One Dutch Editor, One Nomad Writer

How to finish NaNo in four days

I managed to finish NaNo in four days.

Am I completely insane?

Maybe. But for me, it was a challenge to see how fast I could complete NaNo. The previous NaNoCamp events were not that challenging to me. Some others set their goal to 70K or even 100K for November, but I didn’t just want to up my word count like that.

Would I do it again?


I’d rather have four days of intense stress and a day after to recuperate than to spend a month fitting NaNo in between my other obligations. This caffeinated craze fits well with my style of writing (word vomit) and editing habits (long-haul rewrites and specific checks). Aside from that, NaNo brings out my competitive streak and I soar under pressure.

My NaNo began on Tuesday the 5th around 4 PM. It ended a few minutes before midnight on Saturday the 9th. (Very dramatic, I know!)

What got me started

If you also want to try and finish NaNo within a week, you will have to prep. After all, if I wanted to scale Mount Everest, I wouldn’t run out there tomorrow, either. If you are struggling to catch up with your daily count, this blog will help you get to the finish line.

Up front I will tell you that some lifestyles are not compatible with this way of reaching the NaNo finish line. And that’s fine. As for me, I live alone (not even a pet), my relationship is long-distance, and I work as a freelance writer and editor. That means I have no day-to-day distractions. I planned my days of writing around the unmovable things in my schedule, and kept it clear for quite a few weeks in advance.

But, with five days of weekend left to before the NaNo finish line, everyone should be able to give it their best shot.

Top priority: finish NaNo

Step one: prioritize the writing. Block a few hours or even whole days in your agenda. That’s now your writing time. Tell your SO, family, friends, ahead of time that you’ll be harder to reach as you will be writing.

Writing comes first, second, and third. No unexpected visitors, calls, deliveries with new shiny toys, nothing. Getting to that finish line is all that matters. No night out with your SO “Because this writing thing is going too far and you seem just way to stressed, bae, this should be fun.”

Seriously, keeping me away from my writing is what causes stress. My friends and family knew what I was doing, sort of, at least to the degree they didn’t interrupt. Because let’s face it, if I’d been binge watching Queer Eye for four days straight they would not have made that big of a deal out of it. At least this time I got stuff done.

The goal is to get 50K done. Whether that is writing or editing or rewrites, that thrill of doing it in less than a week was what motivated me to finish in four days. So ask yourself, why do you want to make it to that line? What motivates you?

Preptober (but it’s not too late, yet!)

Before November started, I prepared all I could.  And for this round, I made sure to have a printed version of my WIP, attacked with colored markers to note where things didn’t flow as I wanted. The critique group I run spent the last two months poring over my intended chapters to give me a sense of where I would have to focus on. Only once I turned to Google: “does fresh cow dung smell different than stale dung”. During each hour, every minute, every change I made, I knew what I had to do next.

Of course, you probably have less time for that than I had. And now isn’t the best time to make blueprints for the buildings your story takes place in. But what you should be doing—if you haven’t done this yet—is figure out where your story is going.

Outline 101: write down the plot in bullet points.

  • Harry learns he’s a wizard. 
  • He gets supplies and goes to Hogwarts. 
  • Harry makes friends and learns things. 
  • He learns about Crucial Plot Point X that will help him later on. 
  • Lots of trials and puzzles, friendship, blah. 
  • Final battle.

There, that’s about all you need. The how, why, where, with who is not important to get hammered out, but you should know, “what happens next?” That way you always have some idea of what to write next. Chances are that you already have something similar in mind, but write it down anyway. Whenever you get stuck because your characters went off on a tangent, just put in a few line breaks and continue on with the intended plot lines.

(Like heck you’re gonna throw away words you wrote! But you can’t write yourself in a corner either. Work smart, not hard.)

Groceries and supplies

This is probably the most simple thing to prep: I got all the groceries I would need ahead of time. Why spend time in a store when I can be writing? I had everything planned out before I even started. My meals were focused around easy dishes. Ten minute prep for dinner, max. Salads, one-pan-dishes, pre-cut veggies, the works. Breakfast and lunch kind of blended together and wouldn’t take more than five minutes to prep.

In addition, the pantry was lined with healthy snacks, unhealthy snacks (can’t afford to get distracted by cravings!), and loooots of energy drink. I filled my fridge with enough food to last me a week, with room left to keep any leftovers—why cook every day when leftovers do just fine, too? I could’ve gone more hardcore and prepped out every meal in advance, but to me, cooking is a good habit. It increases my productivity for the hours afterwards immensely, and thus it works for me, not against me.


House chores are my favorite form of procrastination. I’ll just do a quick laundry, then do the dishes, and before I know it half my house is clean. At the same time I have a hard time working in an environment that’s messy. Not just because it distracts me, but typically, when I’m messy in my home, I’m messy in my mind. So before I start NaNo, I make sure my house is spick and span.

So when you have a day of uninterrupted writing bliss, or an hour, or a few minutes on your phone while you wait for the bus; use it. Don’t get distracted by menial stuff. Delete social media apps if you have to. Leave your phone on the other side of the house. Plug out the modem if you have to.


Habits are what NaNo is all about. Knowing your habits helps you finish NaNo. Learn how to use your tendencies in your favor. I know not to get bogged down by line edits when I’m working on rewriting developmental issues. My editing process exists of layers that I go through. That allows me to be precise in my tasks and since learning about how I edit well, my editing time has been slashed to pieces.

Habits are what this challenge is all about. They don’t just encompass how you work, but you can learn how to make them work for you. Build habits to aid your writing process. I am in control of my habits, and that realization hit me hard this NaNo. It showed me that with only a few adjustments in my daily regime I can become more productive overall.

For example, I always start my day out at my desk, sitting behind my computer. I have two monitors set up so one is for the prep screen, and one is for the actual rewrites. But that gets stale after a few hours sitting in the same position. So when I switch to my laptop and recline on the sofa, I keep on writing. Often I’ll have my most productive hours on that couch. The difference in keyboard, backlight, basically the way I present the text to myself, also helps combat mental fatigue as I use different pathways in my brain because of the switch.

Another thing that helps me is to do word sprints. I like to do three 15-minute sprints an hour with a few minutes in between. If I need to go to the bathroom or grab more water, maybe stretch my back, that’s good. It helps with productivity, it helps my writing, so I take those short breaks.With this schedule I can clock over 1000 words an hour.

Self-care and mental health

I have overcome my fair share of mental health issues. As such, I am very familiar with what works as my self-care. I know that I need my eight hours of sleep if I’m to feel any form of productivity. Seven hours kind of still works, but six turns me into a wreck by noon. In addition I ate a home-cooked meal each day, eating similar to what I normally do. As much as I could, I kept the stress from coming anywhere near my body.

The moments where I wasn’t writing, (eating, showers, cooking) I made a conscious effort to not have any of my writing up. Only once I had software read a chapter through dinner, because I wasn’t sure if the pacing was right or not. Otherwise; no screens, no writing, just down-time.

During all of it I listened to my body. Being sick was just part of that. On day two I caught myself walking to the fridge every five minutes though I wasn’t hungry. That happens. It was a sign that something was off, so I worked through some dishes that had piled up because I know that relaxes me. Then I took a quick shower, made some popcorn, and spent some time texting with my SO. Lo and behold, half an hour later I was back at it, full strength, off to finish NaNo


So in short, there are a few things that I kept asking myself during prep and the process;

  • Does this improve my productivity?
  • Does this improve my writing?
  • What comes next?

With that in mind, I got through it. Not every hour was easy, not every chapter is to the point I would publish it, but I got to finish NaNo

It’s still not too late to plan or to sign up on Nanowrimo’s website if you haven’t already. You got this. Pine and me both finished nano already but we are both using the crazy positive vibe online to push ourselves to do evn more. You can track our progress on Twitter at @madeline_pine and @wmalovesong1. If you need encouragement, give us a tweet! We’ll also keep you updated right here on the Red Penpals blog, so sign up for our newsletter if you’d like to keep in touch! Keep at it!

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