NaNoWriMo Survival Guide: How I Write 50k(-ish) Every Month

I do NaNoWriMo roughly every month. That probably sounds like a humblebrag, and maybe it is, though you’ll note I’ve said nothing about the quality of my writing and am only noting its quantity — but I write anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 words every month. Is this how everyone should do it? No. Is this how I do it? Yep. I’m a full time writer and I get to do this pantsless, coffee-soaked, and in a shed specifically designed to house my dubious word count. As such, I’d damn well better dance for my motherfucking dinner.

I figured it might be helpful to outline for you, then, how I manage to survive this pace.

So what follows are a mighty smattering of tips and tricks. You may find them useful. You may find them distasteful. Feel free to take a nibble and see how they taste. Taste yucky? Spit it out.

Here we go.

1. I write from an outline. You don’t have to do this, but it helps me. My outlines generally cover big tentpole stuff, but not always the nitty-gritty details.

2. I give the appropriate quantity of fucks. Meaning, I do not overfuck, but I do not underfuck, either. I do not care so much that I feel all the weight and pressure of the world pinning me between the shoulders, but I care enough to actually, y’know, do the work to the best of my ability.

3. I do not edit as I go.

4. I do one reading pass of the previous day’s work — and here I’ll allow myself minor tweaks.

5. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking a whole fucking lot about the story. I take specific moments out of my day to do this. Showering. Walking the dog. Mowing the lawn. I roll the story around my mouth like a pebble. I’m like a human stone polisher over here. It helps me stay focused and concentrate on what I did today and what I have to do tomorrow.

6. When I end one day of writing, I write a few notes — a few words to a few sentences — that give me a clue as to what I need to write tomorrow. So, I open the file and there are some vague stage directions to get me going. THE CHIMPANZEE DETECTS TREACHERY. Or EWOK JEDI FLORGIN RAT-BEAR CHASES ANCIENT SITHLORD THROUGH A PEORIA WAL-MART. Whatever. Something to grab hold of when I start the next day.

7. I shut off THE SHRIEKING GESTICULATING ATTENTIONFEST THAT IS THE INTERNET using a wonderful piece of software called Freedom (avail for Mac and Windows, I think).

8. I do about 45 minutes of writing, then 15 minutes of dicking around.

9. I get up and move my ass. Like, not literally that — I don’t merely stand up in my chair and shake my booty for a few minutes. (And here I quietly hope no one hacks my webcam to provide proof that I do exactly that.) But sitting down for so long is an act of indolence and torpidity and it’s like I can feel my blood thickening to corn syrup. The blood needs to get to my brain, not pool in my heels. So, I walk, I move, I run, I dance (sometimes Flashdance, sometimes Footloose, sometimes I’m Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing).

10. I do not listen to music because music distracts me.

11. I try not to eat shitty garbage-food during the day. Carbs make me boggy unless I’m running, so I try to keep this slugabed machine moving with nuts and cheese and stuff like that. I also don’t drink while I’m writing. I mean, I drink and eat shitty garbage-food sometimes, but I do it properly, which is to say, at midnight in the dark while weeping and aggressively touching myself.

12. I let the characters lead the way. When I doubt, I ask what do they want in this scene, what do they want overall, and what is most important? I let them run with it. And this usually runs them into other characters who are either competing for the same thing or who want opposing things. Characters have problems. They use the fiction to confront those problems (often poorly). This is the engine of storytelling. Seize it, let it guide you. Do not let “plot” dominate this core character-driven component.

13. I also like to let characters just talk. I’d say about half the time I keep it. And the other half of the time, just letting them talk still lets me know something about the characters.

14. I make sure I’m having fun when I’m writing. If I’m not enjoying a scene or worse, I’m bored writing it, something is wrong. If I’m bored, you’ll be bored. If I’m having fun, I hope you will, too. I like to think each of my stories is you buying a ticket and taking a ride. I never want you to regret getting buckled into my NARRATIVE LOG-FLUME SPACE MOUNTAIN FUCKSTRAVAGANZA. When I’m writing a scene or a chapter I also think very hard about if I’m giving you a reason to drop out. If I am, I try to reverse that trend and course correct then and there.

15. When in doubt, seek danger. Er, not for you, but for the story. Seek danger that’s physical, but also that’s emotional, spiritual, emotional, social. Fiction is often an act of taking your plane and flying it right at the ground. Sometimes you pull up at the last minute. Sometimes you crash the thing and the story becomes what happens after the crash. But it’s never about a few safe stunts. It’s about the conflict found in the world around us, but more importantly, in the human heart.

16. I try to always second-guess the reader. Every scene I try to guess where you think I’d go, then I try to do differently. Or, in rare cases, do the same just to keep you on your widdle toes.

17. I write in the morning. In the morning I have all my IEP — Intellectual Energy Points. I have not yet spent them on things like answering emails or making dinner or dealing with the daily ennui of HUMAN EXISTENCE. Which means I give the writing high priority. When I used to have a day job, that meant getting up before the day  job and banging out 1000 words.

18. Comfort actually matters. The myth that art is born out of hunger and discomfort is as pervasive as it is toxic. Have a keyboard you like. Sit in as nice a chair as you can afford. Avoid eyestrain. Be fed. Have water. Make sure your giant bunny costume is washed and deodorized and that the assless window gives proper access to your botto… *checks notes* Okay that last part is for a different post. So. Uhhh. Just be comfortable.

19. I know that community is a big part of NaNoWriMo, but for me, I like writing to be as isolated an act as possible. I don’t care what you’re doing. I care what I’m doing. Comparing yourself to others is a no-no. It’ll just make you feel like you can’t measure up.

20. I endeavor to write five days a week, and then don’t write on weekends. I need that break. Every day that I do write, I write regardless of how I’m feeling — I write through illness, anxiety, life trouble. This is not saying you need to do that. (What did I tell you about comparing yourself?) You have to find your pace. Maybe you write all your weekly count on Monday at 2:15. Do what’s best for you. The good news is, for the most part, routines are valuable. Establish the routine and stick to it and after a couple weeks, you’re good. The bad news is, NaNoWriMo asks that you have that routine up and running by the time the month starts.

21. I post notes around my monitor or my desk. Little things — questions, plot points, plot holes. Things of which I want to remain mindful.

22. I also jot notes at the beginning about my characters — never more than 100 words, and sometimes enough to fit on a smattering of Post-It notes. I write the things about them that I think are most important. These are usually character traits — even writing down three significant traits (“OBSTINATE, INCONTINENT SEX MACHINE”) gives you something to keep in mind as you write that character.

23. I do not read the same type of thing that I am presently writing. It crosses too many wires, and the signal starts to bleed. Ideally, I read non-fiction. But key thing here is that while writing, I am also reading. Reading is a vital, revivifying act. Writing without reading is like running without food. Eventually, you’re running on empty.

24. I ask myself, “Is this making sense?” If not, I course correct.

25. My writing life is not a sprint but a marathon. I’m running a long con, here. This is a heist where I’m stealing the Crown Jewels, not just knocking over a liquor store. You can’t sprint to 50k in a month without shattering your tender little brain-vase. You gotta measure it out. Gotta find a workable, steady pace — then stick to it consistently and confidently.

26. The daily mantra: “I can fix this in post.”


28. I type fast. This sounds a-doy durr hurr obvious but seriously, I practice typing and I type hella zippy. Also, HELLA ZIPPY is my roller derby nickname.

29. Don’t think about publishing, don’t think about finishing, don’t think about next week. Think about yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and that’s it.

30. Repeat after me: “I am my own Muse.”

31. Repeat after me: “Don’t panic.” Clutch your towel and realize this isn’t making or breaking anything. This isn’t BRAIN ROCKETRY. Again, see #2 on the list: care less.


33. When in doubt, escalate.

34. Eschew shame. I find shame to be half a ladder. It feels like you’re climbing somewhere, and you are… at least until you’re not. I don’t find shame valuable in writing (or really, anywhere else).

35. Also? Fuck writing advice. I know, you’re reading this here and now, but you have to know where such advice belongs. While writing, it rarely belongs in your face. Give it minimal priority. Every writer does things differently — this post is a good example because smart money says you do things at least somewhat differently from how I do them. “Writing Rules” are rarely that, and they’re a good way to make you feel like you’re on the wrong track. Writing advice is just that — advice. It’s advice on what to order on a menu, not a mandate on how to live your creative life. I read writing advice between books. I think about writing and read what other writer’s do during down-time. It doesn’t help me in the midst of the thing. It’s too much noise. Before and after I write? Yes. During? No.

36. I try to remember how amazing it is to be a writer. Because it is. Even when it’s not.

37. I try to be aware of self-care issues. I’m practiced enough where my writing schedule remains unpunctured by anxiety or health issues, but I also remain aware that when they happen, I am excused for writing badly, or shorting my word count, or just taking a much-needed day off.

38. In fact, I’m always comfortable with writing badly. Because that’s why WRITING JESUS invented that thing called “editing.” Thank you, Writing Jesus. Thank you.

39. If I’m stuck, I babble on the page until I am unstuck. Sometimes I blow stuff up.

40. I am vigilant about protecting my time and my space for writing. This is my TERRITORIAL BUBBLE and none shall puncture it lest one be shanked by a broken coffee mug.

41. I back everything up a billion times. I back things up on an external time machine drive. I back them up via Dropbox and with reiterative file names. I email myself the drafts. I also save obsessively. Any time I stop writing for more than five seconds, I do the keyboard shortcut to save. Nothing is more dispiriting than losing what you’re working on.

42. I write for me, not for you. I am my first audience. You can come later.

And that’s the end of that.

Behold Things And Stuff

30 DAYS IN THE WORD MINES is a 30-day writing regimen. $2.99 at Amazon, or 33% off directly if you use coupon code NANOWRIMO.

The NaNoWriMo Storybundle is live — 13 books with another 12 if you meet the $25 threshold. You will note that the bonus tier contains one of my books so go grabby-grabby.

If you want a lot of my tips and tricks and DUBIOUS WORDTHINK agglomerated, look no further than The Kick-Ass Writer, out now from Writer’s Digest: Indiebound or Amazon.

If you’re a fan of mine, you are apparently called “Wendigos,” and hey now there’s a t-shirt by House Organa shop, so, jeez, go be stylish and rad and WENDIGO SEXY.

Now, go forth and –


  • #26 for sure (I transcribe reality TV shows by day – this is pretty much whatever they say whenever people start to seriously bumble their words and lose the plot) and #27 should be your next t-shirt! (Because “Incontinent, Obstinant Sex Machine” is probably not going to win any of us Wendigos friends…)

  • It’s weird, but that almost sounded like you took the words right outta my mouth. Hmph. Except for the part about Writing Jesus. We were unacquainted till you just now acquainted us. Writing Jesus and I thank you.

  • This is great stuff. I’m helping my daughter’s 4th grade class as they do the Young Writers Program for NaNoWriMo. If you have no objection, I’d like to take this list, make it G rated, and share it with them. I think it will help them power through.

  • “I give the appropriate quantity of fucks. Meaning, I do not overfuck, but I do not underfuck, either.”

    Best line of the whole piece!

    And I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. Basically because I write at the speed of a turtle and NaNoWriMo might cause me to do the Imperator Furiosa look (from tearing my hair out).

  • I just had a giant stuck of stuckness tonight but talking through the problem helped so much. Half with a friend and half while pacing my apartment and talking to myself. I’m not sure which of this is better or worse. The talking to people about your crazy thing. Or the talking to self about crazy thing.
    Also I do not speak caffeine. I do however speak fake sun that automatically turns on about a half hour before I should wake up. It’s like magic to me. If I could be asleep during all the dark hours I would. Unfortunately that’s most of them half the year. So technology making artificial sun to the rescue!

    • Trust me, mariahavix, the talking to self about crazy thing cannot be overrated! I once took a voice recorder with me on a three-hour drive and talked out the problems of my plot. Discovered on my first break (halfway) that I had somehow turned the farking thing off, so I did it all again! Then played it back to myself on the way home, and finished working out the problems. Talking to yourself is not crazy. It is accessing the abyssal writing hindbrain. Yup, just pop the top and let it all climb out. After all, who knows better what you’re talking about than you?

  • Oh dear, I think I’ve been traumatized, can’t seem to get the Flashdance-ala-Terriblemind scene from the peripheral of my mind. That said…Nothing short of Supercalifragilisticexpialidous advice, I’m on it, in it, of it. Opps, I hear water sloshing……..Whoa, I just heard a chair being dragged across the floor, and is that the 8track starting up?

  • My mum taught at a <> school for a time, she was not part of that particular god bothering group but in her employment contract it outlined a code of dress in which it stated she could not wear pants because “pants are an abomination”, right there in her employment contract.
    Sadly she never taught pantsless, she wore frocks and skirts, cos pantsless teaching gets you into a lot of trouble.

    • That contract was poorly worded. What your mom’s employers meant to say was “WOMEN wearing pants are an abomination”. Or, more succinctly, “women are an abomination”. (Or did the male teachers also wear frocks and skirts?)

  • WOOHOOO! I am a WENDIGO! I gotta get me some t-shirt!
    Chuck, I love the way you think. # 15 just rocks! And # 41 — oh, dear GOD! Lost my computer in a fire once. Yeah, that was where the writing was. Now I have the Mother O of all OCDs. No less than FOUR flash drives plugged in any time I’m working, plus copy to the C drive, and when they’re unplugged none of them live in the same place. One of them lives on a necklace around my neck…
    Wendigo… hee, hee, hee!

  • I personally love to compare myself to others, or more specifically, to a group of other people I know who are also participating. By looking at their word counts, I motivate myself through peer pressure. It helps to know that my excuses are invalid: all of them have similar workloads as I do.
    Thus, I know that every failure I commit and every dip is a result of my incompetence and laziness, something that can be remedied by a cold slap to the face via numbers.

  • I can relate to most of what you’ve said here- and some of it is great advice. But I am most interested in points 12 and 13.
    You write fantasy thrillers. I write crime thrillers and suspense.
    So would you say that crime and suspense novels are plot based or character based? I think they are a mixture of both in equal measure.

  • Best thing I ever did was buy a stand-up desk. I’m seriously thinking about a treadmill desk so I can fulfill my destiny as a human gerbil-wheel locomotive.

    Seriously, stand-up desks are great.

  • This is awesome and a lot like the way I write, but my struggle is more in my editing discipline. If you write 1500 words a day, how much do you edit? How do you keep your brain space set for writing if you’re editing something else? I might write a novel in a month or two, but it takes me like three times that to actually make the thing not suck.

  • This is comforting and encouraging on so many levels. Writing is fun, such painful fun. I love writing in isolation but sometimes it’s nice to poke in on what other writers are discussing.

    I’ve been reading this blog for a few years (yes, am a lurker). I’m always amazed that despite your hectic (and superproductive) writing schedule, you always make time to talk to us, share tips with us, and a few laughs. Thanks, Chuck.

    As target practice I wrote a porn novelette last year. Well, some say it’s not porn, but more like a movie with a lot of hot stuff – it’s got zombies and mutant zombies who are sexier than humans. Completed it thanks in part to the writing encouragement gained here. I’m coming back to the sequel after lapsing many months, but I think I will get there. I just write very slowly. Maybe I need to get rid of pants more often. Hmm.

    Oh, nuts and cheese? Best fuel ever.

  • Chuck, our processes are startlingly similar… except I like music. If I don’t have it playing, I’m humming… or singing out loud… or possibly belting out Disney songs in the hopes that those forest creatures will finally come and clean my house.

    Also, I have a day job… so “morning writing” is basically all I get… but once I get to the point where it’s a full-time gig (and I *will* get there), I’ll still write early. I like to say I have writer-brain and logic-brain. I am more able to be fictional in my pre-coffee haze. Once the logic-brain kicks in, I find it harder to slip back into my own private Idaho where I can relate to my characters.

  • I’m interested in this comment:

    “I do not read the same type of thing that I am presently writing. It crosses too many wires, and the signal starts to bleed. Ideally, I read non-fiction.”

    I hear a lot of authors say that, and while I don’t have that issue, I can understand it. My question is, if you’re constantly in a state of writing ~50k words a month, writing every workday, when are you not “presently writing?” When do you have the opportunity to read books in your genre(s) at all?

  • *Installs Freedom*
    Okay, now I can focus on my writing. Ya da dum dum dum…. Let’s see, what was the timestamp in Thriller when Michael Jackson did his triple spin in non-zombie mode? Dang, can’t get to YouTube. I know, I’ll look it up on my phone. Oh no! The Attentionfest has found me! Oh the gesticulating!
    *Installs Freedom app on phone*
    Okay, back to writing. I’ll spice up the dialogue with some other Michael Jackson reference I guess. Wait, I think that Chuck Wendig fella tweeted a good one yesterday. Let me just…. damn it, Twitter is blocked too. How am I supposed to write this freaking novel without a good Michael Jackson reference? Where am I supposed to go? Wikipedia? My whole novel is built on Michael Jackson references! Damn you, Freedom! You’ve ruined me!
    *Installs Patriot Act on computer and phone which makes every website available simultaneously forever*

  • I love this. I really need to work on my backing up, but seriously. Today, I will figure out dropbox, or at least email a copy as soon as I’m done writing. Plus the hard drive and flash drive thing. Thanks, Chuck. (By the way, there is a talking woodchuck in my Nano novel named Chuck. His lady friend’s name is Margaret. I don’t know why, they just showed up.)

  • I’ve been getting into my first NaNoWritMo this year and for a good part of my first 3 chapters, I’ve been doing automatic writing – which I’ve found has been my best friend. It’s a matter of don’t think too much and just let what you’re mind is telling you flow – no matter where it takes you.

    Think about it later.

    Gotta say that when I met Wilbur Smith in 2004, he was right… write with your heart first and let it all hang out… then go back and let your brain look at it later. :D

  • Much of this advice is useful for any writer, not just Nano participants. Even the unprofessional writers like me who only write occasionally. (Yeah, I have about a dozen story sales and a television script on my bibliography, but they’re spread over decades, not just years.)

    Having said that, I’m trying this November to, not write a novel, but to write for at least a short period every day. So far I’m managing about a half-hour per day, with about 300-400 words written per session. I’m using an app called Writeometer to track my progress.

    (A couple of those sessions were written on my smartphone while I was at a convention last weekend, emailing myself the results to copy into the regular word processing program at home. But, wow, the typos go WAY up trying to type on that little tiny keyboard with my big clumsy thumbs.)

    One of the main reasons I’m trying to produce more is that I hope to sell more stories, more regularly. I’m hoping to be able to go into full retirement when I turn 66 in a few years, but finances will be tight, even without the inevitable Unexpected Expense of the Month Club’s automatic shipments. (I don’t remember signing up for that club, but there’s no number to call to cancel a membership.) Having occasional income from writing would be a big help.

  • Ok Chuck how did you get into my brain? And where did my brain go? Wait…a…tick, that is my brain and routine. Ok, where’s the camera? Is it in the teddy bear? Don’t mind the tearing ripping sound…

    …look away nothing to see here…

  • Great post!!! I finished my NaNo project yesterday, and the big takeaway for me is that I can write a lot more new material than I think I can. I worked from an outline, I took breaks to move, I type fast — in short, many of the ideas you write about. I’m astonished at how well it went. I’m getting another novel ready to go to print, but I’m thinking of working on some short stories at the same time while this draft cools. I can definitely work at a faster pace than what I’ve done in the past.

  • Dear Chuck,

    I’ve been a lurker of your blog for years on and off, and today finally felt un-lazy enough to comment. Thank you for always being so inspirational. You make me want to go crank out 50K words a month now, and also you are awesome for being able to produce that much while also running a blog and providing an outlet for this community to thrive.

    I don’t really observe the midnight-weeping, garbage-food eating hour, but that line made me laugh.

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