Sorry – just how many words was that per day..? Heidi-Jo Swain becomes the envy of authors everywhere.

Posted on 31st October, 2014

November 1st falls on a Saturday this year, which is good news for NaNoWriMo writers who work office hours. Personally, I'll be at work all weekend, so my NaNo won't exactly get off to a flying start, but, as anyone who has done NaNo will tell you, that feeling of going crazy is part of the process.

Of course, the Big Worry that all Nano writers share is the word count. 50,000 words in a month - and not even a month with 31 days - is a substantial commitment. Obviously, not everyone achieves the magic 50,000, but we all set out in hope. In many cases, mine own included, the triumph of hope over experience is a wonderful thing.
So just how does someone with a family that needs feeding now and then, a partner who would like some attention, children who want to be ferried to swimming, judo and ballet, a dog that wants walking, not to mention a hamster that would like to be cleaned out etc etc tackle Nano?

My friend Heidi-Jo Swain wrote a huge amount over the summer. In the space of 6 weeks, she got something on paper Monday to Friday each week. That's 30 writing days, which is the same as Nano writers get in November. Heidi-Jo's word count came in at a colossal 75,000, give or take, which averages out at a dazzling 2,500 words per day. (It's a good thing she's my friend or I might be obliged to hate her.)

Here she is, to tell us how she did it.

Hello, Heidi-Jo. Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions.

Thank you for inviting me to contribute.

The first thing to make clear to all the writers out there who are feeling deeply inadequate at the thought of 75,000 words in 30 days, is that your mega writing spree took place during the school summer holidays when you're not at work. (Let's pause a moment while everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief.) Tell us how you did it. By getting up early..? Staying up late..? Refusing to produce meals..?

A lot of what I managed to achieve came down to the prior planning and preparation. I knew the characters and setting inside out, I knew where the story was going to begin and end and I had a fairly good idea of what was going to happen in between. That said I think you should always remain flexible when it comes to detail. When you get in the writing zone and the words are flowing let the characters tell the story. Let them take the strain and you’ll have much more fun than if you are doggedly struggling to make things fit your preconceived ideas.

In terms of time management I’m a definite early bird. I never write in the evenings and often find that by the time I break for lunch I’m pretty spent! That is true for all my writing days, not just the intense summer holiday sessions.


I never finish a writing session without knowing where I’m going to pick the story up again and of course the writing doesn’t stop just because you are away from the keyboard. Whether I’m ironing, baking or cuddling the cat I’m still on duty, thinking things through, playing out scenes and conversations in my head so when I sit back down everything is ready to go. More often than not I’ve know the first couple of sentences or the opening dialogue off by heart and by the time that’s down the rest is plain sailing (ish).

Did this evolve or did you deliberately set out to do your writing this way?

A six week summer holiday is a total luxury for anyone, but for us writer types it is a genuine gift from the gods of chapter and verse and should not be squandered at any cost! It was never a conscious decision but looking back over my writing diary I can see that I have definitely started to plan my writing goals and set my self-imposed deadlines around the school holidays. The summer, being the most lengthy, is ideal for nailing a first draft.

Did you set yourself targets or did you go with the flow?

The only target I set in terms of a date was to complete the first draft, believe it or not, by October half term. I guess I was lucky that the story flowed and I could just keep going.


On a more personal note I told myself that I was just going to write, not look back, not edit or fiddle. I’ve done that before and it is a real barrier to progression. Countless times I’ve got stuck, going over and over things I haven’t been happy with in the belief that I can’t move on until I’ve got them right. Rubbish! Don’t do it! By all means have a quick read of the last page if necessary but then just get going. You can sort any bits you aren’t happy with later. I can guarantee if you just get it down, then have a decent break before you begin editing you’ll love the story, it will still feel fresh and you’ll even discover bits that you can’t remember writing!

Were you aware of the dizzy heights achieved by your word count?

Not at all. My main focus for the holidays was simply to get as much written as quickly as possible. It was actually quite a shock when I sat back and realised that it was done, out of my head and on the memory stick and sitting in my inbox. (If in doubt always email yourself a copy).

You're back at work now. That must have been a shock to the system. Tell us about your writing schedule now that you're working (how many?) days a week.

My working week is pretty haphazard at the moment as I’m helping out an extra class with a huge theatre project. In conjunction with The Theatre Royal Norwich and inspired by Matthew Bourne’s adaptation of Lord of the Flies our year 6 class are creating their own performance.


However, my working week should settle down soon and I’ll have Thursdays and Fridays at home and they will be my specific writing days. This in itself is going to take some getting used to as I used to prep over the weekend and write Monday and Tuesdays but us writer types are pretty adaptable, aren’t we?


I’m also managing to get some editing done at the weekends at the moment having recently taken over the conservatory as my designated quiet and undisturbed writing spot, (that’s the theory anyway). I also write my blog posts at the weekends and plan, plot and read before work, during my lunch break and whilst wading through the ironing pile. There really never is a dull moment!

What about bad days? Days when the words just won't come, or they do come but you're not happy with them.

To be honest, days like those are simply not allowed. I know that sounds blunt but there it is. There’s precious little time as it is, none of us have so much of the beloved stuff that we can afford to choose not to write or think about writing or for that matter spend time stressing over something that we‘ll fix later.


Do you have any words of encouragement for writers hovering on the brink of their first NaNoWriMo?

First of all, congratulations! I admire each and every one of you. Secondly, when you start, just keep going. Don’t worry about any of it not being good enough. It isn’t supposed to be. The whole point of committing to the project is to give you the foundations to create a masterpiece at a later date, isn’t it? And finally, if you miss a day, for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up about it. Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and get cracking again. The only thing you’ll regret is if at the end of the month those dreaded words ‘what if’ are messing with your mind.


I wish each and every one of you the very best of luck and look forward to hearing about how you’ve got on!

Heidi-Jo, thanks very much for your input.


If you would like to find out more about Heidi-Jo's writing, click here


If you're about to embark on NaNoWriMo, best of luck. Remember the golden rule - keep writing. Don't stop to edit.

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Comments (2)

As a NaNoWriMo newbie viewing the next thirty days with considerable trepidation, thank you, Susanna and Heidi-Jo, for such an interesting and helpful post. I've printed off Heidi-Jo's answers to keep by my computer for times when the going gets tough! The advice not to edit will I know be hard but everyone says that it's the only way. So here goes!
I enjoyed this look at your writing life, Heidi-Jo. I'm envious you have two specific writing days. That's still a far-off dream for me. But, like you, I structure my time and the words increase. I need to remind myself not to stop and edit, though. Wise advice to just 'keep going.'

Thanks to both you and Susanna for an interesting post. xx