How to Write 20K in a Day
Fast-drafting is seen as something of a superpower in the writing community.
You might need to hit a deadline, or you might need to get ahead on your schedule so you can take some much-needed time off. Fast-drafting is helpful, for me, because it's so much easier to keep the whole story in my head for twenty or thirty days, as opposed to a year. I can easily remember if I already talked about my MC's dead sister if everything I've ever written on this story was written in the last ten days. When the first chapter was written eleven months ago? Not so much.
So there are a few reasons you might want to fast-draft, and here are some tips to help you write a whole lot of words in very few days:
Step One: Plan ahead
If you're fast-drafting, you can't stop to untangle a plot hole. You can't delete three chapters and start over. You can't spend four hours on the internet choosing the ~perfect~ name and the ~perfect~ make and model of a car for your love interest. You can't fall down research rabbit holes, trying to figure out if there's a way for a grand piano to exist in your medieval-ish world.
This means you need a plan ahead of time. I recommend an outline, a name bank, a very basic worldbuilding structure, and a document to drop all your research questions.
Outline - At least use a 7-point system to give yourself guideposts to write towards. Seven points is pretty open, leaving lots of room to discovery write, if that's your jam. If you're a planner/plotter, you probably don't need advice from me here.
Name Bank - dig through baby name lists or genealogical records before you start writing and come up with a few dozen names of each gender plus several that are non-gendered that all fit the vibe of your story. These aren't locked in place, but they're great for placeholders or to name minor characters as you go along. I recommend picking your main character's names before you start plotting, if you want to just get words down fast.
Worldbuilding Structure - do some planning, especially if this is SFF. Pick a climate, do some basic research on what type of food is readily available in that climate, and give yourself some very general guidelines on weather patterns and the flora/fauna. Sounds like a lot? Not really. For example: describe a desert to yourself. Sand, rocks, not a lot of water, monsoons, dust storms. Or, try describing a major city in the throes of an industrial revolution. Lots of soot and smoke, crowded streets not built for mechanical travel, people of all races/ethnicities, food shipped in from all over. Boom. That's a world that you can use very broadly for this first draft. The details will reveal themselves in the story, or will be noted in Step Four below. Keep reading.
Step Two: Track and Sprint
Tracking your work is the best way to incentivize yourself to keep going. This is part of why NaNoWriMo is so successful for so many people; that online tracker that gives you daily averages and projected finishing times is super helpful. I have a downloadable one you can use for free, any time of year:
This is especially helpful when you cross 10K for the first time. Once you cross that threshold, the first digit of your wordcount doesn't change for a looooooong time. That gets discouraging. Seeing your "daily words needed" shrinking can help you get out of the "I've been stuck at 10K forever" feeling. (same when you're "stuck" at 20K, 30K, 40K... etc)
I highly recommend starting to write and then immediately marking down how many words you put down in your first sentence. You might be okay with a zero-words day (things happen), but for some reason nobody wants a 27-word day. That just looks and feels BAD, so you're way more likely to just keep going, once you've documented that you got some words for the day.
In addition to tracking, I recommend sprinting. The format that works best for me is a 30-minute sprint followed by a 10-minute break, so 40-minute intervals. Yes, it means you're starting and stopping at strange times, but I feel like the best wordflow happens after 20 minutes. If I'm really in a groove, I might push through to an hour, but never more than that. That's no longer a sprint, and it'll get old and make me give up if I try to push for too long all at once.
Step Three: Focus
This one is super simple and really annoying: don't get distracted. If you're gonna put down tens of thousands of words in a day, you have to focus. And you're gonna have to find your best way to do it. My personal tips (YMMV, pinch of salt, and all that jazz...)
Put my laptop on airplane mode. Turn the wifi back on in between sprints to allow my writing to be backed up to the cloud, but this stops easy googling.
Don't keep my phone on me. Check it during breaks between sprints or on meal breaks.
Headphones if I'm out around other people (including my family) or work in a quiet room; I don't have an office so I often write in my bedroom.
Don't tweet or post on social media about anything other than your sprinting/drafting for the day. Yes, it's boring. No, you can't be like this all the time. But if you post about other stuff, you'll be tempted to check "real quick" how that post is doing or get dragged into a ~discussion~ with people who don't care if you hit your wordcount.
Keep snacks nearby, including cold/hot drinks of choice. Don't let yourself be distracted by hunger. This also means you need to feed yourself proper meals at proper intervals to make sure you're able to focus in between.
Step Four: Leave Yourself Notes
Use the Notes function under the "review" menu in your word processor to leave notes for yourself. This stops you from going back and revising or editing as you write and it stops you from getting distracted with googling or wordsmithing. Some examples of notes I've left myself:
This character is useless. Cut and combine her with <other character> (then I pretended she was already cut from that point forward, making the edits slightly easier when I came back to them)
Research 1830s carriages
Add in <other character's> POV scene here
Find funny way to say "train of thought" in a world without trains
Research weapons for this fight (and then I skipped most of the fight, other than the biggest plot-relevant aspects and moved on until I could block it for the right weaponry)
Worldbuild for this <other character's> culture
You can see these are all things that I likely couldn't have known were going to come up in the draft. I didn't know these were problems until I stumbled upon them. But, if I were to stop and tackle them, I would slow down significantly, and I didn't want to do that. These things don't need to drastically affect the plot, which is what 99% of the first draft is.
There are a few reasons I can think of as to why someone would bother with all this.
It's easier to hold the story in my head for thirty days than it is to hold it in my head for a year. I need to make far fewer notes, do a lot less scrolling, and keep a less detailed story bible in the early drafts, when things are prone to changing anyway.
If you've got a deadline, you gotta write faster. The first book can take years to write, but if you sell a multi-book contract, you might have only a few months to plot, draft, revise, edit, and polish that book.
This might fit into your schedule better. Some writers write in small bursts, fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. Others need a big chunk of time to really get into the flow of things, but they can't afford to quit their job and write full-time. But they might be able to swing a writing retreat? Or a conference weekend? A bit of time in which you've got a couple days to write, but who knows when you'll get another chance? Get a lot of words down while you can!
Maybe you finally want to win NaNoWriMo and nothing else has worked.
Bragging rights. Obviously.