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Nanowrimo: The Writing Process

(At least the part that matters during Nanowrimo)

Whether you want to be able to say you’ve written a book, or you’re trying to start a writing habit, this article will help you stay in a productive drafting mode.

The average novel is between 75k-120k words. 50 thousand words is between novella and really short critically acclaimed so that’s okay territory. If you want to write a 50K word novel in a month, you need to know what each step of the writing process is for and do a few things differently than you might without time and word count constraints.



For ease of use, all aspects of the writing process generally fall into three steps, Pre-writing, writing, and post-writing.


Prewriting includes brainstorming ideas, planning and plotting, research, etc. Prewriting is everything you have to do in order to do the writing, and it can happen before you start a project or before you start writing for the day.


Also called drafting- as in, “I finished my first draft, today.” This is when you put your writer hat on. This is when the soundtrack is playing and the hero is righting wrongs or finding himself. Prewriting exists to make this easier and revision exists to make this safer. All other elements exist to serve the drafting. All other elements will sometimes involve drafting. You plan and you proofread merely so you can draft.


This includes writing, global and local revision, editing and proofreading. This is what happens after you have completed a draft. You might totally rewrite the book or you might go through it with that fine-tooth comb.

You are not to worry about revision now. Even if you are one of those writers that absolutely must revise and correct mistakes as she’s writing, you don’t have the time to be that writer this month! Just know revision is there, waiting patiently for when you’re done exploring your story.

You’re not writing without a net. Encourage yourself take risks, go to scary places, try something that might seem silly. Know that a better, stronger future you is ready to defy the space-time continuum and catch you. Or WHATEVER you need to tell yourself to save revision for after completing your draft.


Getting down to it.

If you’ve already done a lot of pre-writing, that’s great. You’ll do more. If you haven’t done any, don’t worry. You have a few days. If you don’t have a few days…. Seriously, don’t worry. What follows are things that any writer would be considering at any phase of the process.


What do you do if you’re starting chapter five of your murder mystery and you realize you know nothing about murder mysteries? This is a trick question! No idiot would start writing a mystery and not know anything about the subject!

Let’s try this again. Let’s say you’re writing a science fiction novel. You have read many sci fi novels, you have an understanding of the basic science of your setting, and you have a story in your head, but you’re halfway through the book and you want to introduce the bad guy and you realize you have no way to do that without breaking laws of science.

That’s what research is for. But you don’t want to have to answer this question before you can return to writing. That’s why planning is so important. Try to be at least a few days ahead of your narrative present. That way you’re writing isn’t completely held up as you try to solve a problem.


An outline is maybe the best tool you provide for yourself. Think of it as a map of your journey. Even if you are a writer who wants to discover things as they happen, outline what you’ve already written. Then you can look back at your story at a glance and better make plans regarding pacing. Always have an outline.

Always remember the map is of your world. You change the outline as you go. Make sure it is up to date and accurate. Glance over it in between writing sessions. Try to use it to help you plan out future writing sessions or future scenes, but if you must, use it like a pioneer mapping out the trail that he is blazing. Visual writers have other options, like story boarding.


When it comes to pacing, there are two basic parts of the novel, the scene and the summary (or exposition). The scene is the visual moment, the narrative present. The summary is what just happened over there somewhere before the new narrative present. The scene is where you show. The summary is where you tell. The scene almost seems to play out in real time. The summary is what happened to set up the scene that is just about starting.

Pacing is important. If an action movie were all action or a horror movie were all jump scares the audience would get worn out. We need moments of respite to experience other emotions. Every writer has their own rhythm. Every genre works better with certain rhythms.

Since you’re striving to complete a 50k novel, you are going to use more summary then you hopefully would otherwise. You can go back and flesh out as much of that exposition as you want later. This is another area where outlining can help.

Try to get a sense of where your ending is. You don’t want to be at 50,000 words on November 30th and realize that you are only a third of the way through your story. If you’re at the mid-point of the month, and an objective appraisal tells you that you are well behind the halfway point of your novel, do more summarizing.

Don’t leave place-holders! Don’t write something like “remember to put xx scene here.”  Summarize as if you’re actually reading to an audience. You wouldn’t tell them that something is missing, but it will be there the next time they read the book. Don’t let your audience know what is missing. Does that make sense? It might seem to conflict with the idea of giving yourself permission to write bad prose, but it really doesn’t. Taking chances in public can be liberating and exhilarating, like singing karaoke or dancing at a night club for the first time.  If you mess up, don’t apologize and miss a few lines of lyrics explaining what it was you did wrong. Never apologize.

Also, if you start leaving notes and placeholders in your story, it’s going to stop feeling like a story. The energy is going to drain out of you quickly. If you even finish, you will feel like you cheated. Make the summary seem like you intended it to be there.

And only summarize the lesser important scenes.

Good Luck!  Now go start writing!

Here are some links that may also be helpful.




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