Sprint Writing: What Non-Fiction Authors Can Learn from National Novel Writing Month
I’m pulling this article from the archives! It’s great content (and I’m still too weak to sit at the computer for long.)
Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It stands for National Novel Writing Month and every November, participants from around the world begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. The “rules” state that you can plan, outline, think, and research as much as you want in October, but on November 1, you start a brand-new novel with no words already written.
Writing a book is a great exercise in discipline, refining your thought processes, and creativity. Even if you have no desire to write a novel, November is a great month to do the writing you are interested in. Or the writing that you know you’ve been needing to do for your business but just haven’t had time for.
Here are five steps to get you going:
1. Have a “plan”
You most likely have an idea about what book you want to write for your business. Start there! Unlike a novel which needs characters, plot, setting, mood, theme, etc. the book you need for your business has basic sections that are unique to the information you specialize in.
As you create this plan, jot down all your ideas for chapters, topics, and sub-topics. After you have a page of ideas, you’ll organize them into sections. Don’t think too much! Just get all your ideas down. This will become the “plan” for your book.
(This isn’t an outline! It’s a writing plan. I’ll explain more in step 4.)
And a great resource for you is the Book Idea Workbook.
2. Get it all out
My writing instructors used to call this “writing to silence the critic.” It’s when you just keep writing even if you know that you’re not making sense, contradicting yourself, missing steps, and most importantly, writing like crap!
NaNoWriMo isn’t a slow and steady marathon! It’s a sprint to write an insane amount of words in just thirty days.
So get it all out of your head and onto the page. Don’t worry about grammar, flow, or false starts. Keep writing. You do, however, want to write clearly enough that when you look at it later that you can follow along. So it’s not jotting down notes; it is sentences and paragraphs and *gasp* chapters. But don’t worry if you don’t know how to bridge from one topic to the next.
3. Write every day
The strategy is to break 50,000 words down into daily writing goals. This isn’t a marathon, it’s a sprint. But, unlike writing your term paper the night before it is due (or your blog article the day before you post it!) you can’t just catch up in the days before November 30th!
You may be able to catch up from a day (or two) off, but if you wait too long, the goal of 50,000 words will slip away. (Speaking from experience here!)
Daily Writing Goals
- If you write 5 days a week, you’ll need to write a little less than 2,500 words per day. (21 total writing days)
- If you write 6 days a week, you’ll need to write a little less than 2,000 words per day. (26 total writing days)
- If you write 7 days a week you’ll need to write 1,667 words per day. (30 total writing days)
And let’s face it, with your busy life and schedule (and the Thanksgiving holiday!) you’re unlikely to write every single day. Go ahead and plan some days off! And in that plan, make sure that you plan other days where you write more words to catch up.
Not every person who starts NaNoWriMo makes it to the 50,000 word finish line. And since you’ll most likely not be writing a novel, it will be tempting to let it slide and not work to complete the challenge. But think about this: if you write every week day in the month of November, that’s 20 days. Let’s say you ONLY write 1,000 words a day (about two pages). That’s 20,000 words that you didn’t have before!
4. Don’t publish it!
Yep, you heard me right. Whatever you come up with at the end of November DON’T PUBLISH IT.
At least, don’t publish it as is!
Too many writers, especially non-fiction writers, have the nasty habit of publishing too soon before the project is fully edited. And here, I don’t mean edited for grammar or consistency. I mean edited for THIS should be in the book; THIS shouldn’t.
I read a very interested non-fiction “business” book. The author had a wealth to say on a variety of different topics. But that was the problem. There were at least four different main topics and each one shouldn’t get a section. It should get its own book! The topics were loosely tied together under the umbrella of the author’s personal life story but each lost its impact because it wasn’t given enough depth and breadth.
Here’s a personal example:
I published my “camping book” Pitch Your Tent: A Family’s Guide To Tent Camping
This project took me nearly two years from conception to publishing. Why? Because I just couldn’t focus. In my initial “plan” (Step 1) I had everything from tent camping to RVs to how to hook up your trailer to what type of porta pottie to buy to how to pick a tent to why you should go fishing while you were camping. I wrote a ton! After I started backpacking, I wrote sections for the book about that too!
After writing pages and pages and pages (over 200) I realized that the book I really needed to write was just a beginning guide to tent camping.
If I had tried to make my camping book everything to everyone, it would lose the focus and impact. And I’d lose credibility!
Once you have a “draft,” go over it to see what sections naturally go together, what has to be there, and what can be cut.
5. Decide what to do next
From this one big book where you have packed in every bit of your knowledge, expertise, love, and passion, decide what you’ll do with all the content you’ve created. You’ll probably find that at least one book is in there. A book with a tight focus on one aspect of your knowledge that doesn’t give away the farm!
You’ll also probably see 2-3 smaller books that might be ready to stand on their own or be expanded into larger books.
And I know you’ll have dozens of articles for blog posts, newsletters, or to submit to publications.
Then do it!
This is a bonus step: DO something with what you’ve created. It’s not enough to just realize that your 50,000 word business book exists, you need to do something with it!
What are your writing goals for November? Will you participate in a business book 50,000 word sprint?
If you would like to learn more about NaNoWriMo or to sign up to participate, here is the official website as well as the social media links:
And I’m sure you’re wondering if I’M participating. I have a confession, I’ve always WANTED to do a NaNoWriMo and somehow, never do. With my current health disaster in 2020, I’m not even thinking about it. But MY reality doesn’t dictate YOURS — go for it!
- When the “Template” Doesn’t Work to Write Your Book - May 29, 2023
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- Running Out of Time to Write? You’ll Have More Time After THIS - April 25, 2023