Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When Life Eats Your Word Count

When it comes to National Novel Writing Month, I am an overachiever. But, despite my best efforts, I can’t write all the time. Throughout November, I have to take care of the basic necessities, such as sleeping, bathing, and making coffee. Sometimes it’s possible to multitask and write at the same time, like while eating, but most of the time, there will be periods of hours or even days when life gets in the way of writing. And that has to be okay.

This month, I’ve encountered multiple obstacles that have interfered with my word count goal (505,505 words, in case you were wondering). As is always the case with NaNoWriMo, I wanted to have a really solid first week. I wanted to knock that word count dead. And even though I’ve already more than reached the actual 50,000 target word count on the website, I’m not pacing well for my own goal.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had to pack and clean and sort in preparation for moving, and that has involved a lot of time-and-energy-consuming work. It has also been emotionally stressful for me, as choosing what goes with me and what stays behind for now taps into some of my negative emotions from leaving Africa. (I’ve talked a little about this before.) And while writing can be a great way to blow off steam, it also requires brain power and endurance, and sometimes those two things just don’t come in abundance. Which means my word count is going to suffer.

So, what I’m saying is, you never know what’s going to get in the way of your progress in November (or whenever you choose to write your book, although I’m mainly referring to NaNoWriMo participants here). You’re not a failure if life grabs you and spins you around and keeps you so dizzy you can hardly pound out half of what you would like to.

Let yourself pick up the pace slowly. Ease yourself into this. You have a whole month.

Let me put it this way. I participated in Cross Country for multiple years when I was younger, and one important, invaluable thing I learned about long distance foot races was that I couldn’t afford to start out sprinting. In order to be able to run the whole race, I had to pace myself until I got within sight of the finish line. Then I could pull out all the stops and run at my top speed. Now, this isn’t a perfect analogy, since many NaNoWriMo overachievers will start off with a bang, but don’t feel bad if that doesn’t happen for you. It’s important to let yourself adjust so you don’t get burnt out. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not as far along right now as you’d like to be.

Don’t break your sanity, or your health, because you want to reach a certain number. I will tell you right up front that my word count is very important to me, and I would rather do most anything than admit I can’t always keep up with some of the more aggressive overachievers. But it’s important for me to accept my limits. Where I’m at is where I’m at (deep, I know), and getting frustrated with that is not going to change anything. It won’t help me write more words. It won’t help me have more ideas. What it will do is distract me from my ultimate goal, and that is completing the rough draft of a novel (or, in my case, at least five novels).

In the end, even if my word count falls short, and even if I have to finish drafting one or more of my stories in December, that’s still okay. I will have written. That is the main point of NaNoWriMo. Sure, you must reach a certain word count in order to win officially, or, if you’re like me, a certain even higher goal which you must reach in order to feel like you have won. But the goal is just there to keep you moving and putting words on the page. So please, try to remember to take pride in what you do accomplish, and please don’t let an overly competitive spirit prevent you from having a good time.

Let yourself take breaks from your writing when you need to. Wash the dishes. Short sheet someone’s bed. Visit the NaNo forums and commiserate or celebrate with other writers. If you can, please promise to have a good time, and I will promise to do the same.

Let’s chat, little coffee beans. How are you doing this fine November? What does your word count look like? Are you doing well, better than you had expected, or worse? If I could, I would jump through the screen and give you a giant mug of coffee to help you along, but I guess I’ll just have to give you this virtual pat on the back instead. Happy writing!


  1. I'm not doing NaNo this year. But I'm still writing. I know a lot of people look at their word count, and I do sometimes. I get excited when I've written so many words. But for me, I can write a thousand meaningless words in a first draft. So I usually measure my progress by when I reach a scene that comes in the middle of the novel, or even better when I write "The End."

    This is a good post though. I really needed it. I've done very little writing this month because work and college has taken over my life. I wanted to have my WIP first draft finished by the end of this year, but I'm still not even a third of the way through. And it's a little discouraging when I hear other writers have gotten through three or four first drafts since the beginning of this year (although I do think it's awesome that they can do that!).

    But if my life has me working at a slower pace right now, then it's okay. Worrying about it and letting it overwhelm will only hinder me more.

    Thanks so much for sharing. :)

    1. It's great that you're still writing, even if you're not participating, since writing is really the point anyway. That's actually a great way to measure progress. Numbers motivate me because I really like them, but I feel the same way about my rough drafts--I write a lot of junk that I need to rip apart later.

      Thank you! I'm glad I could help. :) And hey, work and college are important too--anything that you get written on the side is a victory. But I can understand how it can be discouraging--hopefully you'll be able to make more progress soon. :)

      You're welcome!

  2. Oh my goodness, Liz, your goal is huge! I would struggle to write 20,000 words in a month. Big thumbs up for writing that much AND moving AND still blogging at the same time. You have my total respect. I wish you the best of luck!!!

    1. *maniacal laughter* Why thank you. I've had a lot of focused practice to build up to this--it's really just like long distance running, but with words. But hey, writing 20,000 words in a month is nothing to sneeze at. You have my total respect too.

      Thank you, and thanks for commenting! :)

  3. Wow! That's a great word count! If you're determined enough to make it that far already, I'm sure you'll make it! (Even if you don't, that many words is nothing to sneeze at!)

    Thanks for the encouragement. Life's eaten my word count lately as well. I think we can all get discouraged from time to time.

    Happy noveling!

    1. Thank you! I almost made it! But I'm happy with what I've written.

      You're welcome. Life has a way of doing that--I know it really hit me hard last January when I was in the middle of edits, and I didn't make any of my self-set winter deadlines. Discouragement really does like to get in the way.

      Thank you, and you too!

  4. Wow your goal is massive! Way way way higher than mine! I commend you for going for something so high! I'm currently doing really well in NaNo. Just some emotional blues lately for some reason. I think its the coming of the end of the year and I'm thinking "What have I accomplished?" you know? As of this comment I have 33,568 words. ^ ^ I'm trying to finish before I go out of town next week, but we shall see. Best of luck with NaNo and moving!

    1. Thank you! Emotional blues during November are understandable, even if you have nothing else going on--creative effort can be emotionally draining at times. And I know I ask myself the same questions. I hope you feel better soon. :)You did really well this November! Congratulations!

      Thank you, and thanks for commenting!

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  6. Wow, 505,505????!!! That is quite the incredible goal!

    And YES. This post is so perfect! A lot of times, especially when we're competing in NaNo, we writers get so caught up in "WE MUST WRITE THIS MUCH" rather than simply "WE MUST WRITE." Which, in reality, is the most important part. :)


    1. It definitely is a stretch, and unfortunately, I didn't make it this year. But I got close. :)

      Thank you! :) Writing is definitely the important part, and unless you're someone like me, who uses the numbers as an encouragement to write faster through the awful first drafts, focus on quantity can be rather discouraging.

      Thanks for commenting!