Writing and sweating through NaNoWriMo

It’s National November Writing Month – the month when writers around the world join in a quick-fire effort to complete a story of 50,000 words in just 30 days. I’m marking it this month by re-posting some of the material I’ve published in past years to help writers get to that goal.


As far as I can tell, NaNoWriMo’s all about two things: writing – and sweating. You can’t have one without the other, it seems.

Essential writing fuel!
Essential writing fuel!

Everybody writes differently, but it seems to me that one of the reasons why cranking out 50,000 words in 30 days is so sweat-worthy is because writers do tend to focus on the small stuff.

You know, making each sentence perfect before moving on to the next. Reviewing each paragraph before stepping ahead.

And sure, that works for some writers. But two things happen if you do that.

First off is that you’re not going to get the output-to-time that NaNo (and, for that matter, professional writing to deadlines, which is what I do) actually requires.

The second is that it’s a fast track to losing pace and perspective. One of the keys to good writing is that both have to be consistent.

What’s the answer? Well, there’s that old adage that a bad first draft is better than no first draft.

When I wrote my sci-fi novella ‘Missionary’, I put quite a bit of time and effort into the first half – which was pretty much the setup for the second half.

The second half? I blurted it in one turbocharged weekend that produced around 5000 words in a day-and-a-bit. At that pace I could do NaNo in a week. Of course it’s not sustainable – I couldn’t have done that without the weeks I put into the setup writing.

What it meant was that I had a rough first draft that was also fairly consistent for pace, approach and perspective – the key building blocks. It was straight-forward to then re-work some of the wording to smooth of the rough edges, because the foundation was right.

And that, my friends, is also a good way of working on NaNo – get the foundation right, and the rest follows. Of course what emerges is a rough draft, but that’s one of the aims of the NaNo exercise.

How’s that done? Check out some of my posts about ways to get that rough draft in the right form.

Click to buy
Click to buy

If you want some more writing tips and hints, and a method for pushing your book through, check out my short quick-start manual How to get writing… fast. Available on Kindle.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015 and 2018

8 thoughts on “Writing and sweating through NaNoWriMo

  1. I guess that is one of the good things about NaNo is that it can be the building blocks for your work.


  2. Break time again. Congratulations on the book and another informative post. I first saw advice similar to yours and it came from Ray Bradbury. He wrote a few books. 😉 Unfortunately, it’s taken me a long time to fully embrace the advice. No matter what I produce during NaNo this year I’ll forever remember 2015 as the year I became comfortable with speed and preparation (I wish I’d prepared more, actually). I’ve never had a story flow like this one and thus far I’ve produced more words and greater first draft quality in two days than I ever have before. My book is continually on my mind, which has led to unexpected insights. I dreamt about it last night…kept replaying the next scene as if fine-tuning it. I woke up, had breakfast, and shot through over 1,000 words. Thanks again and congratulations once more.


    1. Thanks – and ‘Missionary’ is quite important for me because it’s the first fiction I’ve written in a while (everybody’s keen on NF here in and NZ and that’s where the major market is, but ‘Missionary’ is being published internationally).

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks – I’m not actually doing NaNo. No time, I have too many writing projects in hand, including an NF book which is contracted plus several projects I am pushing to publishers. But I’m keen to help enthuse people for NaNo if I can, it’s a great exercise.

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.