Tag Archives: daily word count

Hard-won Na No Lessons

November 1 is the start of National Novel Writing Month, that insanewonderful competition in which aspiring novelists attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

I have competed in NaNo and won each of the past three years. This year, I’m going to take a pass–not because I don’t get a lot out of the competition, but because I am much too busy. I do urge all writers to try NaNo.

There is some controversy when it comes to NaNo. Critics say it encourages novice writers to rush books into publication too quickly. But NaNo’s website advises writers to take the time to revise their work and there are loads of tips on how to do that.

The chief benefit of NaNo is that it instills the daily writing habit. Writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days breaks down to 1,667 words a day. This is a real stretch goal. It is beyond my comfort zone. My sweet spot is about 500 words a day. So why crank out 1,667 words per day for 30 days? It challenges writers to discover what’s possible. It causes writers to break their outer limits.

As we embark on NaNo month, here are some hard-won lessons:

–Write every day, even if you’re not feeling it. Our region’s Municipal Liaison (ML-what NaNo calls its regional leaders) offers this advice to every contestant. If you keep up the pace for 10 days and then you don’t write at all for a couple of days, you will fall way behind. Even if you don’t write 1,667 words, write 500 or 1,000.

–Take your story wherever it leads you. This is a big one. All three years in which I competed, I finished my story well short of 50,000 words. What did I do? I kept going. I challenged myself to take the story in a new direction. And I discovered new dimensions to all three stories.

–Don’t give up. I almost did last year. I kept the pace for 21 days, then I did some revising and actually lost words. I was at 42,000 words on the last day and wrote 8,000 words in two long writing sessions. It can be done.

–Don’t stop to edit. It’s tempting to want to revise your story as you go, but it will bog you down. As much as you might want to stop, you have to keep going.

–Find your regional group and attend their events. Regional groups are tremendous resources for writers. You will find your home region on the NaNo website once you register. Get to know your ML and folks in your region. Events in your region are posted there. Attend at least one event. It’s fun to write with others. You will share ideas and make new friends in the process.

NaNo is grueling, but it is loads of fun. I would do it again. Good luck, NaNo’ers.

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NaNo Update: Down to the Wire

As I write this, I have 36 hours left to reach 50,000 words and “win” the annual National Novel Writing competition, the goal of which is to reach that word count with an original first draft of a novel in just 30 days.

I kept pace with the daily word count until last weekend, when I reached the end of my story. What followed was an intense period of brainstorming as I frantically searched my brain to invent new plot lines to extend the story. I was at 35,000 words on November 21 with only the denouement to write. I wasn’t going to make it to 50,000 words unless I came up with a new story line. I was ready to throw in the towel. It didn’t help when I went back to rewrite a scene that didn’t work (a real no-no in Nano land) and I ended up having to change several other scenes and I ended up losing 300 words. Okay it did create a much better story.

I took a day off to regroup, and then I decided I had come this far. I just couldn’t give up. My brain miraculously came up with a way to extend the story and create new tension. I had back to back 1,800-word days on Monday and Tuesday, but I had fallen way behind thanks to my unproductive weekend. I was determined to catch up. I even wrote 1,000 words on Thanksgiving and I am up to almost 4,000 words today, but the clock is ticking.

I will update my status on Sunday, but I have to get back to my story.

If you are doing NaNo, how is it going? Keep writing!

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Goal: 500 Solid Words Per Day

The recently concluded National Novel Writing Month competition got me thinking about the daily writing habit. To win NaNo, a writer must write 1,667 words per day—every day, for 30 days. That’s a nearly unachievable pace for any writer to maintain for long. If it wasn’t for a few 5,000-word days in late November, I never could have reached 50,000 words.

So my question is this: what is a realistic daily word count for a writer? For me, the answer lies somewhere between 500 and 1,000 words, but I’m convinced it’s 500. Why 500 words? It’s achievable. During our regional NaNo writing sessions, we would take part in “word wars.” Our leader would set a timer for 15 minutes and we would write. I was consistently around 450 words. These were not Pulitzer Prize-winning words, but they were good enough to advance my story. And let’s face it: everybody has 15 minutes to a half-hour of down time each day. Take your laptop or tablet with you in your car. When you sit down at a coffee shop with your latte, do some writing. Write on your lunch break, or before or after dinner. Write first thing in the morning or last thing before going to bed.

Writing 500 words per day six days a week (one day of rest will help to fill the creative tank) will produce 3,000 words a week, or, 12,000 words a month. In eight months, a writer will have an 84,000-word first draft. Of course, 500 is an arbitrary number. If a writer is in a creative groove, there’s nothing stopping her if she wants to keep going and achieve one of those glorious 5,000-word days.

When it comes to word count here are some considerations:

  • Determine first what you are capable of achieving and how much time you have in a given day. Do you find yourself losing steam after 500 words? One thousand words? Does your writing time consist of sneaking 15 minutes here or there between household chores or work?
  • Set a goal that is achievable. For me, 500 words is do-able.
  • Decide whether you need a daily word count or are you the type of “binge writer” who can crank out 5,000 to 7,000 words in a productive weekend.
  • Test your limits. If 1,000 sounds like a mountain you can’t scale, try for 300. When that becomes too easy, go for a higher number.

There’s no doubt writers benefit from putting words on the page every day. It’s a tough habit to get into and an easy one to lose. Distractions abound, from social media to the natural tendency to procrastinate. If NaNo proves one thing, it’s that the daily word count is a good habit.

What is your daily word count? How did you determine your word count?

 

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NaNo Update #1

We’re ten days into National Novel Writing Month—one-third of the way there—and after the first nine days, I’m at 15,000 words. My stats page on the NaNo website tells me at this rate I will finish on November 29, one day ahead of the deadline. I have 35,000 words to go.

I should be feeling pretty good about my chances to achieve the goal of writing a 50,000 word first draft in thirty days, right? There’s one slight problem. I’m about two-thirds of the way through my written outline. In short, I’m running out of story.

So what do I do now? Here are my choices:

  1. Keep going and I might get to 30,000 words.
  2. Think hard about potential new scenes or story lines and add these to the draft.
  3. Begin writing the ending first and see how many words I can generate and whether the resolution of the plot jogs any additional story strands I can pursue.

I am leaning toward a combination of #2 and #3. I have already written two completely new scenes that were not in my original written outline. I was pleased with one of these scenes and unhappy with the other. If not for the word count pressure of NaNo, I would not have written either one, but that is one of the benefits of putting myself through the process. It has forced me to employ the most intense type of creative focus. If I was merely slogging my way through a first draft, the word count wouldn’t concern me and I wouldn’t have challenged myself to think about all the story possibilities. Some of these won’t work and I will go back and cut them, but there are those little nuggets in there that I will keep and polish.

There’s nothing to lose when the word count rules the day. When I revisit the draft later on, I will keep what works and cut the rest. And when I reach that 50,000 words (or should I say if?) I will have discovered the core of my story. And in my desperate desire to maintain 1,667 words per day, I will unearth some precious jewels.

If you are doing NaNo, what challenges do you face? How are you coping?

 

 

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