Some are struggling to make their daily counts, some will finish early.
We’re almost a third of the way into the month of November, and that means for a lot of people taking their first stab at writing a novel via NaNoWriMo, the month is being met with some despair. For others, things are cruising along just nicely. In fact, things might be going a little too well.
If you’ve been following my progress. I reached the 50,000 NaNo “goal” on day seven. While winning is nice, a new problem enters. The goal of tracking daily word counts is often criticized, rightly, because targets and goals, when set to low, can actually de-motivate you. What? I’ll explain.
The Inherent Problem with Word Goals
It’s quite simple. Once you reach your goal, you feel relieved, and satisfied. You tell yourself, “Okay, I did it, not I can nip off and do something else.” This is a real problem for a lot of people, so if you aren’t quite hitting your 1666 per day, then you might want to consider yourself lucky. For some magical reason, once we pass that number, we feel like we’ve “done our job.” We met the target, we call it a win, and we walk away from the keyboard.
This can be a crippling error.
An even more crippling moment, is hitting 50,000 sometime in November, and walking away from the book altogether, even if it isn’t done!
Set the Bar a Little Higher
If you are looking to go the trade publishing route, and you are intending your book for a reading audience older than say, a third grader, then you should really consider setting the bar a little higher. Don’t fixate on the number 50,000. Concentrate on finishing the book. If you are writing an adult work, no matter what your first draft ends up being, you might be shooting for a target upwards of 80,000. I’m not saying you have to do this in November, but NaNo only got you over the first hurdle, which is sitting in a chair and writing. Finishing your book is another goal altogether.
I participate in a lot of writing challenges. My favorite group shoots for 500 per day, but the actual numbers posted are all over the board. Some members get 200-300 or less. Some regularly post in the thousands. There was one girl who had several consecutive days over the 15,000 word mark. Here’s the thing about daily goals, they are only stepping stones.
I generally hit my daily “Okay, I’m done” total around 10,000 words. If I got that much, then it means nobody saw me that day because I shut myself off from the world, and took all day to write something. You know what my pat on the back goal is? One sentence. I opened the document, I got some words down, and I moved the story along.
This is why you might see me cheering people on who have meager word counts of 50 or 60. They got over the hurdle and stuck it to writer’s block by opening the document, or busting out a pen, and getting words on the page. They decided that they were going to add to their story.
Quantity vs. Persistence
I’m not going to talk about quality here because that argument has been had to death, and I think everyone knows my take when it comes to a first draft. Story quality is more important at this point, and getting the story out of your head is the primo.
Persistence is another thing. If you scratch out 8000 words one day, and do nothing for the rest of the week, then you aren’t doing yourself any favors. In fact, I would much rather have three small writing sessions per day than one all-out get-it-done race to wear myself out. I can spot the end of a session not by the word count, but by watching my words turn into mush. When that happens, it’s time for a break. When I’m skipping whole scenes, or glossing over important details, it’s time to hang it up.
Word Count is a Side Effect
When you make it a practice to set aside your thirty minutes, or three hours, or whatever to sit down and write, then you are strengthening your conviction. When you aim to write as much as you can instead of writing toward some number, you are persisting. And at the end of the day, you are going to notice your daily word counts climb. I write the best when I chug along for an hour or two, and don’t bother to look down at the word count until I’ve finished what I set out to say.
Work on your writing, focus on your story. Tallying word count and checking statistics is an activity best left for the end of the day, and whatever it is doesn’t matter in the end. It’s just a number. The important part is that you got something written. And you know what? You might be pleasantly surprised on some days to find out that you reached word counts that you never dreamed of before.
Put a piece of masking tape over the word count box, and get writing. Don’t check the count until you’re done, and give yourself credit for getting some writing done each day. The daily counter doesn’t have to stop at 1700, and your novel isn’t going to magically be over when you hit 50k. Ahead or behind, write every day until you finish the story. NaNo is just a toy to help you stay motivated through the hard part, which is starting.