Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Word Counts

You may not have heard of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which is in November every year. It really should be International NoWriMo, as thousands of people all over the world now join in. The idea is that you write 50,000 words in the month of November, which means around 1666 words per day, plus a couple of extra (your title?). On the NaNo site, you can join up for free, and you get your own page where you can log in, record the number of words you've written and watch the graph rise.

I haven't done it for a couple of years, mainly because November is our major time of year for marking and providing feedback on student work, and writing creatively just doesn't work in the available brainspace left (which is usually zero). I would love to attempt it this year, except for one thing - I don't have anything of 50,000 words to write. I'm working on something at the moment, and am about 28,000 words into it, but as it's a children's novel, I'm thinking it'll be finished by another 8,000 words or so. I could revise something else, but the idea of NaNo is that it's new work.

Mind you, the requirement that it be a new novel is not supposed to stop you. You're supposed to just write and write and write, and see what comes out. It's why there is a companion book called No Plot? No Problem. But I don't really work like that anymore. I've stuffed up too many novels by not working out first what they are going to be about. All the same, it's tempting...

NaNo or not, word count tallies are useful at any time. Although I bribe myself to write by saying "Just one page", I'm disappointed if I end up with less than 1,000 words. It's a mental target that makes me feel good when I reach it. 2,000 words makes me feel brilliant! When you're in the middle of a novel and starting to flag, wondering if you'll ever finish, and what on earth were you thinking anyway, looking at your word count can make you feel so much better. Wow, have I written that much?

Setting a word count target per week can be useful too. Some days we just can't get to the computer when life butts in, but if we can catch up the next day, and head for that word count, we don't feel so bad. The trick is to find the right target for you. 10,000 words a week may well be too many. 500 is way too few (you knew that, right?). I aim for 4,000. It's realistic, it's an amount that will get me many steps closer to a finished draft, and it's also a number that I know I can exceed, all going well.

Do you have word targets? Or do you count hours? Or pages? Are you doing NaNo this year? Why? Share some thoughts with us.


Anonymous said...

I've been waffling on NaNo this year. I haven't done it in about 3 or 4 years for similar reasons to you--no time! I tend to prefer the 70 Days of Sweat Challenge (which feels more manageable to me). But I'm needing a serious kick in the pants to get going on a project I stopped in the middle of and went back and totally revised and replotted to the end, and I'm thinking that NaNo might be the way to do it. The hard part is getting beyond my tendency to self-edit as I write and just...well, spew to get words down, which is really part of what NaNo is about. Booting out our internal editor and letting everything rip, so to speak.

Kristi Holl said...

I'm hoping that NaNo will work for me this year. I have (possibly) two shorter MG novels for a series that I'm thinking of doing (totalling 50,000 words). I need to decide next week if I'm going to go ahead with that particular idea. November here is a good month, except for Thanksgiving week. Thanks for the reminder to register soon.
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Sherryl said...

Kait - I haven't heard of 70 Days of Sweat (might have to check it out). I wonder if that's what Nano is really about? Getting rid of the editor if you need to?

Go for it, Kristi! I was reading on another blog that the key (when you have a definite project) is to spend 2 weeks before Nano planning it out, if that's what you need to make the novel/s work. You could be planning now, ready to go!