NaNoWriMo: How I Wrote 52,000 Words in 30 Days

Writing a book is hard, and it takes a long time. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom tells us. I wrote the first 52,000 words of The Prophets of Camlaan in the 30 days of NaNoWriMo 2018. And once the words and story started flowing, it didn’t feel so hard.

“Insane” Pace

Every November is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as “NaNoWriMo.”

During NaNoWriMo, intrepid writers all over the world challenge themselves to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. This is about 1,667 words per day… And many people don’t “win” NaNo, which means reaching and validating the word count.

I’ve wanted to participate in NaNo my entire writing life, but never thought I could do it. There were always too many things going on, I didn’t have a good idea for a book, blah, blah, blah. I had excuses up the wazoo and yet the idea to complete NaNo never really left my mind.

In late July 2018, I decided to do 12 months of 30-day challenges. Before I even began my first challenge, I knew my November challenge would involve NaNoWriMo.

1,667 words is a lot of words per day.

To a lot of people, including my chiropractor, it’s an insane pace.

And for me, who wrote 1,000-word Fanfiction chapters every week during high school and college, 300 words a day felt monumental.

So how could I possibly get to 1,667 words per day?

Baby Steps

I didn’t dive into NaNoWriMo on November 1st without a plan, nor without any preparation and practice. I spent August’s 30-day challenge writing 1,000 words a day, which got me ahead enough on blog content that I didn’t have to worry about writing for the blog during November.

I also planned out my story. What was I going to do for a 50,000-word novel? I don’t remember how I came up with the idea, but eventually I decided to mash together the two books I wrote in junior high and high school.

That way, I wasn’t starting from scratch. I had the characters in my head; I knew their names, what they looked like, and how they acted. I knew their motivations and dreams, their hopes, fears, and desires.

And then I surprised myself in the course of writing the book by becoming more attached to the main character’s brother than to the main character herself.

A lot of the time in my writing, I go where the characters take me—I don’t try to force them into situations I can’t get them out of.

Go With the Flow

Writing 50,000 words is nothing to sneeze at. And, like many people during NaNoWriMo, there were days I fell behind… Days I had to make up the difference.

It helped that I use a program called Cold Turkey Writer that eliminates access to anything else on the computer until you meet a word count. Even better? The program stays active even through computer hibernation.

So there were many days when I set a word count goal around 2,000 or 3,000 (I think a few days I needed 5,000 words) and wrote until I either needed to go to bed or go to work. When I got back to the computer, I couldn’t do anything else except finish writing.

I’d have to give major credit to Cold Turkey Writer for those days when I needed to catch up a lot on word count.

December 1st

On December 1st, NaNoWriMo participants validate their word counts to prove that they’ve “won” NaNo. When I validated, I knew I had a ways to go, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next.

So I worked it into my 2019 goals to publish the book by November 1st, 2019… The start of the next NaNoWriMo.

Beyond NaNoWriMo

After NaNo ’18, I let the manuscript sit for a month. I started “self-editing” in January, but quickly realized that I needed more scenes, had to flesh characters out, and still needed to actually write the climax and dénouement.

There were times I wrestled with myself to continue working on it. The next November was still months away, giving me plenty of time to work on it… Until those months started to slip past pretty quickly.

If I wanted to reach my goal (or even get close to it) I had to do something, and I had to do it fast.

So I used June in three different ways.

  1. I stayed off all social media.
  2. Every day, no matter how small, I did some kind of exercise.
  3. I finished writing the book.

Staying off social media gave me time, exercising every day helped with my creativity, and the natural thing to do was finish the book.

I wrote 52,000 words in 30 days, but the last 53,000 words took another six months. That’s the power of a challenge like NaNoWriMo, especially for those of us with stories already in mind and characters we love.

I’m still in the thick of this journey, and it’s more satisfying than I could’ve imagined as a kid.


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