I’d love to tell you a miracle happened and I somehow managed to cross the 50k line and keep my streak going. It shouldn’t be a surprise it didn’t. There is some value, however, in letting this trend go.
When I first sought a writing community online after living in a “real world” silo once I left college, I tripped over Forward Motion. I found a writing home, made good friends, and advanced my writing focus several levels in a very short time. One of the ways I did the last was by signing up for challenges, most of which involved producing word count at that time.
I’ve been telling stories my whole life, and as soon as I could, I started writing them down. By the time I found Forward Motion, I had already written three full-length novels and several longer works in the 20k-35k range as well as a serious stack of short stories. I also had as many, if not more, unfinished projects of varying lengths. I discovered NaNo in late 2002 on one of the old style listservs that has long since closed, but I didn’t have enough notice even though the idea intrigued me.
My novels took 10+ years (80k), two weeks (60k), and two years (120k) respectively, so 50k in a month wasn’t impossible, but still a bit of a stretch. Once I joined Forward Motion the next year, though, I set word count goals that were both on par and more challenging than NaNo. Forward Motion also had a strong NaNo support environment and nothing encourages a challenge junkie more than others willing to run alongside.
Challenges are a wonderful way to push past barriers, leap over obstacles, and stretch your abilities. They’re also clear goals with a solid deadline. I don’t know if you’ve ever run into the concept of SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely), but word count challenges are a perfect example.
Compare “write a novel” to “write 50k by November 30th.” Sure, the number can be intimidating, but it’s also concrete where a novel ranges from 40k to 400k or more. You can say, “I’ll write 1,000 words a day until I’m done,” but there’s no real sense of progress because you don’t know the true end-point (ignoring the many ways to come close to a hard metric). Compare that to “Write 1,667 words every day of November and you win.” That’s not even considering the swag, special offers, or celebratory t-shirts.
At Forward Motion, I did a 48-hour 15k word count challenge every other weekend, monthly word count challenges, theme-driven challenges, three-day novels, and more. I collected pips to put in my signature and accumulated enough first drafts to drown me ;). NaNo became another piece in that challenge puzzle, and it’s the one that stuck. Every year, I’ve produced another rough draft in November to add to the pile.
Somewhere along the way, my priorities shifted from rough drafts to editing, submitting, and even publishing. Sure, there were many challenges to help boost those as well. For example, I started the edit marathon running opposite the bi-weekly word count marathon on Forward Motion, I joined monthly edit challenges, and NaNo even added CampNaNo that support editing.
The problem is that editing doesn’t align as easily to a challenge structure.
Counting new words is easy. When editing, do you count every word deleted, every word added, the difference between the initial word count and the end word count, or half a dozen other possibilities? The push to produce is complicated if it makes spending the time to edit well less important than reaching for some arbitrary time/stat goal. Edits don’t make for SMART goals because you have to be flexible and ready to discover the changes required are easier or harder than expected.
If you’re working from beta reader comments, you should contemplate what the comment meant and whether the offered suggestion is viable for more than just illustrating what the reader was trying to point out. You might end up realizing a third of the way through that one character is unnecessary or should be combined with another. You might discover your main character is flat, especially compared to the antagonist.
There are too many levels to contemplate. While finishing an edit in a reasonable amount of time, and even to a deadline, is certainly possible, being driven by that ticking clock is just as likely to distract you from the depth to be found in your work.
Nor is the problem just with editing where challenges are concerned.
Challenges have more than just a deadline. They have a starting point, too, an arbitrary date set whether or not you’re ready.
Would my NaNo have gone differently had I been able to re-read Destiny’s Path beforehand and craft a strong outline? Absolutely. If I’d managed the preparations, I might even have met my word count goal. But to get the outline done, I would have had to turn my attention from Apprentice, for which I already had beta readers waiting and am straining the patience of my readers.
Since I became an indie publisher, I have dropped out of most of the challenges except NaNo, which I used to produce one of the 2-3 novels I needed to write each year. It worked really well for The Steamship Chronicles’ early novels as they were between 50k and 60k, but with my science fiction and Regency romances, I ended up with a partial novel and a bad case of burnout. Usually December is without creativity except on the smallest scale.
We’ll see whether I come back charging next year or if I accept my NaNo trend has run its course, but I’m not counting myself out just yet. After all, I have three more novels to write for The Steamship Chronicles, and a sweet romance series that’s shorter. Nor am I accepting the post-NaNo slump this year. I’ve already written two days out of four. Sure, it’s not every day, but it’s a lot more than none, adding 706 words to 23,414.
Here are my final stats. In a rare twist, this year the NaNo validator added a whole 22 words (22,730). Historically, it cuts anything from five to over 200 words, so that was a pleasant surprise.
|Day||New Words||Running Total|