30k in 30 Days: A Writing Guide

As I type this, it’s been over a month since the end of April, the month I undertook my plan to write 30,000 words of a story in 30 days. And since I successfully completed that daunting task, I’ve wanted to write something about how I managed it. Stuff about the planning and prep stages, how I paced myself, how I kept track of my word count, that kind of thing. You might find it an interesting source of info, and some of my silly advice might even prove useful to you if you’re planning to start an intensive writing project of your own. So let’s begin!

Before the Writing: Prep Phase

Your very first step on a journey like this is to clearly define your goal. The exact number is up to you, and you’re the best person to determine it. Do you want something comfortable, something that’s a slight challenge, or do you want to push against the limits of your comfort zone? It’s up to you. For April, I knew that I wanted to exercise my writing muscles but not try for a huge amount of words, since I have to balance my writing with my job. I settled on 30,000 because it was a good platform which I could springboard from to reach higher goals. If I could hit 30k, I could work up to 35k or 40k next time. I also picked this goal because it meant I would only have to write 1000 words per day, a reasonable task in my mind.

Some people like to meticulously plan out their stories before they write. Other people just like to wing it and see what happens. I tend towards the former track. So if you’re also a planner like me, then you will want to get as much of your story mapped out as possible before you begin the first draft. I decided to be more safe than sorry and used the whole month of March to plan the outline and scene list for my project. Planning is essential when I write: while I don’t need to know every single beat of the story before I begin, I do need to know most of the beats. If I know what I’m doing when I start a first draft, I’m way more confident in my work.

During the Writing: How to Track, Pace and Not Burn Out

Alright, we’re through with the planning phase, now it’s on to the fun part! Imagine it’s the first day of the month, and you’re sitting in front of a blank word document. Where do you begin and how?

You don’t need to come up with a brilliant opening line right now, nor do you need to be crafting genius prose in your first draft. All you need is to put down words. If you try to edit as you go, you will burn out quickly. Writers talk a lot about how it’s okay for the first draft of a book to be clumsy or muddled or just plain bad, because the first draft is the framework that you build on and refine through the revision process. However, I think writers should still treat their first drafts with some degree of seriousness and reverence. In NaNoWriMo, you are technically allowed to pad your word count in any way you can think of. Tangents, repetition, straight-up gibberish. Here is my only command for you: DO NOT DO THIS. YOU WILL REGRET IT. You will end up with a jumbled mess of words and have difficulty sorting through the muck to find what’s actually part of your story. You’ll lose focus, you’ll get demoralized, you’ll far apart. I speak from experience here. So for your own sake, I would recommend making sure that everything you put down for your daily word count is part of your first draft in some way.

The next question is, how do you keep track of your daily word count? It can be difficult, especially if you’re using only one document for your whole draft. There are some pieces of writing software out there which allow you to track your word count for, say, a single session. Instead, I used a method that was probably more complicated but allowed me to cut back on number-crunching in the long run. Basically, I created a document for each day that I wrote. I gathered them together in a folder and gave them names like “April 1 writing,” “April 2 writing” and so on, all the way through to the end of the month. I could see how much daily progress I had made just by looking at the word count of that day’s file. And when I was done for the day, I added my work to a master document which I used to keep track of my overall word count. Overly complicated? Probably. Effective for me? Yes.

And now comes the most important question of them all: how do you avoid falling behind? Writing several thousand words in a month is no simple feat, at least not for an amateur who someone who isn’t running up against a deadline. And the myriad distractions in our modern world make concentration even harder.

The simplest and most effective advice I can give you here is just to write every day. Not several thousand words or even several hundred. Just a few dozen will do, if that’s all you can manage. The important thing is that you’re spending a bit of time with your story every day and making steps toward its completion, because every step toward a complete first draft or your goal for the end of the month is something to be proud of. And if you’re like me, writing a bit every day will help keep you from getting distracted and potentially losing your interest in the project.

Another good way to keep your momentum going? Follow your instincts. If a killer line or paragraph pops into your head, hook on to it. Figure out where it’s headed and take that path. Once you settle into a groove, you’ll have met your daily goal before you know it. And you may even feel like going past that goal.

Adding a couple dozen or couple hundred words to your daily work is a good habit to form. Believe it or not, a few extra words each day can quickly build up over time. At one point in the month, I ended up a whole day ahead of schedule thanks to the extra words I racked up. It allowed me to more or less take a day off, i.e. only write a hundred or so words.

Finally, if you’re running multiple projects at one time, you will want to prioritize this particular one. Tell yourself that you aren’t going to work on any other writing until you hit your daily goal. You may even want to put the less important projects on the back-burner, at least until you’re through with the month. That’s more or less what I did. I really wanted to meet my 30k goal, so everything else got shut down unless I had some extra time.

After the Writing: What Comes Next?

Let’s assume that after all that work, you hit your planned goal at the end of the month. Of course you did, you’re awesome. But what do you do after that?

First of all, give yourself a pat on the back and have a small celebration. You’ve done something remarkable, after all! And once you’re done with that…well, you can do whatever you like. I would recommend taking a break from writing for a week or so, or at least a break from the project that has presumably been consuming your life for the past month. Of course, you don’t have to stop if you don’t want to. You may not be finished with your story and want to keep working on it past the end of the month. If you are finished with your first draft, then you may want to start thinking about revisions. My point is, your next steps at this point are up to you. You know what is best for yourself and your project.

Well, there you have it! A short and somewhat overdue guide for writing 30,000 words in 30 days. I hope it proved useful for you. As for me, my story from April still isn’t done yet, and there’s another Camp NaNo just on the horizon. I haven’t committed to doing it yet, but I’m thinking about it. This book isn’t going to write itself.

See you later!

— Dana

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