As you know, this year I participated (unofficially) in National Novel Writing Month (known to its friends as NaNoWriMo.
The stated aim is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. But I’ll be honest with you. I never expected to write 50,000 words.
If I had been writing a new work, I might have managed that, or something close, but I wasn’t. I am close to the end of my big work in progress (WIP) and I had stalled somewhat, as I faced the brutal reality of pulling together a tense plot which is much more complicated than anything I’ve written before.
For me, NaNo was about overcoming The Fear (yes, always capitalised, as that is how it looms in my head and heart) of failure – and using a deadline, or word count target to push through it.
So, the good news is that it worked. I got through the part that was stalling me, am out the other side and am on the downhill run.
The even BETTER news is that I have learned something really important about how I work and how to set word count goals that are challenging but manageable.
I have previously struggled with word count goals, as the way I work means that I can seldom achieve the giddy numbers that many people do. Sure, there are days, when the story is flowing, that I can get down several thousand goodish words which I can edit later without too much trouble into something worth reading. But these days I tend to plan a bit more in advance, so I know more about what I’m trying to do in a scene, which means I choose my words more carefully and consequently it takes longer. I might write many thousands of words during a session, but I end it with a much smaller number of edited words and those are the only ones I count. Since they’re the only ones that contribute to the book’s total, that seems sensible, to me.
And naturally, the more complicated the plot and the point in the plot, the trickier the scene is to write and the more slowly I get to those magic ‘finished’ words.
However, what this hot-house period of NaNo has taught me is that, even on the worst days, writing from scratch (which no previous words to edit) and in the trickiest of scenes, I can create 1,000 finished words.
In previous times, when in the grip of production panic and comparing myself to other people (never a good idea; comparisons really are stinky) I would have flapped around saying ‘it’s not enough!’ Must do more!
But that was stupid. This is the same thinking that led me, when editing a magazine, to decide what needed to be done on each day, without any reference to what was possible, then, when it didn’t happen, just add today’s list to tomorrow’s list. Trust me, that way madness and sickness lie. I succumbed to both.
And it isn’t even necessary. If I can turn out 1,000 ‘finished’ words a day, working five days a week, I will have 100,000 words in 20 weeks – or six months, allowing for holidays and the unexpected. That’s a whole novel. And that is a speed I can live with.
So this is my new goal: a minimum of 1,000 good words a day.
I know this is a good goal, as it makes me feel energised and inspired, rather than overwhelmed and panicky. I also know it’s good because I have been doing it since the 1st of December and it is working! On the hardest day, I managed 1200 good words from scratch. On another day, I wrote 895 edited words, and 1,000 of a rough draft of the next scene, which the following day turned into 2,500 edited words – giving me roughly 3,395 (or a chapter, basically) over the two days. Which shows the other benefit of a good goal – because I’m not afraid of this goal, I just sit down and do it and as a result, I’m building up momentum again, something I thought I’d lost on this story!
So, although I got nowhere near the official word count, I am very happy with the results of my unofficial NaNo. My friend Alison Stuart also found it an inspiring learning experience, even though she didn’t make the numbers either. (You can read about what she learnt here.)
How did you go? Did you try? Did you succeed? What has it taught you that you can use into the future?