NaNo’s history – so what’s next?

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.

This is supposed to represent me being all gritty and determine to write - but really it's just an excuse to fangirl over The Hobbit!

This is supposed to represent me being all gritty and determined to write – but really it’s just an excuse to fangirl over The Hobbit!

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?

18 thoughts on “NaNo’s history – so what’s next?

  1. I hit the 50k, but I’m only part-way through my story! Oh dear.

    I’m comfortable writing up to about 2k a day on a given project, but if I want to aim higher than that, then I need to switch between projects. I think one of the toughest things about writing is that it’s so easy to consider all of the other stuff that isn’t putting words on a page as being extraneous or “not work”, when really it’s all part of writing. I often feel so guilty for researching or studying my craft/the market and so on, when that’s all part of the job, too!

    • Well done on the 50K, Stephanie!

      You’re absolutely right, sometimes things DO take extra time. You’ve hit on the one part of my epiphany that I didn’t put in here – and that is that sometimes things are hard to write because they need more thought, not just because I’m being slack, and in that case, I can swap to another project. My only problem there is making sure the project is sufficiently different that I don’t let the character voices bleed over into each other!

      Research is definitely work and unless it’s a huge job, I don’t have a problem with doing that in ‘writing’ time. Studying craft and market and promo and the like, I have allocated time to, but separate from the ‘generating new work’ time. I’ve found otherwise that it will expand to fill the available space. A bit like studying, it’s never really ‘done’ so you just have to draw a line under it and the line I’ve chosen is a time one.

      But I’d say, if you made your 50k, you have that under control!

  2. I’ve never tried NaNo, Imelda. I am so undisciplined I expect I’d have dropped the ball within a matter of days. But good for you – not only for the words but the journey and learning more about what you can do.

    • I was the same until this time. But I needed something and it turned out well, although, as I said, nowhere near the 50k. You do need to know what you’re in it for and have a thick skin, or other people’s word counts can make you more depressed than when you started. I like the idea of using it as Alison did, as a way to fling yourself feet first into a new project and get it off the ground. I might try to arrange my schedule so I can do that next year!

  3. I’m happy that you found a good way that worked for you. As for me, NaNo was a great experience because it proved that I can actually write a novel! I was really into it, I even took my computer with me when we went away for a week-end! I still can’t believe it after all these years I was thinking about this story… Of course, the story is not edited and not finished and there is still a lot of work to do but it’s there now! I’m very happy but now I’m thinking, what’s next… I was actually thinking about joining Romance writers of Australia…

    • I’m just thrilled that you made it Rita. That’s a big hurdle. You know I think RWA is great, so no arguement there. I think you’d be hard put to find a better organisation for professional development and cameraderie!

  4. I got to 10, 000 words and then thought, “I don’t like writing like this.” I threw a wobbler, punched my laptop, ate thirty seven packets of Smarties, cried, had a deep bath, cried some more, punched myself in the face, had another deep bath, and then resolved to finish my real novel. NaNoWoMiRomeo certainly made me want to get writing again; I are getting to write a new end to me buke and e-publish. It’s also taught me I don’t like this Jack Kerouac styled stream of consciousness writing it promotes. I am meticulous and pedantic and snotty. I say! And, yes, I agree with you. 1,000 words a day is ideal. Hemingway only wrote 500 a day! Presumably so he could then get utterly wasted. Jack London did the same thing; at least 1,000 words down before he had a drink.

    • As I’ve said before, the throw it down and fix it later thing is never going to be my style. I can see it’s value as a block-remover, or a brain-storming session but for me, those 50k would never be words that would end up in the book. It would be more of an extended plan, if anything. Sounds as though it did the same thing for you as for me, though, which is getting you out of the slump, so for that it was worth it, yes? And you got two baths out of it, which is something. The big thing for me was accepting that 1,000 is actually perfectly fine. It’s enough to make me persist past tricky bits (which usually happen between 200 and 600 words, I’ve found) but not enough to make me resort to the smarties. It’s working so far and I love a plan that works!

  5. I did well this year in Na No. It has confirmed that I can write over 50.000 words in a month if I set that goal. I love challenges. in fact I thrive on them 🙂 I have a basic plot and subplots, and my characters have identities etc I don’t write for the sake of getting merely the word count down. It has to be meaningful and have direction, something that can be worked on in the following draft.

    • That sounds brilliant, Suzanne. I think that’s the kind of high-wordcount effort I COULD do. Where it’s scene plans, identities and the like. I can’t just pants a whole ms then go back and fix it. I’m way to anal for that! But 50k of solid planning, like you and Alison did, that does sound good. I’m planning to try that next year! Congratulations on making it!

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