Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Knocking that Word Count Dead


Ah, welcome to the third week of NaNoWriMo, where everything gets just a little bit more interesting. At this point, you’re probably tired, and, if you’re like me, you’re running behind on your goal (whether it’s the official 50K or whatever goal you’ve set for yourself). Others of you may be breezing ahead, throwing your cares to the wind, and having the time of your life. Wherever you’re at, it doesn’t hurt to think about getting some extra words written in case you find yourself unable to make significant progress over Thanksgiving.

Let me just say, as a disclaimer, that everyone’s brain is different. So the advice I’m about to give won’t necessarily work for all of you, and that’s perfectly okay. Remember what I said last week? The ultimate goal is to write the story. Your final word count at the end of the month will not be a meter by which you should measure your self-worth, or even your successfulness. Some people write slowly, and they need to write slowly, and that’s totally cool. Writing slowly doesn’t make you a failure. That being said, if you’re as numbers oriented as I am, here are some tips that might help you beef up your word count.

First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that writing, like a professional sport, requires a lot of practice and training. If you’re just coming out of the gate, you probably don’t want to count on pulling a 30,000 word day. Push yourself, yes, but don’t be angry if you fall short. Those just beginning training for a marathon shouldn’t expect themselves to be able to finish the whole race on the first try. If you’re new to writing, or new to writing thousands of words in a month, please don’t make this a miserable experience by forcing yourself to produce more than you’re able to. And don’t expect it to be fun all the time. Like long-distance running, it takes a lot of sweat and effort and focus, but the end result will be worth it.

My first NaNoWriMo (2012), I didn’t officially participate. Instead, I just kept track of what I wrote during November, and my count came to about 36,000 words. At that point, 36,000 words was a big deal—the most I had ever written in such a short space of time. When the next November rolled round, I decided to push myself a little harder, and I came to 160,000 words at the end of the month. Last year, I went into NaNoWriMo intending to one-up myself and write 250,000 words, but after a bit of warm up, I found I was able to go above and beyond that, and I reached 404,404 words total.

Now, my point in mentioning these numbers is not to make those with lower word counts feel bad in any way whatsoever. So let me put some things into perspective for you. In all of those NaNoWriMos, as with this one, what I wrote was pretty nearly junk and I would die before I let anyone read those rough drafts. But, I would never have even reached the 50,000 word official goal had I been writing something quality. Which brings me, at long last, to my next point. If you want to beef up your word count, and you’re like me, you need to lock your inner editor up in a maximum security penitentiary for the month. Be aware that if you’re going to go for the higher word counts, you don’t have as much leeway to second guess what you’re writing. One of the biggest rules that I set for myself is that I can never go back and reword something, even if I absolutely hate what I just typed (although I may also write the alternate wording down so I don’t forget it). If I’m in the middle of a scene, and I decided it’s really not what I’m going for, I make a quick note to myself about it and then pick up wherever I left off before things went wrong. But I don’t delete anything.

One of my greatest joys in writing comes from the editing process, so the messier my first drafts get, the more fun I’ll have on the second. I try to keep this in mind as I vomit words all over the page. Remember, the official goal for November is to write 50,000 words—just 50,000 words—not 50,000 polished words, not 50,000 words of publishable manuscript. At the end of the month, no one has to read what you’ve written (or at least, I hope you’re not under that sort of pressure.) When trying to beef up your word count, type the first thing that comes to your mind, and then the next thing and the next thing. You’re allowed to stop and think, but you’re not allowed to stop and overthink, and you’re going to have a lot of trouble making headway if you spend too much time second-guessing yourself.

Another important aspect is good time management. I can be guilty of way too much procrastination—in fact, I don’t think I’d be as far behind my goal as I am if I’d spent more time holding myself to task. Part of good time management is taking advantage of every spare moment you have. Can you write on your phone? Do that when you can’t access your computer. Do you have five minutes while you’re waiting for someone to vacate the bathroom? Use that time. Are the kids napping? Write. Do you have ten minutes while the cookies are baking? Well, don’t just stand around doing nothing—TYPE. Do you feel like slacking off? Write anyway. Squeezing in five or ten minute segments whenever they crop up may not feel hugely important or helpful, but you may find you’re able to salvage more time than you think that way. Even if you only manage an extra thousand or so words, at least you’re farther along than you would have been. Remember that, like spare change, spare moments add up.

Now that I’ve talked about writing all the time, let me reverse directions and advocate taking strategic breaks. Let’s face it, your brain and your fingers are going to need rest, and if you deny them that, they won’t work for you as well as they could. Set a word count goal that you want to reach (something reasonable, maybe anywhere from 100-2,000 words), and write that amount. Don’t pause until you’ve written that. Then take a quick break to read something or visit your favorite social media sites or walk around a little. Then set another goal and make sure that you hold yourself to it. Don’t let yourself take a break until you’ve met that goal. And so on and so forth.

As for my final point, it may seem a little counterintuitive to a lot of you, and again, it might not work for everyone. But my advice would be to make sure that you get enough sleep. In fact, during NaNoWriMo, I let myself get at least an extra hour of sleep each day if I can manage it. The reason for this is that your brain will start losing some of its ability to function properly if you’re depriving it of rest. Even if you manage to snatch a few more writing hours by delaying bed time, you may not be able to accomplish much more than you would have if you had let yourself recharge. And let’s not forget that your word count won’t seem as shiny and awesome at the end if you don’t even survive NaNoWriMo.

When it comes down to it, whether you get a super high word count or a rather low count, if you have put the time into writing this month, I wholeheartedly applaud you because you are amazing.

 
So what about you, my little coffee beans? Any tips or tricks of your own that you’d like to share? What is your target word count for this month?

15 comments:

  1. Wait a minute.
    404,000?
    ...
    Are you human?
    Wait, let me rephrase that: "YOU AREN'T HUMAN."
    I'm actually a bit scared. That shouldn't be possible. I'm in awe. Just.
    Wut. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awwww, man, you finally figured out my secret. And I thought I did such a good job pretending to be a human.
      But yes, you should totally fear me. *bares fangs*
      Thank you, and thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  2. I agree that you shouldn't pin your self-worth on your word count. Not everyone can produce that fast. And I love editing too. Happy writing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very true--not everyone is built to write that fast and not everyone enjoys speeding through writing, and that's perfectly fine. I'm glad you love editing! Thank you, and thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  3. Thanks for this great advice! Personally, I struggle with time management. I really appreciated what you said about not pinning your success as a writer on what you're able to write in a 30 day period.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're welcome, and thank you! :) I go through periods where I really struggle with time management, and I have to force myself to limit my procrastination.

      And thank you--I know that I can get super competitive and I can forget that it doesn't really matter in the end what I've written because my value has not changed either way, and I figured there were probably other writers who felt similarly.

      Thanks for commenting! :)

      Delete
  4. WELL JUST WOW. JUUUUST WOW, OKAY!?!? But I totally agree with you. *nods* And I think NaNoers do get caught up in comparing their wordcounts...but you can't expect yourself to write a ginormous amount unless you've trained for it, right? I used to take 6 months to write a book. Now I can do it in 5 days. (But still, hehe, it's quite teeny tiny next to your incredible awesomeness.)
    And I'm a FIRM believer in writing crappy first drafts. MINE ARE SO BAD I CRINGE. I often say stuff like "and they did the thing" and I even will take an entire paragraph to just try and get a thought out that could take a sentence later. XD It's just about writing, for me. Edits come later. (Although, unlike you, I loathe editing. XD)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *bows deeply* Why thank you, Cait. It's so stinkin' tempting to get caught up in comparing word counts, and I can find myself feeling inferior to the NaNoWriMo millionaires who have been at this for years more than I have.

      WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, WRITING A BOOK IN FIVE DAYS IS STILL AMAZING AND AWESOME AND AASDKLJASDLFS.

      MY ROUGH DRAFTS ARE PROBABLY WAY WORSE. MIND PROBABLY MAKE YOURS LOOK LIKE PUBLISHABLE NOVELS. I will take pages and pages just to figure out what I'm going to say in one little paragraph, but it works, so I guess if it ain't broke don't fix it.

      I'm sorry you loathe editing. :( If you pay me a million dollars, I will totally edit all your books for you. :D

      Delete
  5. My goodness, child, your word count goal blows me away. Congrats :P I like to take it 500 word chunks at a time so I don't get overwhelmed with everything I have to do, and I make a point of making first drafts all about throwing words and story onto the page however I want without making it about being perfect. It really, really helps me if I allow myself to have fun with it and totally suck. xD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! 500 word chunks are lovely. Throwing words at the page is an admirable technique, and I wouldn't be able to get anything done if I didn't free myself to do that. (Although it does make me feel like a toddler splattering paint on a canvas.) It's fun to be a little (or, a lot) reckless with rough drafts. :) Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  6. These are some good tips! And man those word counts. That's ... That's not normal. XD Amazing, but inhuman.I'm not sure if I'll ever write that many words in a month.

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Yeah...Katie has already figured out my secret--I'm not actually a human. Lol. It does take a lot of focused training and time investment to write that quickly, but you'd be amazed by the people who've written way more than me. There were two people who wrote three million words each this November, and yeah, I could not imagine doing that. But I'm still going to train for it anyway. :P

      Delete
    2. Wow! I'm not sure I want to write that much in a month because it'd be such a mess if I did it, but I admire those who write that much.

      Delete
  7. These are all awesome tips! One thing that I discovered this NaNo (and it sounds really obvious so maybe everybody else figured it out already, and I'm just behind?) is to think of whatever is simply the next logical step for my character to take. What does she have to do next in order to keep surviving and meet her goal? And then just take that step and figure out the rest later on.
    Like I said, I don't know if that's so obvious that everyone else figured it out already, lol. But I know it really helped me out this year.


    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's actually a super great pointer. I think I've instinctively followed it, but I've never seen it spelled out like that. It's super fun when you consider logical steps as well as cause and effect. And each step steers the narrative in one direction or another. Thanks for sharing! :) I'm glad it helped you out. :)

      Delete