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NaNo from the Sidelines

November 4, 2008

I’m not participating this year, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be following the progress of some of the people I’ve gotten to know here at Write Anything (née Write Stuff). So in support of my embattled brethren I offer a few lessons I have learned in the past two years.

  • Do not count words while you write (I don’t use exclamation points often, but…)! I can’t stress this enough. Writing is difficult enough on its own without letting your unconscious get bogged down with the extra baggage of NaNo. Just write. When you hit a block or run out of time and have to stop, then count. If you’re short of your daily goal, you can pick it up again later.
  • Your daily goal is not 1,677 words. Really, how much more difficult is 2,000 words? Or even 2,500? Set your goals higher and after a bad day or two you won’t need to play catch up.
  • Frontload the month. Don’t plan on 25,000 words by November 15, and another 25,000 after. That leaves you with no margin for error. And need I remind you Americans that the later half contains what amounts to a four-day holiday?
  • Quantity vs. Quality? Neither. It’s all about creativity. Don’t get bogged down with meeting your word count. And don’t be one of the sour-grapers who insist that if you write something that’s good, the word count doesn’t matter—we all know that, but then why did you join NaNo? The secret is to try to get in your creativity zone. Do that, and not only will you write well, but you’ll astonish yourself with your word count at the end of the day.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the forum. Knock it off with obsessively checking your friends’ status to see if your leading, or how far you’re trailing. Words of encouragement for a buddy are fine, but they don’t count toward your goal. So keep it short and sweet, and limit your forum browsing to 15 minutes each day, and only after you’ve met your daily goal.
  • Put your editor in chains. The rough draft is all about evading your editor. But you’re not going to be able to evade her for 30 days. So hit her over the head with a blunt object, get some supplies from the local hardware (or adult) store and keep your editor locked away for November. On December first you can make it up to her by taking her to dinner, buying her a whole pack of new red pens, and letting her edit until she can edit no more.
  • Budget in days off. This is as practical as it is therapeutic. No matter what goal you set for yourself, budget in a few random days off. That way if you hit a rough patch, and on a given day have no time, or no creative juice, you can just use one of your free days, and not kill yourself over how behind you’ve fallen. (I know this one is just rehashing the 2nd and 3rd points from above, but you’d be surprised how many people fall into this trap).

Will following these lessons get you to 50k? No, don’t be silly. Writing is the only thing that will get you there. But I hope these tips help you avoind some of the pitfalls along the way.

  1. November 4, 2008 7:12 am

    Excellent list. I learned last year that I write much better when I turn off the internal editor and just let it flow. As for a word count goal, I’m not that organized. But right now I feel behind since I lost the first 5200 words of my novel when the hard drive died. It’s amazing how that can throw you off your game.

  2. November 4, 2008 8:04 am

    Oh yuck, VirginiaLady! That totally sucks! I’m sorry to hear about the crash – I hope you can get caught up!

    I’m pretty bad about watching my word count – I look at it constantly. but it’s not all bad, a lot of times I’ll look at it and think, “Heck, I can write 500 more words. What’s 500 more words?” 🙂

    I definitely agree with the frontloading the beginning of the month. My enthusiasm simply DIES in week three and knowing this ahead of time helps because I can write my fingers off until that happens. Then in week four, I’m usually motivated to continue because I only have 20,000 words left!

    And absolutely budget some days off. You’ll get completely burned out if you don’t allow yourself some time to recharge the creative battery.

    Good tips, Dale!

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