50k Day: how I did it

I completed a 50,000 word day on November first for each of the past three years. I fully recognize the ridiculousness of this feat and have wondered how people have done it in the past before my overachieving days, so let’s talk about how I did it.

Before beginning: I know several other people who have done a 50k day in the past, and one who went beyond this crazy to do a 75k day. At least one has written up their tips on completing the challenge. Besides the sitting down and writing part, all of our approaches are different. What works for me might not work for them (or you), and vice versa.

So without further ado…

How to write a novel in a day

Plan your novel beforehand. Or don’t. It’s up to you, really. Just be okay if that outline you painstakingly thought through weeks in advance gets tossed out the window at 5am because your main character decided to go on a killing spree. Not that this has happened before or anything. It is a very good idea to have at least a vague premise unless you’re REALLY good at making stuff up as you go along. And make sure it’s something you’re excited about writing. You know how you find yourself hating what you’re writing and the world sucks and why didn’t you just write 2k for day one? Well, imagine that feeling at 6am when you’ve barely slept for the last day. It sucks. But just like the week two blues, you can get past the 6am blues.

Take care of important tasks due during the first week of NaNo before November gets here. Chances are good you have some bill due at the beginning of the month. For me, that’s rent. Send out those bills before November first so you don’t realize they’re late on the second. Especially if, like 2014, the second is on a Sunday.

Tell everyone you know. Well, tell everyone you’re normally in contact with that you have some big plans for that day and seriously, don’t contact you unless the house is on fire or something equally in need of your intervention. If you normally work on the day you’re attempting this, I highly recommend taking a day off from work if you’d otherwise be working because you need all the time you can get.

Take a nap the evening before. This is where I usually fail miserably thanks to putting off everything until the last minute. But if you can manage it, finish all your prep before All NaNo’s Eve, then do whatever you need to do to fall asleep until around 11pm.

Sleep–but not for long. Our bodies need sleep (unless you’re already a cyborg, in which case TELL ME YOUR SECRET). But let’s be real here, you’ll probably need almost the entire 24 hours to write that 50k. Sleeping takes up a lot of time. My recommendation: catnaps. Set a timer and sleep for 15 or so minutes at a time. It won’t be as refreshing as a full night’s sleep (especially if you didn’t follow the tip about the evening nap), but it might be enough until you get that second wind.

Drink fluids that aren’t caffeinated. Caffeine is great, but too much caffeine isn’t. Water is a good thing to have too. I like to alternate tea with water or hot chocolate to hit all these needs. If you do go with coffee or soda, watch the intake.

Eat. And not just candy or chips or whatever you can get your hands on. You’re staying up for at least 24 hours straight, and your body needs long-lasting nourishment to do that without keeling over. I wake up starving every morning, and the only thing that keeps my stomach from eating itself in the middle of the night is that part where I’m sleeping. As for 50k day, I make a big pot of soup a day or two before and eat off it throughout the day (after breakfast, of course). Be prepared to eat at unusual times, like those times just before dawn when you might otherwise be sleeping.

Write consistently. That’s the only way you’re going to get this done, after all. But considering most folks need to write for almost all the 24 hours, it’s a good idea to have a consistent writing schedule and set goals for yourself. I wrote for 45 minutes, then took a 15-minute brain break. You can do this or a 15/5 or 10/5 or whatever you want as long as you sit down and write consistently. I used my fifteen minute breaks for Internet and brain and stretch and food breaks, then watched the minutes pass and thought “Hocrap, better get back into writing mode” as the top of the hour grew closer.

Pay attention to your body. This includes your wrists, your elbows, and posture. Make sure you’re writing in a comfortable and ergonomic writing environment. That means shoulders relaxed, 90-degree angle at your elbow, sitting up straight. Most of my pain didn’t come from my wrists (though there was some–the wrist braces helped there) but from my shoulders and back because my posture is atrocious. When something starts hurting, stop. That pain’s there for a reason.

Reward yourself. Who doesn’t like rewards? You can do mini-rewards or a big one at the end. Last year I had five bonbons left and ate one for every 10,000 words. My first attempt, I had a bottle of wine ready for the end. Do whatever works for you.

Stay strong. Never give up. Be awesome. No matter how much you write, you’re doing something amazing. Own it. Then when the calendar turns to November second, go to sleep, wake up later, and do something else awesome.

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