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Writing 500,000 words in 2016

I mentioned in my 2016 goals post that I want to write 500,000 words in 2016. That’s half a million words, which sounds a little daunting even to me. It’s not the numbers. If I write my anticipated goal of 250,000 words in November, that leaves less than 750 words per day for the rest of the year. That’s less than 25,000 words per non-NaNo month. Come on, self. You can write 25k in less than a day.

The challenging part, as always, is making writing a habit. I’ve been terrible at making writing a habit, something that I don’t think about doing. In the same way that I go to the bathroom immediately upon getting out of bed, then make breakfast and tea, writing should come just as naturally. I want to sit down at the computer and start writing without thinking about it.

I plan on tracking my writing progress across four areas in 2016:

  • Fiction (NaNo novels, anything else that I make up)
  • Posts to this blog
  • Major updates to Wikiwrimo (more than correcting a few typos or updating a region’s page, at least)
  • My paper journals

The paper journal progress will be the hardest to track, as I don’t fancy counting up the words every day. I’ll probably do that for the first few entries, then take an average and use that for convenience. After all, if something is convenient, I’m more likely to continue doing it.

And because I love accountability, you can follow along and hold me to this goal. I’m tracking my writing progress on a spreadsheet created by @HillaryDePiano, the Northeast New Jersey NaNo ML. You can view my 2016 spreadsheet here and follow along, then poke me with sticks if I get more than a few days behind. You can also get your own spreadsheet from that link. Since the spreadsheet will think I’m behind all year long until November, I’m using the monthly goals as a progress benchmark until NaNo.

So why am I doing this? I have no idea how much I write outside of NaNo novels. Sure, the notebooks pile up and I could go back and collect word counts of every post here I’ve written this year, but that doesn’t give me the whole picture. I want that whole picture so I can try to improve as a writer and hopefully turn writing into a profession. Since I thrive on accountability (and okay, not disappointing people), sharing my progress will keep me going. It worked for my very first NaNo novel, after all.

Besides that, I just counted one page’s words in my current paper journal. 220 words. Even with smaller notebooks than this current large one, that’s still 3-4 pages per day, depending on that specific notebook’s words per page. I’ve written something in there all but one day in December as an attempt to rebuild the habit lost during NaNo. Sounds like it’s working so far.

Let’s do this… and then set a bigger goal for 2017.

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NaNoWriMo 2015 Wrapup

Hello, December. Missed me?

Let’s get the thing most of you want to know out of the way: my total NaNoWriMo 2015 word count was 302,203 words. This is a personal record that I won’t be topping anytime soon.

And I don’t want to top that record anytime soon, either. Writing that much in a month is HARD. I worked full-time this November, and my only days off were weekends, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday. This meant that I was barely on track for a lot of the month and played epic catchup on the weekends and over Thanksgiving. Even my other 300k year, when I didn’t have a job, sitting down to write that much every day was a challenge. Completing 300k with a job meant almost giving up the NaNo forums entirely and completely giving up reading and non-novel writing (hence why this blog went so neglected during the one month of the year when people are actually paying attention to me). I set a minimum of 5k per work night and devoted the weekends to writing as much as possible. This isn’t sustainable throughout the rest of the year, but that’s okay–the creative freedom and inspiration NaNo provides more than makes up for whatever I’m cutting out (including lots of silly phone games, let’s be honest here).

To add to the challenge, I had trouble coming up with a plot for NaNoWriMo. You may remember my confession back in October about not having any ideas for NaNo. I wound up writing three novels, so I bet you’re wondering: what happened?

My first novel was about a 20-something who feels like she’s wasting her life, so she moves to a new city and gets into shenanigans. This is eerily similar to the huge NaNoWriMo 2010 novel that put me over 300k the first time.

My second novel starred a high school high achiever whose life goes to hell during junior year: her best friend moved across the country, her dad is never home, she doesn’t have any other friends… and then what? This premise started out a lot like my very first NaNoWriMo novel, but I like this version a lot better. In fact, that I’m thinking of editing this novel. Not bad for a novel I started at a write-in and came up with on the way to that write-in.

I started writing the third novel on a road trip back home. It was supposed to be a third draft of 2009’s pumpkin novel. That lasted all of a thousand words. The rest of the novel told the hippie art teacher’s story and doesn’t really have a plot; it just bumbled through this person’s life as things happened.

Even though I don’t plan on touching the first and third novels again, they served as learning experiences: while I’m a pantser, I need more than a super-vague premise to succeed at writing a story. This goes back to my fear that I am in fact out of ideas, despite doing so much to gather ideas and inspiration.

Two more things of note:

I wrote at least 2,000 words every single day in November. I am damn proud of this. This is the first NaNoWriMo that I recall writing every single day in the month, and I plan to continue writing my many other things–this blog, more personal essays, a paper journal, editing my fiction… Stay tuned for another post on this topic.

And second, I’ve written 300,000 words for two of my 14 NaNoWriMos. I didn’t complete a single 50k day during either of those years, and I think this contributed to my consistency throughout the month. The 50k days burned me out for about a week after each one. Even though I hated everything at the beginning of the second day, I still managed to crank out nearly 5,000 words that evening after work. Consistency is much more valuable than pure volume, something I’m keeping in mind in December.

How was your NaNoWriMo? Did you reach your goal?

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Why do I write like I’m running out of time?

The most common question I get regarding my NaNoWriMo word count is “How on earth do you write so fast?” The answer to this question isn’t very interesting: a childhood of typing games to make my fingers catch up with my brain, butt in chair, hands on keyboard, a willingness to embrace whatever happens next in the story even if I have no idea what’s going on. Years of practice is not what the asker wants to hear.

Question number two is usually “Why on earth do you write so fast?” While these two questions do have some overlap in their answer, the answer to this question is much more interesting.

Readers who have been around for awhile may remember that I’m a pretty anxious person. This anxiety fuels my writing, not just in worrying what other people think about my words (although that nagging in my head is persistently there), but in getting the words down in the first place.

My writing process is best described as a two-player game of Tag. The inner critic is It, and it’s chasing me around the field, trying to tag me. Except when the inner critic tags me, the game’s over. The only way for me to win is to keep running, keep writing. I may be a slow runner, but my fingers will give most people a challenge if they want to keep up.

When I’m writing at a breakneck pace, I sometimes reach a pace where my fingers can’t keep up. This results in typos everywhere that I don’t bother to correct after multiple attempts. That’s fine and good, but more importantly, writing as fast as I can means the inner critic can’t keep up. There’s no time to correct a turn of phrase when the next sentence is already formed in my mind, and writing it down is the best way to ensure it doesn’t leave my mind.

The process breaks down when I write more slowly. That’s when the inner critic chases me down. I freeze at the screen, trying to think of the next few words or sentences. Then I type something down, think for a minute, and backspace all of it. Sometimes I retype the same thing I wrote the first time; other times, I write something totally different or a scrap of an idea. After that I might check IRC or Twitter or the NaNo forums or something related to what I’m writing, proceeding to waste far too much time on these things. And then I turn back to the writing document and wonder if this is ever going to be worthy.

This is why I haven’t managed to get the hang of editing yet. The editing process is full of slowing down and making sure everything works. It’s also full of slowing down to a stop and questioning whether what I’ve written is any good at all. Unfortunately for my writing process, there is no speed editing process.

So why do I write like it’s going out of style? Because if I don’t write fast, I won’t write at all.

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In writing, never have I ever…

NaNoWriMo starts in just under three weeks and I still have no idea what to write about. This would be less of a problem if I didn’t have a ridiculous goal.

Since NaNo is about challenging yourself, maybe it’s time to take on a type of novel I’ve never done before. I’ve written at least elements of every genre listed on the NaNo genre list.

* write a non-human protagonist. I’ve written non-human major characters before, but never a protagonist)
* write a epistolary novel. I’ve co-written part of a still-unfinished epistolary novel, but never written a full one myself.
* adapt a past non-novel work. This would technically be rebelling, but it’s a serious possibility and I have a script of my own in mind for it.
* write a novel taking place in 24 hours This one would just be fun.
* write a protagonist of color or of some other minority. Okay, this may be something I don’t think about much thanks to pantsing my way through the novel, and since I haven’t put much thought into this, that probably means they default to white, straight, middle-class characters. As a racial half-minority and someone who cares about human representation everywhere I find this problematic. I’ve included quite a few other major characters who are non-white, LGBTQIA, or some other minority, but that a main character isn’t of such a role yet is something I do find disturbing. This is something I certainly intend to fix this year.
* rewrite a past novel. Again, this would be rebelling, but I have a second draft of only one novel and I’m not that happy with it. And okay, I’ve done this before, but not for November NaNo, so this stays on the list.

There are certainly more (including “silly” challenges like not using a certain word or letter, or only using certain words), but these are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I intend to cross off at least one of these this year.

What are your “Never have I ever”s for writing?

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Does NaNoWriMo foster bad writing habits?

There’s a discussion in the NaNoWriMo forums about a non-writer friend of a Wrimo who believes that NaNoWriMo fosters bad writing habits. Does it, though? The non-Wrimo friend believes that NaNo encourages writers to pad and worry about deadlines and word count instead of writing on one’s own and page count. Let’s take a look.

I rarely if ever pad, which you might not believe. In fact, I anti-pad. My writing is so skeletal in the first draft stage and lacking in description that I often have to go back and add these things. Of course, not every Wrimo writes like me. Padding can be part of the NaNoing experience, but only if that Wrimo chooses to make it so. The idea behind padding isn’t necessarily to make one’s word count or to intentionally write crap that will definitely be cut out later but to write something down. You can’t edit a blank page, and writing anything down lets you keep going. In that way, NaNoWriMo fosters the best writing habit of all if you want to write well: writing.

Word count, not page count, is what the publishing world usually goes by. Anyone who has written a paper for a class knows that you can fudge page count by changing the font or margins to squeeze in that last half page. Word count can’t be fudged as easily, but you get a good idea of how many pages, say, 50,000 words take up in pages. (Somewhere around 175 book pages, if you didn’t already know.) Awareness of your word count isn’t an entirely bad thing in the long run; it makes sure what you intended to be a novel doesn’t end at ten thousand words or stretches on to 300,000. Some genres have understood guidelines on word counts, so knowing those limits going into a book’s writing is a good thing so you don’t overstep them too much. Well, unless you’re absolutely convinced that your novel is really really good.

If you’re a writer outside of NaNo, there’s a very good chance you’re going to work under a deadline at some point. NaNo teaches you how to do that. Writing under a deadline makes you better at it over time, and you’ll learn how to write smoother prose that is easier to edit, even if it doesn’t look easier at first. Take this from my own experience; my first NaNo novel is never getting touched again, while two of my books from the past two years definitely have potential.

If there is a bad habit that a Wrimo may fall into, it’s the idea that one writes only in November with a bunch of other writers. Writing doesn’t have to be a solitary activity, but it’s not always an activity with thousands of writers cheering you on, either. Not everyone does NaNo with its breakneck writing speed and community support, and as much as I love NaNo, that’s okay. November is for writing, but if you want to be a serious writer, the rest of the year can’t be off-limits.