My goal is to finish stories, not to gather words I know will be deleted with shame and haste on December first.
I don’t count my tweets. I don’t count my blog posts, or newsletter content. There’s a rallying cry I often hear in the throes of November: “It still counts!”
But, to what purpose?
In my usual drafting, I often backspace. I mistype a word and I back up to correct it. Sometimes I plow backward through two or three words to reach the offending red squiggle and move forward again, retyping whatever words followed (though also frequently altering the course of history and changing them).
I’ve heard advice not to hit backspace/delete, but it does not seem to affect my progress terribly. In my eye, it is more disruptive to resist such urges than to give into them. As soon as I stop myself from backspacing, I remember the concept of ‘a word target’ and I end up checking numbers instead of increasing them.
Because, for me, the goal is to complete a thing. My NaNoWriMo goal is rarely 50,000 words on the nose. Last year I was aiming to finish a story that I suspected would easily reach 100,000 words (though the official drafting was spent at 88,803 on day 25). In previous years I have NaNo-rebelled and followed the “picture worth a thousand words” adage, timing myself at work on illustrations and equating that to the words I had the potential to type in an equal amount of writing.
I can’t imagine a more pointless exercise to plan, craft, dive into, and discover a story, only to come to a screeching halt when I’ve reached some arbitrary number. By setting my finish line at my true goal, rather than a meaningless number, I have given myself something over which I can be truly proud at the end of it.
For so many of us, starting the novel isn’t the problem. Spending time obsessing over the details isn’t the problem. Getting to the last act, however? Demarking the denouement, closing the back cover, persisting through the plot. These are the things that push a full draft into the world. And a full draft is the best way to move forward with nurturing a completed book.
So in 2017 I gave myself permission to rebel. To delete. I write myself notes and when I have addressed their concerns, I highlight the interjection and banish it from my file. If I am unsatisfied with a scene, it is wrenched from my working draft and attempted afresh.
Please let me be clear. If you are reading this and feel as if I am disdaining a method you use, that is not my intent. If anything, I hope I am encouraging anyone who finds this statement to use the tools in the way that serves them best, to fill the need they personally have in their writing.
If you need to be motivated to get in the chair and stay there, then editing as you write may not be the best method for you.
If you have not yet developed a writing routine that is as natural as your morning cuppa, then just showing up every day during NaNoWriMo may be the key that unlocks your writing potential, regardless of whether you reach the assigned word quota or not.
If you write 50,000-word stories and NaNoWriMo results in the raw material you need to get the next work out, then perfect. Nothing needs to change.
In the past, as I mentioned above, I set my own goals within which the 50,000 official word target can function in tandem. In these years I didn’t edit as I go because more words wasn’t a bad thing, and as long as my fingers were moving, I couldn’t step away from the keyboard and find a way to procrastinate.
But this year is the first year I’ve attempted multiple projects in one month. My goal is not just to reach 50,000 words by November 30 and “win” the month (though that is among them). I want to create first drafts of multiple things that I have been meaning to write, which I can begin to develop toward the purposes for which I conceived of them. I discovered on day two, if I just ‘keep typing’ when my brain gums up, I bloat the first work and push the latest drafts I planned to work on outside the scope of the month.
I’m Cinderella here. When December comes, I have a draft revision of Salvage waiting for me which I am eager to resume, and I’d like to finish it before the calendar year is out. So if I imagine myself at the NaNoWriMo grand masquerade, by taking longer to dance with one partner I leave myself with less opportunities to promenade with the other lovely partners that are on my dance card. (In my version of Cinderella it’s not about one prince, you see.) If I want to experience everything I hoped to experience, there must be a certain efficiency.
One story has already grown to a length I was not anticipating. That’s okay, because those words are truly part of that draft and not extraneous fluff added to keep my fingers moving. But if I allowed the 200-or-so words of notes I typed to myself during writing sessions to remain, and then each 8000 words had 200 such words, by the end of the month, surely I have robbed myself of at least one line item I hoped to tackle. And if I plumped my word count with notes to myself, I would also be more likely to plump my word count with non sequiturs. These last statements are not debatable, because I know myself.
So, I suppose the conclusion I’m offering in this (and at what point did this self reflection become advice? I apologize; that was not my intent) is: a writer may feel free to use NaNoWriMo and its associated programming and goals in whatever way they find serves them as a writer. And to that point, a writer should know themselves well enough to know when they are, in matter of fact, working toward their goals or twirling empty words around a word counter.