There are two things that scare people who haven’t done NaNoWriMo — and it’s not the two things you think, not exactly. The two obviously scary things are the number of words and the amount of time to write them. But these aren’t quite what scares people; what scares people and intimidates them is the concept “write a novel in a month”. That idea is actually scarier than the reality. It’s a brain-busting anxiety-inducing way of thinking about something that is difficult but not as bad as it sounds when you phrase it like that. If, instead, you said, “knock out a very short, very rough, draft of a book in a month” that sounds less crazy and more possible. And that’s how you should be thinking about NaNoWriMo. You’re not writing a novel in a month. You’re writing a very short rough draft, trying to get all the essential elements of the book down. Yes, it will be novel length, but at the very lowest possible end of novel length. Any less and you’d have a novella or a very long short story. You’re not going to be writing War and Peace: it’ll be more like the length of a short Agatha Christie novel or a Louis L’Amour western. Pick up one of their books which are less than 200 pages (not counting front and end materal, just the story) and sit down and read it. You can literally read one of those in a single sitting. That’s the length of book you’ll be writing for NaNoWriMo and unlike those novels, yours isn’t going to be a polished-for-publication novel, but a rough draft which will need to be finished, edited, rewritten, polished, etc (after which it may be either shorter or longer than the original draft). In short, it doesn’t have to be really good. Not in November. It just has to be written. Nobody writes great novels in the first draft. But you don’t get to create something good in those second and third drafts unless you write that first draft.
You’re not writing a novel. You’re writing a first rough draft. Never forget that. You’re not writing a 200,000 word epic. You may want to write a 200K epic, but what you’re actually doing is a short rough draft that can be read through in an afternoon. It’ll take you a month of afternoons (or mornings, or evenings) to write it, but 50K is not a huge novel. It’s a very small novel, barely a novel, and nothing more than the rawest of drafts.
Don’t scare yourself with the whole “OMG write a novel in a month” thing. It’s doable, because it’s just a short rough draft. Flesh it out to epic proportions during the winter. Rewrite in the spring. Watch it bloom. See, not scary at all!
For my best practical tip on how to hit the word count goal: see my NaNo Mantra: 2K a day post. That 1667 per day number is just another way NaNo can screw with your head. You need to understand what that number is doing and whether or not it’s working for you or against you. Check out the post and see if you need to finesse the math to make your goal by the end of the month.