The NaNoWriMo Report Card

Well, it's officially December, and all of the telltale signs have arrived. The holiday decorations are up, the smell of nutmeg is in the air, and retail executives everywhere are steepling their fingers like Mr. Burns as we race to empty our bank accounts.

For many writers, however, the beginning of December means something else entirely. It means looking back at the month of November with either a triumphant fist in the air or a gentle sigh of resignation as we assess our performance during National Novel Writing Month. This year was my second attempt, and I'm glad to say that I managed to slay the beast this time around; I surpassed my fifty thousand word goal and became a NaNoWriMo "winner" for the first time.

For those who may have missed the entry in which I outlined my participation, I'll start out by letting you know that I didn't actually work on a novel this past month. While I do have grand plans to become a novelist one day, for all intents and purposes I am currently a short fiction writer. As such, I went in waving the rebel flag and worked entirely on short stories, pumping out as many raw drafts as I could in one month to meet my word count goals. Using NaNo this way yielded some surprising results for me, changing my usual output significantly.

What Were My Goals and How Did I Meet Them?


Going into the month, I had some very specific goals. Obviously, I wanted to write  at least fifty thousand words, but I also wanted to avoid burnout and experiment with my approach. To do so, I strayed from the typical formula, which says to shoot for around 1667 words per day. While this approach will get you to 50k with a reasonable daily work load, it also means that you have to commit to hitting that number every single day of the month, which is where that burnout comes in. Instead, I went in with a plan that would allow me to take weekends off (my weekends being Fridays and Saturdays) and still meet my goal. What this meant was that I would need to write at least 2500 words a day for the majority of November, though I tried to plan the month out with a blitzkrieg at the outset and a tapering off toward the end. For the most part, that's what I was able to do, though my targets for that first week turned out to be a little too ambitious. Here's the November calendar I used to plan and track my progress, which shows exactly how I ended up performing against those goals:


It's worth pointing a couple of things out after looking at those numbers. First, that glaring zero on the twelfth was the product of an impromptu day off for Veteran's Day weekend. Second, I came down with a bad cold the weekend after Thanksgiving (that I'm still trying to beat), which is why the numbers in that final week are so uneven. Luckily, I'd planned on slowing my output that week anyway, so it didn't hurt me too much. And yes, I did intentionally plan to write one word on the last day. If you're curious, the word was "before," though I suppose in a perfect world it would have been "END."

What Did I Learn?


I learned a few things during my NaNo experience that may inform the way I approach the writing process going forward. Chiefly, I learned that I do not like to turn off my inner editor for such long periods of time. I know that there are many writers out there who need to do this as a part of their every day process, but it produced very odd results for me. For one, the drafts that I produced were all enormous. I've written stories of all shapes and sizes, but the sweet spot that I usually aim for with a short is around five thousand words. As such, I was anticipating somewhere in the neighborhood of seven to ten stories in November. What I got was four, each weighing in at well over ten thousand words a piece. While I'm not opposed to writing longer pieces if that's how the story wants to be told, it's clear to me that this was a side effect of the way I wrote in November. These stories are going to need a much more intensive revision pass than I'm used to before I'm able to submit them anywhere.

I also learned that I'm capable of realizing goals like these if I shut up and stick to my guns, which is something that every writer needs to find out at some point if you're planning on making this a viable career. Not only was I able to hit that fifty thousand words, but I could have done a whole lot more if I'd really wanted to. If I had sacrificed all of those weekends that I took off, stayed home for Thanksgiving, and managed to stay healthy for the entire month instead of battling sickness toward the end, chances are I would have been able to add at least another twenty thousand words or so on top of my total. While I'm glad I took the approach that I did, it will be nice to have that knowledge tucked in my belt if I ever find myself facing any intimidating publishing deadlines one day.

Will I Do This Again?


That's the question, isn't it? Honestly, I don't know. For the most part, I enjoyed the experience, and I'm glad to have met my goals. However, I do think that I answered the questions I had going in, and since I'm not entirely crazy about the extra work I'll have to do to whip these stories into shape, I'm not sure that it's something I'll want to do again. That being said, depending on how things go for me between now and then, there's a decent chance that I'll have an actual novel to work on by next November. If that's the case, I might just have to dip my toes again. Either way, I don't regret having done it this year. It was loads of fun.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? How did it go for you? Did you meet your goals? Leave a comment and let me know.

NOTE: The next entry in the speculative fiction tropes series will be posted later this month. I decided to push it back for the NaNo debriefing and another upcoming entry. My blog schedule is going to be a little wacky this month.

Comments

  1. Congratulations, James! Awesome job! I knew you could do it. :)

    It was a great thing, to do it despite not working on fresh novel draft. The point of NaNo is to shut up that inner editor/critic/nagging bastard and churn out as much new content as possible. In that sense, winning NaNo is more a thing of proving you has determination and bite, and not necessarily ending up with a complete draft. You obviously need to edit more when you're done, but I think it's a good way to experiment and find your own rhythm better.

    This November caught me in the process of writing the second draft of my novel after a critical reading (which magically transformed about 60% of it into red streaks and lines), and like you, I found it an interesting test to see if I could write 50K in a month. And I did! Roughly 51,200 words by the 30th, and it would have easily been 60 if I wouldn't have been bogged down with job-work. However, I didn't register with the NaNo site or participated in any of the ra-ra and squee fests that pop up all over the place during November. Maybe next year, if it fits with my normal writing schedule and I'm not in the middle of something, I'll participate officially and start a fresh draft on Nov 1st. Who knows? :)

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    1. Thanks, Vero! And congrats on knocking out more than 50k on your second draft. It sounds like your novel is coming along well. You'll be shipping it off to agents before you know it at that rate.

      You're right that a 50k challenge like NaNo is a great way to experiment and find the rhythm that works best for you. I think that was the most useful part of it for me. In the beginning, I was surprising myself with my word counts and wondering why I didn't pump them out so quickly normally, but as the month went on I realized why I'd found the rhythm that I'd been using before. As satisfying as it is to see that word count climb, I really do work better when I'm writing slower and more deliberately. It was fun finding that out and realizing that I can do this if I need to though.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  2. That's great, congrats! Hope you are feeling 100% again soon.

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    1. Thanks, Ashley! It was a little rough for a while there, but I'm starting to come out of it, finally.

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  3. Congratulations! You had the most organized plan I've ever seen.
    I can write without going back and editing, but I am very careful when choosing my words, so I don't write fast. 2010's NaNo was the prompt I needed to get it done.

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    1. All of those years of playing video games have made me a stat junkie. I need numbers to see my progress!

      I'm usually a slower writer as well, which means much less work after that first draft is done. I'm actually kind of dreading going back this time around, because I feel like there's going to be a lot of work waiting for me. But that's the price for all of those stats, I suppose.

      Thanks for stopping by, Alex!

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  4. You have a great work ethic, J.W. :D

    If I had an opening to fill and you were looking for a job, I'd hire you in a heart beat. Doesn't matter the job, I can tell you are a dedicated person in reaching your goals. Congrats!

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    1. Haha, thanks Diane! I'll be sure and let you know if I'm ever in need of work.

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  5. I totaly hear you about turning off your inner editor for 30 days. This was my biggest issue with Nano when I did it last year. Yes, I hit my 50,000 word goal, but much of the stuff I wrote majorly sucked and will need much more work to whip it into shapre. It was a great experience, but like you, I'm not sure I will participate again. Congrats on hitting your 50,000 goal!

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    1. Thanks, Camille. It's nice to know that I can do it when I need to, but my December is now going to be chock full of revision. That's not too bad, I don't mind the revision process as much as some writers do, but I'm dreading seeing how bad some of this stuff might be!

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  6. Congrats on reaching your goal! I've never participated but hope to some day. :)

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    1. Thanks, Charity! The cool thing about NaNo is that you can really do it whenever you'd like if you're up for the challenge. Nothing's stopping you from making December or January your own personal 50k month. It's challenging, but rewarding!

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  7. I'm in awe of your organizational skills, JW. My organization is chicken scratch scribbled onto the back of Chinese food receipts...

    NaNo was a good lesson in dedication for me. I have a tendency to be gung-ho in the beginning and then slack off not long after. Having such a short amount of time to finish something instilled some discipline I didn't have before. Not saying it cured my slacker ways, but it certainly landed me on the first tread of a twelve step program!

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    1. As I mentioned upthread, I'm kind of a stat junkie, and my organization when it comes to goals and progress can border on obsessive compulsion at times. It does help me keep myself on track though!

      Congrats again on hitting your 50k, Randi. I think the tendencies you're describing are common among writers, especially novelists. But you've shown that you can do it if you keep pushing.

      Thanks for reading!

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  8. Awesome! Congratulations! *cheers* I love that chart you made.

    I didn't get anywhere close to 50,000. I got about 15,000 words in. I would like to beat myself up. That's gotten be a new record low for me. I got sick early on and ran into some plot issues as well since I had already started my story and was hoping to get the word count in so I would be close to finished at the end of the month.

    Also, I typically start my writing sessions off with a little bit of editing and without my inner editor, I didn't know what to do. (I was lost, like a sheep in a cotton field.) So I turned the inner editor back on. Honestly though, I can write 50,000 words in a month with the editor by my side. I do it all the time. I never paid attention before though. Usually I just write as much as I want and count my totals at the end of the month and pat myself on the back. This time I felt pressure and I caved like a baby.

    I'm going to try again next year though. I need to learn how to work under pressure.

    Congratulations again!

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    1. Thanks, Krystal!

      No need to beat yourself up. We all have our ups and downs as work intersects with life, and you can't help things like sickness when they run interference on your progress. I'm lucky that my bout with this cold came in the last week of the month when I had the majority of the work behind me already. If it had come in the beginning, before I'd built up momentum, I might not have done so well.

      And like you said, there's always next year. Hell, there's always next month! Good luck, and thanks for stopping by.

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