You can actually kill your story with too much detail.
If you know that you want to reach your beginning, middle, and end in just a month, and in 50k words, you may find that you're still stuck in the exposition at only 20,000 words if you include too much detail (another reason to hold the exposition - it can get us hung up too easily).
Instead - include only the necessary details that serve the story, its characters, and the world you're trying to get the reader to see.
Why is Alarian's dagger made of iron? Why is the hilt black? Why is the dagger curved? Why is there a crack in the stones beneath him? How many of these details matter to the story, the world, and its characters?
This might seem ironic, but your goal is not actually to write more words.
Your goal is to tell a complete story in as few words as possible.
This might seem ironic, but your goal is not actually to write more words. Your goal is to tell a complete story in as few words as possible.
If you focus on your story - and letting your characters live and tell that story through their natural progression - you may find that you’ve completed and surpassed your 50,000 word mark way ahead of schedule.