How to write 50,000 words in a month

Pushing 50,000 words through in a month ain’t easy, even for experienced writers.

One of my bookshelves...
One of my bookshelves…

But that’s the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, held every November. The word national, I suspect, is a misnomer – it’s a world event.

The thing is that professionals get hit by that sort of pressure anyway. Editors define the scale of work by word count, and authors have to meet it (a) in stupidly short time-frames, (b) without compromising structure and quality.

My method involves project management – which I’ve discussed before but it’s worth describing again.

  1. Deconstruction. Break the work into process. For me that involves multiple steps, including (a) planning, (b) initial drafting, (c) structural editing, (d) style editing, and (e) finalising. More on that soon. If the book has photos, as non-fiction usually does, tasks also include selection, ordering, rights confirmation, and organising so the publisher can make sense of where they go in the text. Non-fiction also demands a tremendous amount of research which, itself, has to be broken down into sequence. Having a plan for content produces research efficiencies, because you don’t end up researching dead ends.
  2. Identify dependencies. Which part of the process comes first? If I am doing a structural revision, there’s no point putting time into polishing the style just yet – I might throw the text away and write something else.
  3. Make a timeline, reflecting those dependencies and noting time-critical points. Technically this is a Gant chart. I do this with pen and paper, it doesn’t need fancy software (it takes me longer to wrestle with software than it does to draw something only I have to read).
  4. Populate the time-line. Check it – if necessary revise.
  5. Do the work. This is like saying ‘now go build the Eiffel tower’, but you know what I mean… 🙂

And sure, writing’s meant to be fun – and the other half of the trick is not to let that kill the enjoyment of writing – the pleasure of the creative process. I don’t see that as either-or; it’s part of the deal too.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


11 thoughts on “How to write 50,000 words in a month

  1. Arghh 50000 words- terrifying! I always make the excuse “I’m not doing Nanowrimo because I write a lot anyway”, but the truth is I just don’t see myself getting that many words done in a month! Great tips though 🙂

    1. It’s hard even for career writers to push out that many words in a month. Possible, but very challenging. I can think of a couple of very prolific SF authors who do, but I wouldn’t say their material is exactly high-quality, and a lot of it to my mind counts as filler.

    2. Please don’t let that put you off. I have never reached anywhere near 50,000 words in the three years I have been doing NaNo but I always find the experience very rewarding and productive.

      1. You’re totally right, thank you 🙂 I think I could use the motivation this year, cos I’m being much slower than usual with my writing, so I’m looking forward to NaNo as a kick up the backside :p

        1. And, as I understand it, hawking tickets early on… (when my wife and I were there we declined to join the queue, which apparently hadn’t much reduced since 1889 – we had a LOT to see and the Effel Tower was but one of the things on The List).

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