Wednesday 26 October 2011

10K in a Day: 10-Step Guide by Daniel Swensen

10 small steps equal one big one. (

In November 2005, my third year of Nanowrimo, I found myself a whopping 10,000 words behind. (When your quota is 1,666 words a day, it's amazing how fast you can rack up a debt.) Rather than trying to catch up a little bit at a time, I decided to do it all in one day.

So I sat down for about twelve hours and wrote 10,000 words and change, the full sum of my word count debt. I stayed on track for the remainder of the month and went on to my first Nanowrimo win. I don't really recommend this strategy -- you're probably better off just forming a healthy daily habit instead of embracing insanity. But, if you find yourself deep in a hole this November and think there's no way to dig yourself out, here's how.

1. Get rested.

Sleep as much as you can the day before. Half-asleep and twitching from the caffeine jitters is not going to help your productivity.

2. Block out the time and don't compromise.

Tell your family and friends you need several hours of unbroken time. Put off any and every obligation you reasonably can, and aim for as many unbroken hours as possible to maximize momentum.

3. Lay off the sugar.

Nothing kills a writing stretch faster than a sugar crash. Stay hydrated, eat as well as you're able, and moderate your caffeine intake.

4. Find a quiet place and close the door.

Distractions may come at you hard and fast. Don't get sidetracked. Isolate yourself as much as possible. If you have an optimal writing space, seek it out like a homing missile and settle in for the long haul.

5. Turn off the internet.

Nothing will murder your writing time faster than research, or Twitter, or email, or anything else on the Internet. Unplug it from the wall or turn off your wireless entirely. Your research, legitimate or not, can wait until tomorrow.

6. Damn the torpedoes!

Now that the vital prep work is done, you're ready to start writing. This is the hard part, but there's only one simple rule you have to follow now: never stop. Let go of your writing inhibitions and your sense of decorum. Is the scene you're writing boring you? Skip it. If something's not working, abandon it. Write only what really excites you.

7. Identify your enemies and strike them down.

Here's your big chance to probe your weaknesses and bulldoze over the top of them. Do you lose minutes searching for just the right word? Settle for second best and move on. Do you drag yourself down with lengthy exposition? Dump it.
This is also a great time to find your strengths and play to them. Can you write endless pages of dialogue without fatigue? Great! Remember, this is word-count triage; find the tools that work and use them, no matter how messy things get.

8. Don't check your word count.

Sooner or later, you'll be tempted to see how well you're doing — but if you check your word count and find you're not even 10% there, it's easy to get dejected. Resist as long as you can. If you can, check it just once or twice for the full run of your marathon sprint.

9. Take breaks.

Sooner or later, your endurance will give out. Stop and stretch so you don't injure yourself. But don't stay away for too long, and don't get distracted for lengthy periods For best results, take your breaks away from the computer.

10. You're back on track — now stay there.

Chances are, once you've cranked out 10K in a day, a measly 1,666 will seem like peanuts. That's a good attitude to have. Remember that. It's far easier to retain your sanity, and a coherent narrative, when you're not trying to do 5 times your normal workload.
That's it. I sincerely hope you never have to use this advice, but if you do, drop me a line and tell me your war story. Good luck and happy writing this November.

Daniel Swensen (@surlymuse) has written everything from game books to cell phone ads, and has had every job from supermarket monkey and sandwich artist to coder, designer, and marketer. He gleefully embraces the triple cliche of coffee addict, book junkie, and cat enthusiast. He blogs at Surly Muse.


  1. Michelle Campbell-Scott26 October 2011 at 05:29

    Woo. Short, sharp and fabulously action-inducing. I'm off to hide in my caravan with my laptop. The kids take a while to track me down there.

  2. One of the NaNo vets I queried in the forums says he/she (can't remember & can't find the post now) always tries to build in one 10,000K day early in the month. That sounds like a terrific idea to me -- jump start that momentum . . .

  3. Exactly! That's what I always do... then lag behind and have to catch up. But if you catch that momentum and stay on top of it, you can easily double the amount of words in November and more. Here's to winning NaNo with a zap!

  4. Yes! A much smarter idea than playing catch-up later in the month, that's for sure.

  5. Great post, my friend! Solid advice. Follow this checklist, and you can't lose!
    We're all gonna have fun together with this. :) *shakes pompoms*

  6. Some great advice.

    I fell 10K behind last year when I had bronchitis. But I just changed up my daily goal, instead of catching up all in one fell swoop. Another good idea (from the beginning) is to try to move past the daily goal whenever you can. Build a credit, rather than a debt so to speak. :)

    Good luck this year!

  7. You're quite right -- come to think of it, that should have been the angle... credit vs. debt writing. :) Thanks for the comment!

  8. Great tips.

    HOpefully I won't need them...and neither will you! Here's to a steady pace and an easy win.

  9. Holy word count, Batman! I hope I don't get caught in that situation...but I think your tips are good for NaNoing in general. Got me thinking that I should do a few higher count days (maybe 3000 or 4000?) to create cushion come Thanksgiving travel time. Thanks for the tips!