National Novel Writing Month is November. It’s when lots of authors set out to write a whole novel, or at least 50,000 words of one, in a single month. Some writers can do so. Some cannot or chose not to. Many fine writers ignore the whole thing. That said, NaNoWriMo can be useful for newish writers in several ways:
- It gets them in the habit of writing.
- It gets their families, friends and those in their household in the habit of expecting them to be absorbed in writing.
- Lots of words, or at least a goodly number, end up on the page, words that can later be supplemented and improved later.
- It provides camaraderie with other NaNoWriMo writers. Thus, it can counteract the lonely aspects of this solitary endeavor.
Nonetheless, NaNoWriMO doesn’t work for everyone year after year. Here’s why:
- It causes some of us writers to compare our output to that of others. Now there’s a surefire way to sap the joy out of writing. Plus, it increases the pressure to crank out the words.
- It leaves those working on short stories, essays, poetry, and creative nonfiction feeling like afterthoughts.
- New writers who don’t end up with 50,000 words can feel like they’ve failed. Never mind that life events, holidays, academia, and work schedules are not conducive to a month of intensive writing.
- It takes some doing to adapt NaNoWriMo’s word count to the process of revising a work in process.
Final thoughts: if you are a writer and NaNoWritMo works for you, that’s great! If it doesn’t, for whatever reason you can identify and even if you don’t know why, please don’t think of it as a failure or yourself as a failure. Creative writing is not a win/lose competition.
Now that NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) has ended, some readers of this blog will be assessing their progress toward that goal of writing 50,000 words in one month. Make no mistake about it, that’s a whole passel of words. I’m thrilled for those of you who got even half way there!
What about me? Thanks for asking, but I have no idea how many words I wrote last month, or even yesterday.
Let me explain. Like most writers, I do have tools and I do use them to track my progress and maintain accountability. Software will happily spit out those numbers, and even plop them into a spreadsheet. Sometimes, I’ll announce to my writer buddies how many words I wrote each day, week, month, etc. Other times, I’ll keep the word totals private.
The longer I write, the more I’m aware of the limitations of word counts to measure “progress.” First of all, I tend to revise as I go, so much so that it feels arbitrary to say when one draft is done and the next draft has been started, unless there’s an interlude between them. By interlude, I mean at least a few days that is taken up with another writing project. I need those days to give me a fresh perspective on the first work in progress.
Second, word count simply doesn’t measure revisions well. Sure, I can count the number of words I took out. That’s sometimes a good practice at the end when I want to tighten up what I’ve produced at the paragraph-by-paragraph and sentence-by-sentence level. But before that point, it can be discouraging to watch one’s word count diminish. Moreover, when it comes to replacing lame, or downright dreadful, words with bright, shiny, new ones, word count fails.
So instead, I resort to one or more of these measures:
1. Amount of time I’ve spent writing each day (really writing, not checking social media)
2. Number of pages I’ve revised
3. Amount of time I’ve spent on research.
That last one can be a huge productivity-killer, in itself, when it becomes a substitute for writing. Astute readers will note that I said “when,” not “if.” Hmmm … now there’s a topic for another blog post.