NaNoWriMo Prep: How Do You Write More in Less Time?

| Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing |


I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times, but this’ll be the first year in a while that I have a full-length novel project that’s ready to get rolling on Day 1 (I’ve done novellas the last couple of years, but I’m ready to break ground on a new book in my Emperor’s Edge world), so I’m excited to participate. I’m planning to do some giveaways (Amazon gift certificates and maybe some copies of Scrivener) for folks who keep up with their word count, so make sure and stop by here for details next week.

If you’ve tried NaNoWriMo before and haven’t finished those pesky 50,000 words in the month allotted, perhaps you’d like some tips on how to get more written in less time. I always feel like a bit of hypocrite when it comes to productivity tips, since I a) don’t write 10,000 words a day like some authors and b) am the master at dinking around on Twitter, Facebook, and, ahem, “researching” on the internet during writing time. But, hey, I have published ten novels and however many short stories and novellas in the last three years, so that ought to count for something.

So, without further waffling, here are my tips for finishing those 50,000 words in one month:

1. Plan out the scene before you sit down to type

Some people outline and some people pants (that being short for writing by the seat of one’s pants). There’s no right way (though I got a lot more efficient when I started doing at least a rough outline before getting started — at the least, things get easier if you have the ending scene in your mind before you start… know the end, and you can find a way there), but what I do know is that you’ll be a lot more efficient if you know how the scene you’re going to write today goes before you sit down to type.

Showers, dog walks, mindless commutes, treadmill time at the gym… these are all good places for planning that next scene. You’re going to be doing at least one of those things every day anyway (I hope that shower thing is a gimmee, anyway), so make use of the time. When you know what happens next for your characters, you’ll find yourself zipping through the words.

2. Turn off your internal editor

With NaNoWriMo and the first draft, it’s about getting the story down, not about making it pretty or wondering what your critique group will think. Don’t worry about changing every instance of “was” to a more engaging verb. Don’t worry about describing settings and characters in clever and evocative ways. Don’t worry about being clear and concise. Get the story, dialogue, and action down. You can edit and fill in the details later. If you believe Dean Wesley Smith, writing fast and not doing much editing might be the best thing for your story.

3. Research later (or before you start)

If you’re writing historical fiction or something that requires a lot of research, I recommend getting the bulk of it done before NaNoWriMo starts. For the little questions that inevitably come up as you write, you can throw a **LOOKUP LATER** note into the text and leave it for later. Most of those minor details can be researched and double-checked once the first draft is done. I’ll even put something like PLACEHOLDER1 in for a name I can’t remember, rather than taking time away from writing hour to look up a minor character from two books back.

4. Use timers for spurts of focused writing

Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s true, true, true for me. On those rare days with nothing scheduled where I have from dawn to dusk midnight to get in my 3,000 words (or whatever the daily goal is), it’s not uncommon for me to be in bed with my laptop at 10pm, trying to get the last 500 in.

I’m often most efficient (and sometimes most prolific) on busy days where it’s tough to find time at the computer. If I know I only have a half hour here and twenty minutes there, I’m less likely to waste what time I do have.

Whether you’re busy or not, you can use a timer to create a sense of urgency and force yourself to focus for X amount of time. If I set a timer for 30 minutes and order myself not to screw around online, just to write, I can be impressively efficient (at least by my standards). Sometimes it’ll almost be a race. How many words can I knock out before the timer goes off?

You don’t need a special app for this. Just Google, “set timer 30 min” or whatever your chosen time is, and your web browser will start counting down. If you’ve planned your scene ahead of time and know what needs to be written, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get during that little spurt.

ย 5. Get ahead at the beginning

Early in the month, you’re enthused about the new project, and the words fly from your fingertips. If you hit your 1,667 words on Day 1 and still have time to write, do it. Try for 2,000 or 2,500. Try for another 2,000 on the next day and maybe 3,000 on each day of that first weekend day.

As the month wears on, there will inevitably be busy days when you can’t find time to write, and in the U.S., you’ll have the craziness of Thanksgiving weekend. It’s hard to sneak away and write when there are relatives flooding the house.

You may also struggle to keep the words flowing as you get deeper into the story as well. If you’re like many people, you’ll find those first few chapters easiest, because you’ve been thinking about them for a while. The middle can be a slog for all of us, that time when the end isn’t yet in site and we’re starting to hate the novel and have this-totally-sucks thoughts (Yes, it happens to all of us!). If you got ahead early on, you’ll have some leeway during the more challenging second half of the month.

All right, those are my not-so-concise tips. If you have any to add, feel free to post them in the comments.

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Comments (16)

Very useful tips, Lindsay! My two previous NaNo’s were pantsed, but since then, I’ve gone over to the Outlining side of Writing and have found that sketching a scene out before hand–just a quick little list even–is a huge help. Writing with a timer always seems to help me. Doctor Wicked’s “Write or Die” gives you several ways to use time pressure, but even an egg timer can work wonders.

I find a simple spreadsheet for logging my words to be key, too–I can track where I’m at word wise versus where the average could be, what the total is, etc.

Finally, having as much fun as possible–always a good idea when writing, but doubly so when riding the NaNoWriMo tiger ๐Ÿ™‚

Love tip #3! I put in $$$ whenever I need to leave a name blank, can’t think of the right word to use, can’t hit the right phrase, or don’t have a critical fact at my fingertips. When I finish the first draft, I search on $$$ and start taking care of them. It’s amazing how fast I can knock them down at that point. If I stop while writing (which I sometimes do), each problem child can easily take 15 minutes. I’d rather be getting fresh words on the page.

Absolutely! It’s a great way to help keep up the pace. And you’re right that it’s amazing how fast you can fill them in when you come back to them later.

[…] Buroker: NaNoWriMo Prep: How Do You Write More in Less Time? “If youโ€™ve tried NaNoWriMo before and havenโ€™t finished those pesky 50,000 words in the […]

[…] Buroker gives some handy tips on writing more during National Novel Writing […]

This year will be my first NaNoWriMo and I’m really excited about it. These tips will be a huge help, and tip 5 really hit home! The short novelette I’m writing now is almost at the end and every time I start to write on it and can’t think of what to say I get to thinking “this story sucks” and then I go back a read a few paragraphs and think “wait, no it doesn’t” lol. I didn’t know how common that was xD
I’m really trying to trudge through this last chapter now so that November can be completely focused on this new book that I’ve already got completely outlined with certain key moments already written (is that cheating? lol). Wish me luck!

[…] NaNoWriMo Prep: How Do You Write More in Less Time? NaNoWriMo Success Tips […]

I’m gearing up for my nano project – had an idea kicking around for months and suddenly this week I also have a companion novel plotted? – and I’ll throw in two things.

1) If you are on the twitter, follow @NaNoWordSprints – knowing that a dozen other writers are putting down as many words as possible in the next 10 minutes does wonders for my productivity.

2) Because kittens.

Thanks for sharing! My biggest downfall is the editing. My inner editor is obsessive, but NaNoWriMo back in 2008 was the first time I came near to completing a project, so it works. I actually reached those 50,000 words, but it was only the beginning. ๐Ÿ™‚

[…] NaNoWriMo Prep: How Do You Write More in Less Time? | Lindsay Buroker […]

Dear Lindsay I started out a day behind and I am over two days to the good. New word count 16838 and adding.

Dear Lindsay today 11/11/13 I find myself just a tick over half way 25141. When I started this project I thought that being a day behind at the start would make this hard but the story has just taken over and the words just keep coming. My villain had been quit for a while but he has now come back out and is acting up. Thank you for leading me to this project. Jim

Sounds like you’re rocking it, Jim! You’ll finish in no time. ๐Ÿ™‚

I have to stay ahead this story may have more than 50,000 words in it.

Do you have any recommendations for editing Thank you for your help.

Hi Jim,

Recommendations for editing more quickly, hiring an editor, or just editing your own work in general? ๐Ÿ˜€ I usually go over my stuff once after the rough draft (I don’t edit until I’ve done that draft), then send it to beta readers, so they can give me some feedback on what’s working and what isn’t, and then I do another pass, incorporating their suggestions (if I agree with them). I don’t waste a lot of time polishing until I’m 100% solid that the story is how I want it and won’t change.

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