Saturday, December 20, 2014

Breaking Free From Word Count Tyranny (but only after winning NaNo)

I should have announced it earlier, but yes, I did it! My sixth NaNoWriMo win. Though my graph was decidedly, ummm, more exponential than linear:

That sad plateau in the middle I blame on (1) having an extra busy work week (2) getting quite sick and (3) finally getting my hands on the first season of Sherlock. (Sooo gooood!)

Thank goodness for holiday weekends. This year was the first time we weren’t either traveling home for Thanksgiving or hosting a Friendsgiving at our place, which seemed sad at first, but it meant I could use my days off of work just to write (and write and write and write until I caught up), including one marathon day where I wrote a PR 10,000 words (which still seems absolutely crazy). Also I could eat most of the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. Win Win Nom Nom. 

I also think I did a fair enough job meeting my other goal, which was to write something less forced and random than I usually do during the NaNo frenzy. I’m not saying what I wrote is all careful and organized and polished and ready to be shown to the world (ha. haha.) but it is definitely closer to the mark. There were fewer throwaway scenes, less goofy padding language, and more realizations about where my novel should go. 

But HOLY SAVE THE CAT is there still so much work left to do. Despite the progress, so much of the plot still feels like a mess of decisions I don’t know how to make. 

So I’m very glad I did NaNoWriMo, but I also know it shouldn't be my model moving forward. I tend to get overly attached to quantifiable goals and chase the numbers at the expense of everything else, and right now I need solid ideas and connections more than I need piles of potentially unnecessary words. I still need some sort of structured motivation though. I think (hope!) I’ve figured out the right compromise: I’m sticking with the sticker calendar method, but changing the parameters. It’s not just about word count any more, but about having a solid writing day. 

I remember reading some advice from (I think) Raymond Chandler, who suggested setting aside a few hours each day for writing. You don’t necessarily have to write during that time if you’re stuck, but you aren’t allowed to do anything else. The idea being I suppose that if you stare out of the window long enough with little to focus on other than your story, any writer’s block you have will start to work itself out and your fingers will be back on the keys. 

So I can still earn a sticker for 1000 words, or from, say, figuring out a major plot point, but I can also earn it just by putting in over an hour of highly focused writing time. It can be brainstorming, outlining, drafting, or editing, so long as it’s just me, the story, and maybe some staring out of the window, but no tricksty web of the internets or any other distractions.

I’ll have to see how it goes and report back. How are your post-NaNoWriMo writing or revising strategies going?


  1. I like the sticker calendar method a lot but I also tweak it for different projects. For NaNo, I gave myself a sticker for every day I was ahead in the word count, and it was definitely fun seeing all those owl stickers up there. I'm going to do something similar as I continue working on that NaNo ms.

    Good luck with your writing!

    1. My new stickers are owls too! Glad that you're continuing on your NaNo novel as well. Best of luck!

  2. Congrats Jillian! Good to see you got those numbers above the 50K mark again this year!

    I also reached my NaNo goal in November, and then this month have put another 23K on the novel, and its still not done! I have to figure out how to wrap the whole thing up so that I can put it away and let it settle for a while before I go back and do the whole editing craziness.

    I really like your/ others' idea of the daily writing schedule because I've noticed, over the holidays, I've gotten lazy and missed multiple days, then when I DO get back to it, I'm sort of out of it and it takes longer to get the fingers and brain connected!

    1. Thanks and congrats to you as well! I hope you're able to find a consistent schedule and successfully wrap up your story... I'll be soldiering forward on both those tasks too, so fingers crossed for both of us. :-)