It’s NaNoWriMo time! Are you doing it? No? Why not?
Yup, it’s almost November.
And that means that EVERYONE is going to sit down and write 50,000 words. Yup. Everyone. No?
Word count is a funny thing. I have a love/hate relationship with it. Peer pressure is also a funny thing. And I have a love/hate relationship with that too.
And the two together? It depends…
So, going back to word count. Does setting a word count goal per day work? Sometimes it really does help me get where I want to go. But other times it makes me feel frustrated because the words aren’t flowing and I’m not making my ‘count’. And what if I have to spend all day pulling my hair out to untangle an impossible mess I wrote myself into the day before, just because I decided to make my count instead of allowing myself time to think? Was it worth it then? For me, no. For me, that’s when pressure to produce gets in the way of listening to the creative process.
And that’s when I had to learn to back off. To learn to say ‘it’s okay, I can let go of that goal’. Because there’s never a good reason to beat oneself up over anything that happens during the creative process. Never.
But that took me a while to learn…
When I did my first mini-NaNo with friends who were doing NaNo officially, I set myself a goal of 2,000 words/day for a week. The first day I exceed my goal and I strutted around, all happy. Until I saw how many words some of my friends posted they had written and all of a sudden my 2,300 words weren’t enough. And I felt bad (this was before I learned never to compare what I achieved with what anyone else achieved). So the next day I pushed myself even when I didn’t know where my story was going and I wrote even more words.
Only to have to delete almost all of them.
That was when I decided I didn’t like setting a word count. What was the point if it was to delete it all? Or worse, to have to spend three days re-writing it? After a third day, which included several one hour sprints, I gave up. It wasn’t working for me. I was a failure. Or the system was. Word count goals weren’t for writers who wanted to write a good first draft. Or was it just my approach that was wrong?
Fast forward to a few months later, all by myself in my writing cave… I had an idea I really wanted to write, but didn’t have much time before I needed to dedicate myself to another project. So I explored the idea, jotted down the plot, and began to build the world. After about a week and a few character sketches where I tested voice and tried to get closer to my characters, I sat down and wrote a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. And noticed it was April 1st. Bingo. I would do my very own NaNo in April. I wanted the book to be about 80,000 words long. So if I wrote 2,500 words a day, I’d be good.
The first week, words flowed beyond expectation and I was psyched. And then I hit the murky middle with all its tangled plot lines. Screeeech! I started to add extra words to the following day so I could make up for ‘lost’ time and found myself quickly drowning in an impossible situation. That was when I learned an essential lesson about daily word counts:
Whatever happens on one day, or in one writing session, stays there. The same way that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Yup. As simple as that might seem, that thought freed me from the insane pressure I was putting on myself. It no longer mattered if I made my goal, because it wouldn’t pile up and smother me the next day.
I eventually got back into a flow and wrote the book forward. Some days, when I was on a roll, I would double my goal. Some days, when I wasn’t inspired or needed to figure something out, I turned off my word goal counter. Some days, I’d even leave the house and go for a walk in the woods. And sometimes, it was those very moments away from the computer that brought the clarity I needed to figure out whatever mess I had gotten my plot into.
I finished the manuscript in the month, and then spent another month revising it (luckily, my other deadline got moved back and I was able to revise during the month of May).
By having accomplished this alone, with no accounting to anyone, no sprints that made me feel like I was in a competition (I’m competitive, what can I say?) and not good enough, no increasing burden that would rise from a manageable amount to something that was four times larger than any word count I had ever achieved, I learned to let go. I learned that the process was important and couldn’t be blocked into identical days.
And, ironically, by learning I could do it on my own, I also learned how to do it with others. I can now share my goals with a team, post my results and read theirs without feeling like I didn’t do enough (usually). When I hit a bad day, my writing buddies are always there to support me and vice versa. When they hit an amazing day, I am inspired by their achievements. I no longer compare my own days to each other, or to anyone else.
And now I can throw myself into a new project because I want to. Either I’ll make my goal or I won’t. But either way, I’ll give it my best and will enjoy the process.
Happy writing to all, whether you do NaNo or not, because it’s writing the story that counts, not how fast you get it done!