Saturday, November 21, 2009

NaNoWriMo: Word Count Wisdom

Word Count Wisdom
By Ami Spencer

The first time I participated in NaNoWriMo, I knew it would be a challenge. I was working full time, freelancing part time, and had plans to travel for a long weekend as well as Thanksgiving. November wasn’t exactly the best time to be committing to such a lofty goal. And yet I couldn’t resist the challenge.

I didn’t want NaNo to be another task I felt I had to slog through, though. I wanted it to be fun, so I gave myself a bit of leeway. While I was working toward 50,000 words with gusto, I would be happy to write at least 90 pages. I ended up with almost 130 pages and a little more than 38,000 words. I couldn’t have been more proud of the results. I had written more words in 30 days than I had probably written in the entire previous year.

I had also learned some valuable lessons about my writing style and how to make the most of my writing time:

1. Having a specific word-count goal and a deadline is a must. Before I started NaNo, I had been thinking and talking about this story for at least a year. I needed the impetus to put it down on paper, and something as simple as a word count goal and deadline for reaching it worked wonders. When NaNo is over, even a more realistic goal of 5 to 10 pages a week, helps me get my ideas down on paper and start shaping them. Setting goals for myself and working toward them is the only way I will get these stories in my head written.

2. Finding a group of others with a common goal helps, too. Knowing that there were thousands of people out there writing away toward similar objectives did two things for me: (1) It made me feel supported despite the fact that I didn’t even know them; and (2) It stirred up my competitive spirit and pushed me to work as hard as I could to reach my goal. Participating in write-ins and working beside other writers, hearing about their stories and soaking up their excitement, energized me, too. There’s something about being in a room with other creative souls that can’t help but inspire you.

3. The pressure of deadlines overpowers the fear that keeps me from writing in the first place. We all have a nasty inner editor that keeps us from writing or holds us back from writing what we’d like. But when a deadline looms and I lock my inner editor in the bathroom or closet, amazing things start to happen. I stop worrying about perfection and literary panache and simply write. What comes out may not be perfect, but it will be something I can work with.

4. Pushing past the tough parts is imperative. During the first few days of NaNo, the words flowed like champagne at a wedding. Then the newness and excitement started to wear off, the story headed in directions I wasn’t expecting and suddenly my typing slowed to a crawl. I wanted to stop, to give up, but I kept going.

Sometimes it took every bit of energy I had to keep clicking those keys. I had to argue with my inner editor over and over. I had to figuratively tie myself to the chair some days. But when I got past that wall, when I came out on the other side still typing, it felt so good.

I may not have come away from NaNoWriMo with a finished draft of my first novel, but I did come away with the start of a great story and much more confidence in my writing ability. With NaNo winding down this year, I haven’t written nearly as much as I did during my previous experience. I have, however, continued to write—no matter what.

Ami Spencer is a technical and freelance writer living in Baltimore, MD. She has published articles in several local, regional and online publications. She is also a contributing blogger for several websites, including Feed the Soul and Blissfully Domestic, where she writes on health and wellness topics. You can read her writing blog for tips to help you Write Out Loud Click here or check out her personal blog Click here to learn more about the flotsam and jetsam of her life.

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