Back a few Novembers ago, I came across this crazy idea of writing 50,000 words in one month. Not just any 50,000 words – but in coherent (mostly), related (kinda) sentences that told a story.  With countless cups of coffee, endless bowls of M&Ms, and less sleep than is probably healthy, I managed to finish a skeleton of a 100 page idea.

How did I come up with that magic number of 50,000, other than it just sounds like a nice, round, impressive number?  And why in November, which is, for most people and especially a mother of 4, a crazy month of Thanksgiving planning, Christmas shopping, and lots and lots of baking? Because it’s NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.  Started in 2009 and now run by the Office of Light and Letters, NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge to wanna-be-writers to get those characters and plots and scenes out of their brains and on to paper in a minimum of 50,000 words.  What you do after you hit that magic number or November 30, whichever comes first, is up to you. I chose to keep going. Another 250,000 words and I lost count after about 15 rounds of edits, and it all became my debut novel, Life in Spades.

Now, there’s Camp NaNoWriMo in July for those who don’t want to wait until November to begin your literary challenge. And of course, if you’ve missed Camp, too, you can always go it alone.  Either way, it’s going to take a little preparation to write 50,000 words.  Here’s a few things I learned along the way to get your started.

Set up Camp. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have a writing desk or office, or maybe you are taking up part-time residence on the kitchen table in between meals. Find a comfortable space and at least for that writing time, make it yours.  Set up our laptop, get your favorite coffee cup, put up a picture of you on your last vacation.

Figure out your Camp schedule.   How long is writing camp and when will you be there?  A month, a week?  Will you get up early and write before your normal day gets started? Stay up late? Write during your lunch break? Or perhaps you can you take 30 days off and disappear from your regular life.  Plan to write during that time every day. That’s not my idea – Steven King, Walter Mosley – I imagine most successful writers – would tell you you’ve got to write everyday. But those two, I know do say that for sure, both in their books on writing.

Plan your Camp agenda.  How many words are you going to write in your novel, how many years will you cover in a memoir, how many poems will you compose?  Break that goal down into manageable, not overwhelming chunks.  50,000 words in a month? 1667 words/day in November or 1613 words/day in July.   Do the math, make a sign, post it on your wall.

Tell your family, or room-mates, or whoever else lives with you. They need to understand why all of the sudden you cannot hang out watching reality TV and playing Wii Dance Revolution and why you are muttering about some group of imaginary people. You don’t have to tell anyone else if you don’t want to. It depends on how many people you want asking you, “are you done yet?”  Send them a text every now and then to let them know how you’re doing.

Pack provisions.  Snacks, your favorite beverage to keep you well-fed.  Bring a creative diversion for when you can’t think. I keep a ball winder (for yarn) and a crochet project handy for when I need to let my mind wander.

Carry a notepad and pen, or smartphone or iPad. Somewhere to write down ideas. Once you start writing on a consistent basis, you will start making connections to your story while going about your normal life. You will see a dress that one of your characters would look great in. You will realize that the street you want your character to speed down has been closed off and turned into a market square. A plot turn will become suddenly evident to you. You’ll want to write all this down, ready for when you get back to your writing desk.

Write, don’t edit. Just write. You will cut drastically into your time and word count by going back and editing – because the editing will never end.  If you have a compulsion to go back and re-read, then just edit the big stuff – the character was short not tall, Black not White, it was a rainy day, not a sunny day. Edit the stuff that really matters, then get back to the story. Leave the fine tuning until after you’ve hit our goal.

Take notes – briefly. I didn’t come upon this until several full revisions into my novel, when I finally couldn’t keep track of every little detail in my head. Use notecards and write the main point of each chapter and any important details.  Your character breaks a leg or loses her voice, it’s summer time or Tuesday. Refer to those cards as you go forward.  If you are not going back to make edits, make notes on those cards for when you are ready to go back.

Get started. And let me know how it’s going.  I’ll be writing right along with you.