Every Word Counts

A note from your MLs: we believe that all words matter, especially words that you get in November. Writing a novel in a month is an exercise in boundless abandon and creativity, which can result in the question of how to balance quality and quantity, especially when your inner editor starts talking. Whatever approach you have selected for NaNoWriMo is the correct approach for you.

 

This is a guest post from Stephan. Stefan is a German living in Canada. By night, he puts on the cape of a dual-lingo self-published author. By day he’s just an average city-worker. This is his take on his first week of ever participating in NaNoWriMo.

 

Personal pacing matters.

On my first day of NaNoWriMo, I wrote 10,477 words.

Then I wrote another 3,000 or so over the next four days after that.

My average day of writing outside of NaNoWriMo is somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 words a day, assuming that I can get myself to actually write. This is the reason I’ve decided to join up this November. To self-challenge. To experiment with motivation, competition, and community.

So. I set out with a great plan. Since I started from a piece of flash fiction I wrote a long time ago, I already had a good feeling about the main character and some of the details supporting the narrative. From there, I came up with a rough idea of where I want to go with this, and I thought about an ending. Then I organized those ideas, branched off some details, and ended up splitting the narrative into four distinct parts.

Each part received a word count. I did this as a way to oversee my writing—if I go over the word count for a given part by too much, I’m not getting to the point. If I’m under by a lot, I rushed things. By no means is any of that set in stone, but it felt like a good way to pace myself throughout NaNoWriMo. Get a sense on how much time I want to spend on each portion.

Here’s the thing. The first part was meant to be 10,000 words. And I wrote those words, ending part one with 477 words over. On the first day. Yay me, let’s take a moment to be happy about that.

But something happened.

Let’s go back to the beginning again. I wrote an outline. Not a big one. Not a complete one. Just for part one. Just a list of events I need to check off as I write this first part of the story, where everything’s getting set up and nasty things get to hit not just regular fans, but jet turbines set to full blast.

But I wanted to finish part one in one day. Up my word count from an average of 1,000 – 2,000 to the fifth digit. And then I forgot a bunch of things. Rushed some other stuff. Made mistakes that will need a lot of correcting after the fact. Which is okay. It really is. After all, NaNoWriMo is for spewing out the story, get the Draft Zero done. Fix it in post. Besides, the part ended where I wanted it to be, so none of it affects anything later one. Just, if you read what’s written in part two already, you’d notice elements used that never got introduced prior. Like an entire minor character suddenly appearing as if the main character has been interacting with him before. But she hasn’t because I rushed myself into skipping that detail. Easy fix, but still a crucial mistake.

Because I know it’s missing where it should have been, it makes writing everything after that feel weird. I know this is not right. It bugs me. Makes me want to go back and correct, which is the worst thing for me. Once I start editing and fixing, I’ll have a hard time pressing on.

I’m sure many know the problem about the inner editor wanting to fix what’s there instead of letting the rest come out. That’s why it’s so hard to have these crucial (and frankly unnecessary) oversights.

I wrote 10k words in one day. More than my average. More than most successful authors’ daily count. I follow some of those on twitter, and if they have a single 6,000 word day, it’s all exciting and big deal and that. And while some crazy people finished their 50,000 in the same time (because sleep’s overrated), my 10,000 still feels like a tonne.

But it caused me to screw up. It didn’t feel good the moment I jumped into the next part.

The next few days, I wrote less because I had to work my day job. My lowest day was 140 words, just to chuck along the idea, start the next chapter, have something other than a blank page. On my first day off, I wrote something in the mid-2,000. And it felt as if I got a lot covered in that shorter count. It felt good. Felt right. Those 2,000 words took me almost as long as the first 10,000 did—being on and off the computer, cleaning house, cooking food, playing games.

Thing is, word count counts. Not THE word count. Not anybody else’s word count. Your word count is all that matters. What feels right, what feels rushed? Is it worth writing ten-times your daily average if you have to fix half it with some pretty heavy, ugly tools after? To be fair, most first drafts require some major surgery after the fact to make things right, to extract the great novel hidden in this pile of words. But some of that hard labour could potentially be prevented by simply pacing oneself. And if things click better by going slower, avoiding big mistakes like I did, everything after the fact might feel a lot better, knowing that pieces are in place where they should be so far.

Personal pacing is the key to any success. Can’t do more than 1,000 words a day? You may not finish what NaNoWriMo officially wants, but you’ll still finish when you do. And that’s the lesson here, after all.

On my first day of NaNoWriMo, I wrote 10,477 words. But I didn’t waste time or energy on my notes, made sure I covered it all. And now I need to go back later and fix a lot more than was necessary. And I plan on not letting this happen again, even if that means shortening word counts to spend a bit more time on keeping things in order.

Because personal pacing matters