The secret to writing 50,000 words in 30 days

Want to know how to write 50,000 words fast? Throw some of them away.

Wright_Whitcoulls3I’m not joking. The essence of writing 50,000 words in a month for National Novel Writing Month – or of writing 2000 words to a features editor deadline, or indeed of writing anything to time, is not getting stuck. And the biggest trap for writers – the biggest sink-hole for productivity – is when you end up wrestling with a recalcitrant passage. It just doesn’t flow right and nothing you do seems to unsnag it. But it’s a thousand words and that’s part of your word count.

My advice – throw the duff text away and start again. You won’t regret it. One of the biggest traps when re-casting is revising older text. It always frames and shapes what you are trying to do. Better to re-start with a blank page. An hour spent writing fresh can be way faster than two or three hours struggling with something that isn’t working – or which has led you into a dead end.

That doesn’t mean totally re-casting. Your book plan might require a scene of the kind you’re stuck on. But it does mean re-thinking the approach. Look back at your general writing plan – can the scene be re-cast to fit in any way? Brainstorm it; make notes, and get ready to re-launch.

One way to avoid getting immediately sucked into the old cycle of thought patterns the second time around is to wait until two or three days later before re-writing the problem passage. Of course you have to write other stuff, but that’s the strength of pre-planning and of word processors – back-filling is easy. And in the meanwhile, you’re still producing.

It’s a skill professional writers must have, because the returns on writing are never great. Time spent running in circles drops the return on time for the whole project. And yes, that’s a consideration when writing professionally. At this level, writing is a business like any other. One with a good deal of emotional investment – but it also has to be handled in a pretty hard-nosed way if you’re going to eat.

And National November Writing Month is a great place to practise it.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

11 thoughts on “The secret to writing 50,000 words in 30 days

  1. Very well put! I find my biggest fault as a writer and I’ve heard it echo’d by fellow writers and friends, is that I want to have it perfect when I write it the first time. This perfectionist attitude has more or less killed all of my larger-scale writing projects. Leaping into the abyss of edit-free writing is terrifying, but it’s what’s allowed me to have over 7000 words already on Day 3! Good luck this month, Matthew; I look forward to future updates!


    1. Thank you. The old adage that a ‘bad first draft’ is better than ‘no first draft’ holds true – and word processors make it so easy to revise anything. That’s an impressive output for 3 days – that’s absolutely up there at professional level. Good luck!


  2. Good advice. One very practical way of doing this that opens up whole new worlds of possibility is to rewrite a passage/scene/chapter from a different POV, or even with a different narrative voice. You may not end up using it, but it’s very effective at helping you re-imagine the piece.

    Of course, sometimes you have to chuck out the whole book and start over. Luckily one of the cheats for NaNoWriMo is to count deleted words as well. I’m told what counts is that you wrote them, not that they’re any good…


    1. I just envisaged a novel consisting of the word “the” repeated 50,000 times… Actually, I guess it would be possible to pre-write something and then paste it in by way of foiling the word-count system. But it isn’t the winning but the doing that counts.


      1. I know of people who were already writing before the official start of NaNo. I also know of people who’ve completed op to 150 000 words in just the thirty days. Don’t know how good it was, though. I’m trying to write something ultimately fit for publication, so no cheating for me (and maybe some minor editing along the way…)


  3. I trawl through many writing blogs but have never come across this amazing little nugget of advice. It seems so simple and readily applicable! Thank you.


  4. This is exactly why I decided to join NaNo this year. I am an obsessive revisionist. I like everything to be just right before I go on. With NaNo I have had to force myself to plow ahead with out fussing over every word. It’s hard to delete words with a daily word count over my head, but when I’m stuck with an awkward line or a dull scene, it often helps just to start it over again, fresh.


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