Tag Archives: NaNoWriMo

500 Words a Day Challenge

My novel word count for November ended up being 23,768. That averages to 792 words/day, but the reality was some days I wrote some days I wrote more and others less.

Out of curiosity, I also did a rough count of all the other words I wrote over the month (my AB article, blog posts, posts at TC, etc.) and that all added up to 12,505 miscellanous words. Not to mention whatever I added to my dissertation (ongoing, so I don’t have a monthly word count).

So, not 50k, but still a lot of words. Onto my next goal.

In September, I did the 167-word a day mini-nano challenge, writing fiction (a short story), and that was a piece of cake. In fact, most days I wrote more than the goal amount and ended up with 7,653 words (average 255 words/day). So in October, I took on the 250 words a day challenge, this time working on non-fiction (personal essay/cnf). Final word count: 8,597 (277 words/day average). Again, the word count wasn’t a problem. At the beginning, I found using this method of writing in chunks less satisfying for non-fiction than fiction, but I think I found my footing by the end of the month. Use it as a time to get ideas on the page rather than trying to create a coherent narrative from the start.

Then NaNoWriMo.  I had some story breakthroughs, which was awesome. But I was also trying to work on my dissertation and write an AB article (it’s one thing to fit nanoing in around other things, it’s another thing when those other things are also writing) and the word count just wasn’t happening. Because I knew I wasn’t going to hit the daily word count, my motivation to write every day was less than it had been in September and October. In short, though I wrote more (way more!) in November than I did in September & October, I was less disciplined about it, and maybe I’m weird, but this felt less satisfying.

For December, I’m taking on the 500 Words a Day Challenge. Since I managed 250+ daily over 2 months without difficulty, I figure I’m ready to take on a bit more, but at the same time, I want it to be a definitely-achievable goal. So, 2 pages. I can do that. Look, I’m already at 381. 😉


On Trying to Finish a Novel

NaNoWriMo 2012 I have to say, it feels different this time. The project I’m working on is the novel I first started playing around with when I was 13ish (all copies of that first version have been destroyed tyvm) because if I’m going to finish something it would be symbolic for it to be my actual first novel, and I’m all about the symbolism.

Characters, setting, conflict. I had all these. My problem was always, always, always plot. Once the dilemma was introduced, how do I get the characters out of it? It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas. It was that I couldn’t decide which direction to go. All choices felt contrived. That was always the place where I stopped.

But several things have transpired since the last time I tried to finish this novel.

+ I’ve finished five half-marathons. Yadayadayada, lessons learned from long-distance running. I won’t bore you. But I think this has made a difference in how I approach novel-writing.

+ My life imploded. In the spirit of making lemonade out of lemons, I’ll just say I think this has been good for my writing. As Garrison Keillor once said, “Nothing bad ever happens to a writer; everything is material.”

+ I read The Art of Dramatic Writing and had this epiphany:

I debated over which thread to put this in (daily writing thread? this month’s AB thread? Art of Creative Writing thread?), but I was pretty sure I’d mentioned My Biggest Problem with Novel Writing somewhere here before, and so I searched for that and aha!

Beaver wrote:
Thought the 2nd: I have a similar problem (I think) with novels wherein I cycle through various ideas for endings, but can never settle on one b/c each choice feels too arbitrary. (am I forcing it? is this the ‘right’ ending?)

Well, thanks to Bellman, I’ve been reading The Art of Dramatic Writing and in one sentence (one! sentence!) on page 106 Lajos Egri has solved My Biggest Problem:

“The premise is a tyrant who permits you to go only one way — the way of absolute proof.”

Problem. Slayed. cough cough thud

So, now that My Biggest Problem has been solved, I need to work on my premises! Thanks, Bellman Smile

+ I figured out my personality type, which it turns out, is one of the rarer ones. This discovery was kind of like when someone who has an identified illness finally puts a name to their disease. There’s a sense of relief: “Oh, so that’s why…”  It doesn’t change anything, but somehow it helps to know that there’s a reason why I react differently than other people in various situations. I’m not just ‘doing it wrong’ (as I was always led to believe).

That got me thinking about my characters and their personality types and how different personalities would react when presented with a dilemma. So it was helpful on that level, in terms of figuring out whether a particular character would make choice X or choice Y. But it was also helpful in understanding myself and the major source of my writing frustrations, which is my desire for order/sense/logic conflicting with the way my brain jumps all over the place when I’m thinking about something.

+ I started using Scrivener. This month, when I sat down to work on my novel, I knew I didn’t want to start in the place where I’d always started before, rewrite the same scenes I’d written twenty-seven times before. I wanted to finish, and finishing meant moving forward. I thought about the Etgar Keret tip to “always start from the middle” and decided to make that my motto. I picked an arbitrary point to start the first day, and then, without really thinking about it, I just started writing random scenes because, with Scrivener, I could do that—without the project becoming an unwieldy mess. In other words, I could write non-linearly and still maintain order (= INTP happiness).

So if, during the day, I’m running through a particular scene in my head, instead of saying (as I would in the past), “ok, I know this happens sometime in the future, but I can’t write that yet, I have to get there first,” and then sitting down and trying to write whatever it is comes next, I’ve been sitting down and writing whatever it is I’ve been thinking about. Later I’ll organize these scenes, smooth out all the rough edges, fill in the gaps. But for now, I’m learning to work with my brain rather than fighting it. Thank you, Scrivener.

And as I said, it feels different. The characters are making decisions that feel right, not arbitrary. I’ve already resolved several issues that had long flummoxed me.  I murdered some of my darlings. That includes some character names and the title. It needs a new one. As yogis say: let go of that which does not serve you—or in this case, the story.

I’m not worried about not reaching 50k by November 30. Another thing that feels different: this time, I feel like I’m going to make it to THE END.

And I feel like I’m letting down someone

I need, on average, 8 hours sitting on my writing couch to get one hour of work done. It’s a pathetic ratio. I stall, avoid, put off and generally act like someone’s making me do some terrible job I never wanted to do. I blow pretty much every deadline I’m given. … But then, when things are late, and I’m feeling like an idiot, and I feel like I’m letting down someone (like the people at NaNoWriMo, and you), I finally dig in and get started. And then I write, and I write in a fury, and I even, sometimes, enjoy writing.

—Dave Eggers
in a NaNoWriMo pep talk


Earlier this week, there was a bit o’ a NaNoWriMo backlash in the twittersphere. Which made me a bit nostalgic for the days when hardly anyone knew what NaNo was 😉

To paraphrase Gretchen Rubin’s blog = process, book = product aphorism (which I love), NNWM is about process, not product. It’s writing practice and regardless of how crappy the month’s “novel” ends up being, writing practice is never a waste of time. Just as practicing [whatever it is you do] is never a waste of time.

It’s all well and good for a writer who’s already got her writing routine down to say “not for me,” but NNWM isn’t really about working writers, is it? I mean, of course, they can play if they want to, and some do. But it was designed to give perpetual procrastinators a kick in the pants.

What NNWM shows you is that all your excuses about why you can’t find the time to write are just that—excuses. You can write 50,000 words in a month (I know; I’ve done it) and still live your life. It doesn’t actually take that long to meet the daily goal. 2 hours max.  And that’s not speed-writing; it’s ~13 words/minute, which is a pretty leisurely pace. You also don’t need to schedule a 2-hour block in your day to write (lovely, but may be a dream for some folks). 15-30 minute chunks throughout the day work just as well (or maybe better).

And I’ll also say, while my two NaNo successes are definitely first drafts, I don’t think they’re any worse than any of my other first drafts.  That said, I did have a pretty clear idea of my characters/premise in both cases before I started writing. And it’s true that neither of them are finished, but then again, none of my novels are finished. (Because that’s how I roll…) But I learned something from that, too.

Writers talk about plotters and pantsers. Plotters plan everything; pantsers just start writing. I fall somewhere in between. I always have a firm grasp on the characters, the setting, and the premise. And I have a general idea of how the plot will go to start, just broad strokes, not the details (that’s where the pantsing comes in). That’s all well and good. My kryptonite is plotting out the resolution in a way that seems unforced and that’s where I lose momentum. I’m not sure how to resolve (heh) that issue, but the point is: what I’ve learned is that if I have a general idea of where I’m going, the writing flows. If I have no idea, I get stuck. I’m not a full-on pantser. Good to know!

But it’s also good to stretch and break out of your comfort zone. One of the reasons I often hear for not wanting to do NaNo is the “slow writer” argument. I don’t think that’s a reason not to do it. I am the ultimate slow writer. I even wrote an article about it. It may sound counter-intuitive, but being a slow writer is one of the reasons I wanted to try NNWM. You know: do the opposite of what you normally do, just like my hero, George Costanza, in “The Opposite“:

George: Yeah, I should do the opposite, I should.

Jerry: If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

George: Yes, I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do something!

So try something different. Like sometimes you go for a short, fast run instead of a long, slow one. Think of it as an exercise. Something to stretch your writing muscles.

The idea of stretching is part of the reason why I’m pantsing it this year. Not having an idea of where I’m going is a challenge, but I’m treating it more like a freewriting exercise. I don’t expect this year’s effort to end up as a novel. Maybe a short story. Maybe a few smaller pieces. Maybe nothing. I’m not sure. This year’s idea is something I need to write about, but I’m not sure how I want to approach it. That’s why I’m calling my genre experimental. I want to leave it open and try several approaches and see how it goes. The point is, you’ve got to get it down first in order for it to be shaped into anything later.

Anyhow, I think sometimes working writers take NNWM both too seriously and not seriously enough.

Too seriously, because for a lot of people, especially many of the younger participants, it’s just a fun/exciting activity to do with others, a shared experience. There are meet-ups and maybe you make some new (offline!) friends. Win. Any writing that gets done is a bonus. And no one’s ever going to read those “novels” (except maybe an indulgent bff), so I’m not sure why anyone would worry about them.

Not seriously enough, because in the exact same way as signing up for a running race can be the thing that gives someone the confidence to say to family/friends: “I’m doing this race and I need to train an hour a day in order to meet my goal,”  signing up for NNWM (an organized event with a defined goal and other participants) can be the thing that gives someone who’s trying to fit in writing on the side the confidence to  say they need an hour a day to write in order to meet their goal. And not only is their family more likely to give it to them, they’re also more likely to cheer them on. (You might think that’s silly or illogical, but it’s true.)

So. I know NNWM’s not for everyone, and I certainly don’t think everyone “should” do it. No one should do it. Do it if you want to. Don’t do it if you don’t want to. But don’t make excuses about why you “can’t” do it. That’s like saying you “can’t” bake a potato. You can. You just don’t want to. There’s a difference.

Part of Something

NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing a polished, end product novel. It’s about getting the first draft (or part of it) down on paper. It’s also about getting into the habit of writing on a regular basis, something which I sometimes need to be prodded into because ‘life’ tends to get in the way. Finally, it’s about being part of something, sharing an activity.

Fi Phillips


Full Control

Because I am neither superhuman nor magical, feeling powerless is an occasional and unfortunate fact of life. … But this is why I love NaNoWriMo. As a writer, I am the master of my domain. … In addition to having full control over every event in my story, there is the added benefit of deciding where and to whom these things happen. … At last, my say-so is the only one that matters!

Lindsey Grant
(from the NaNoWriMo newsletter)