Why Writing 50K in 30 Days Feels Hard, and How to Do It Anyway

Get out of your head and back into the story.

Image by Aleutie / Shutterstock

If you’re a novelist, you have likely heard of NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. Held every November, this is when writers all around the world buckle down with a challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, you can read about it here:

The benefits of NaNoWriMo is that it forces writers to get out of their own heads and just put pen to paper (or more realistically, fingers to keys), slamming out a story without thinking too hard about it. However, that’s also one of the biggest challenges — getting out of your own way and writing the damn story. But that’s only one of the challenges. Here are a few more I’ve experienced on my way to 50K, and how I’ve overcome them:

Falling Behind

The easiest way to plan on writing 50K in 30 days is to break it up by the day. 1,667 words per day, to be exact. If you keep to that number every day, you’ll definitely reach 50K by November 30. If you skip a day or don’t reach your daily goal, that daily number increases. Skip more than one day, and that bite-sized chunk of words becomes a mouthful.

But let’s be honest — life happens. There are going to be days when writing isn’t possible for a variety of reasons — not enough time, inspiration, or energy, just to name a few. It’s easy to plan for 1,667 words a day on November 1. But after two weeks of this, it can feel really hard to keep the momentum.

If you’ve fallen behind in your word count, there is still time to make it up — but it’s going to take some work on your part. One way is to recalculate the words you have to write each day by taking the number of words left to reach 50K, divided by the number of days left in the month. Then commit to writing that amount of words a day. Another way is to use your days off to cram in more words than usual and pad your word count.

Treating the Story Like It’s the Final Draft

No one writes 50,000 brilliant words in 30 days. You might have some brilliant moments, but mostly, a rapidly written story creates a rough foundation of what it’s supposed to be. Of course, this is when you’ll meet your inner editor, a strict and unforgiving part of yourself who will continuously point out the scenes that are implausible, the dialogue that comes off as stiff, or the character trait that contradicts who they were in the first chapter. Your inner editor will encourage you to go back through your story and edit the things you messed up, completely rewrite one of the chapters, or give up because your writing is crap.

Tell your inner editor to shove it.

This is not the time for editing, and it’s not the time for perfection. This is the time to get the story down as fast as possible, and worry about any and all changes after November 30. If you discover a flaw in the story while you’re writing, make note of it within the story, and then move on as if the flaw has been fixed. If the scene you’re writing feels difficult to write, thus slowing you down, make notes on what’s supposed to happen in that scene, and then move on to the next scene as if it’s already written. And whatever you do, never, ever look back over past days’ writing. That’s exactly what your inner editor wants you to do, and is a surefire way to stop your forward progress.

You’ve Lost Control of the Story

On Day 1, all your characters are falling in line and doing what they’re told. They say witty things, have interesting lives, and are really fun to hang out with. By Day 15, they’ve gone rogue. One of them is sitting in the corner talking to themselves. Another is starting a fight for no reason at all. And another is bent on causing as much chaos as possible. Meanwhile, you’re trying to corral them all in and realize you’ve completely lost control of the story and have no idea what is happening.

It’s going to be okay.

If your story has taken an unplanned off-ramp on the story journey, the first thing you need to do is regroup. This doesn’t mean to force the story back onto your planned route. What it means is to pull over to the side of the road and re-route. What I do when this happens is to take a day off from writing the story and use my writing session to create notes instead (and yes, these words count toward your daily allotment, so go wild). I write about what’s happening now, and the possible roads where this is heading. I create bios about each character, including facts about them that won’t necessarily end up in the story, but give me a better idea of who they are. Most of all, I ask the characters what they’re trying to say. I partner with them so that when I get back to writing the story, we’re working together instead of playing tug-of-war with the plot.

You’re Afraid to Take Risks

Of course you want the story to be perfect. You want your character likable, pleasant things to happen, and everything to come together like a perfectly wrapped present.

Boring. And uninspiring. No wonder you’re having trouble writing it.

Avoiding risk in your story goes hand in hand with trying to write a final draft. But all you’re doing is writing yourself into a very neat and tidy hole. Break out of your perfect writing rut by giving your main character a bad habit, or throwing an unusual curve ball at them, or just making your characters uncomfortable. Experiment with different scenarios, and watch your characters try to make things right. Add a secret passageway in their family home. Let them discover their best friend’s secret identity. Put their life in peril. Kill a character. Bring in a few ninjas. Put a few skeletons in the closet.

Take risks, and you’ll never grow bored of writing the story. After November, you can edit the things that didn’t work. But for now, go crazy with the story.

Write On

Whether you’re writing 50K in 30 days during NaNoWriMo, or just stuck on the story you’re writing any time of the year, I hope these tips help you reach the finish line of your novel’s rough draft. Good luck, and happy writing!

P.S. If you need more inspiration, these stories might help:

I’m all over the place, but I try to be honest in all of it. Find my books and musings at crissilangwell.com.

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