“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L’Amour
During November my Twitter feed was filled by writers from around the world validating their progress and final NaNoWriMo achievements on a successful campaign. Kudos to those who hit 50,000 words. It’s a tremendous tour de force.
Now, if I told you Stephen King writes around 2000 words a day, what would your reply be?
You’ve just written an average of 1667 (rounded up) to hit the NaNo target. Take a second to process that. King is prolific and successful. You just spent one month of his working year writing. Look at how you feel, elated, proud, exhausted and on a high of emotion at managing to reach a goal many veer away from.
There’s a reason King is successful. He writes constantly at a level that works for him. Granted we can’t all sit on 2000 words a day, but I will guarantee those who just completed NaNo can muster at least 500 if they put their minds to it. I for one can produce 1000 a day…when I’m mindful enough to enter a novel that is.
If you’re reading this then chances are you blog too. How many words a day go into that? How do you organise your free time to hit those goals? Writing novels is very similar in concept. I’m not talking about ideas or structure here, just time that could be used to actually work toward a daily word count. At 1000 words you can hit an 80,000 word novel in 80 days, about three months.
That’s a pretty good target for a draft novel. At that rate you could be on three or four book drafts a year.
How easy does that sound?
It’s actually not. Not really. For most of us life has commitments that interfere heavily on that sort of word craft. Work, chores, kids, illness and family all play huge roles in time management.
Or do they? Time is found during NaNo, to blog and to read. I’m assuming the latter on the basis it’s fundamental to actually writing. The point being we do create time when we have to. Ergo it can be done. I sometimes think we can, at times, be our own worst enemies on this aspect. For certain, I know I am.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be 1000 words. 500 is far more realistic as a starting point. Some might do anything up to that. The big goal here is to form a habit. From the habit comes practice, with practice comes better competence, with competence comes more words. It forms a self motivating engine that insists time is managed better so space can be found to sate the word beast.
This brings me to another aspect of NaNo and those that might not have the target. That’s the word “failed” that often crops up. Many of these started on my Twitter feed and then disappeared as the month moved on. I’ve written posts in the past about that aspect of November.
Thoughts on Success During NaNoWriMo. It’s Not All About Hitting The Word Count
I will wager many of these writers struggled with time, motivation or a story that just wasn’t working out. None of that is really failure. Time gets eaten by life, motivation can drop because of that, as it can with a story that’s not right. How many of these could have knocked out up to a 1000 with relative ease?
The definition of “win” takes a different slant when presented that way. It’s all about perspective. A story found to be somewhat lacking has been explored to find out. Shelve it as a new take might invent itself later. A lower than necessary word count has proved the ability to write to rhythm. The amount matters not, the consistency does. If NaNo itself was daunting then try the Camps first. Self set a goal and work toward it using the same system as the full novel-writing month uses. That’s a win, win. You get the rigidity of a target under the same conditions. Try 500 words a day multiplied up for the camp month and try it out.
Or prove it to yourself. The habit requires self-discipline. This is what a NaNo event provides via the set goal. We don’t actually need it to function as successful writers, but we can use them to drive focus.
It’s Not All About Word Counts Either
Words are, obviously, a pretty necessary part of a writing process. It’s what readers see. Few, however, realise the rest of the story leading up to that amazing novel.
We all do this part differently. I use various tactics. Prompts, for example, have generated a 60,000 word back story which is a book in its own right. I used the A to Z challenge, Linda Hills Stream of conscious Writing and Rachael Ritchey’s BlogBattle. Flash fiction and short stories to toy with scenes, fill in history gaps, flesh out characters and world build. I could do this as a paper exercise with character sheets and story arc plans. I prefer to write though, and explore via these prompts and challenges. Often a short story can create a larger idea.
In NaNo terms I’m a pantser. Write, see what happens and let my characters do their own stuff. I’ve tried sticking to plans, but end up having virtual words with them. Most of the time it’s them berating me because I’m doing it wrong and forcing a course of action to fit my “plan” that they have evolved beyond.
In my humble opinion this is what first drafts call for. Bones that can be fleshed out later when I know the story and characters better. Editing begins shaping things. One word here though. That habit, constant and steady improves the word craft. With time vocabulary expands, style and structure improve and first drafts begin to look sounder from the start. This is not instant. It takes time and commitment.
I mention this because it can be an exciting part of a solid story arc. Period novels must hold authenticity in setting, dialogue and atmosphere. The same applies to established traits in fantasy sub-creatures such as dwarves or elves. Crime books too need a solid knowledge of law and police protocols. Sci-Fi some rudimentary knowledge of physics and space flight and so on.
Never forget a reader somewhere will have that knowledge and be quick to point out errors and flaws.
This does not mean it looks impossible though. The internet can provide some answers, you might know somebody with knowledge on the topic in hand or, to coin a well versed adage, write what you know. Then use your imagination to bend it to work of fiction.
If, like me, you enjoy the genre you write in then research can become obsessive. It opens up unexpected avenues, drives new writing prompts and ideas and often becomes a total distraction to where you first went looking.
In time constrained writing, such as NaNo or self-imposed first draft deadlines, I advise not over egging this part. Flag areas that need more research and carry on with the novel. Flesh these out later. You’re more likely to be specific in what you look for that way. It’s all too easy to waste time and lose the continuity if days of research appear every few pages. I know this all too well!
A prolific writer isn’t one by accident. Consistent writing, self-discipline and good time management are prerequisites. Never forget most top end authors also have families and lives to deal with too. Granted for them the job is now writing. It wasn’t always. Read “On Writing” by King and you’ll see his life before Carrie was published.
Be prepared to work on several projects at once too. If one sticks then there are fall backs. These might be other novels, short stories or writing prompts. Don’t hang up the writing and wait for the sticking point to become a block.
Continuously observe things and people watch. See the world from a writer’s mind. Don’t just look at an old building, be able to describe it in words later. Listen to dialogue between strangers. How do they say things, dialects, inflections, common word repeats? Describe the smell of a garage, a hay-field or wood after a rain storm. Why is that man carrying a limp? Take a walk at the same time in the same place every day for a week. How many people do you see regularly doing the same thing?
Make your writing station a sanctuary. This is not easy for most of us. I’d love somewhere like that. Alas at the moment it’s just not possible. The pretexts are the same though. Cull distractions, close out social media, phones and clear the decks. Don’t start, then think “coffee.” Once you’ve settled then the next break is after the word count set for that period. It might be one continuous session or one of several. This will tighten and strengthen with practice and habit.
Just remember, J K Rowling, King, Asimov, Grisham. Success wasn’t instant. They once were as we are now. Granted having a fine story helps, but even that can happen with determination, practice and a good deal of creative imagination.
Above all else, trust yourself and write on.
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
Agree. For me NaNo proves I have it is in to commit. Plus I enjoy being part of a community (even if in my head) for a month. Yes to sitting down and just writing. All about priority for me. I have seen peoples’ goal at Camp be write two short stories, edit X many chapters. We can set something more “realistic”. Like Gary said just sit and write.
I think many don’t see the NaNo “win” as the equivalence of what prolific writers do every month. Same with the amount of time created in order to do it. Too easy to sit back and drop into old habits, then say “No time to write.” #guilty lol.
I think you’re right about priorities too. Setting those as personal goals also helps get the mind focussed better. Camps might be the best testing ground for many people too. Realistic goals with a deadline. I think there’s three a year so they are good places to link up with writers and see if the writer has the determination to succeed.
Thanks for the input too 😊
Problem I have is I can manage on average 700 – 800 words a night on my blog at the moment, that can take me 2 hours.. but with a novel it is keeping the ideas flowing. My fear is that the novel will become boring as the ideas run out.. 80 000 words is very different to a short story or diary like entry.. I still have Kings on writing to read.. but with blogging I’m not reading.. it’s all a balancing act.. but I also find it easier to blog in front of the tv, then read… it’s easier to blog… thanks Gary for a good post.
Clearly you’ve got the word time at 700 to 800 a night. Most authors I know that blog have to sacrifice blogging while writing. Time wise they are pretty much mutually exclusive. I’m sensing a modicum of writing procrastination too (I know this one here lol). Will it be good, will I be able to finish it, does the story pan out, ideas etc. The answer lies in writing it. Blogging can be used as an avoidance tactic. Reading is an essential writers tool too. It can take three to four months to write a first draft depending, obviously, on time and writing rate. The balance there is heavily tipped away from social media. That all boils down to it being a huge commitment that has impact on established routines. Part of that time management thing!
Thanks for the cool comment and I’m sure it’s not ideas running out that’s your biggest stumbling block 😂😂
Thank you Gary, I think I just need to write it, it’s currently sat in Scrivener.. that’s another stumbling block trying to work how to use it. Then the cost of editing once done. Then the research after 1st draft. Yes I do just need to write it but the blog at the minute is getting in the way and I’m enjoying doing it.. it’s a hard balance right now to sacrifice blogging time for a novel I fear will never get completed and read. However if I don’t complete it then no it won’t get read.
Thanks I know I need to just write it, my characters want to be read about and enjoyed.. i guess it is just easier to blog right now.. thanks Gary.
I so understand this! I am terrible at procrastinating with the it’s good…me….it’s rubbish. That creates no firm decision and I stick with the status quo. I have Scrivener too, but as yet I tend to write on an iPad, upload files to Drop Box, then compile them in a manuscript template on Word. Reason I use Word is two fold. One I know it and two editors and proofers like using track changes in it. I know Scrivener is good, but it’s alien to me and investing time learning costs writing time. That said a major advantage of it isn’t will compile ebook files like kindle. I wouldn’t worry about editing and proofing costs before you’ve actually got that first draft either. Upshot there is it acts as another reason not to write lol.
The research can actually be as fascinating as writing the book too. It’s amazing what you can learn from it. Of course all this is do as I say, not a I do 😱
You are completely right, it is just writing it.. I like the way Scrivener makes it look like a proper book on the kindle., even though it’s not yet.. thanks for all your advice, I do honestly appreciate it.
That’s why I got Scrivener too. I am so used to Word though that I found learning a new one a time consumer. I might try uploading a completed one into Scrivener though to see if that will compile.
As for advice, sometimes just bouncing thoughts can make things seem clearer. Overthinking on your own is often a method to create problems rather than find solutions. At least that’s what happens with me!
Yes thanks Gary, I’ve been reading through what I have done as an epub, it’s about 90 pages.. I’m already seeing areas that I can expand or move around. I’ve also now learnt that I can not read epub on my kindle.. Scrivener got me to download a kindle converter for mobi from a amazon, My lap top does not like it, then I’ve emailed it to my kindle but it’s not there.. modern technology.. and yes I am great at over thinking, thankyou.
Kindles use .mobi files as you now know lol. You need to open the file in the reader you want to use. I thought Scrivener converts to kindle files too. It’s one reason I got it. The ability to save manuscripts in different ebook formats. It might have gone to your Amazon kindle library so you might have it, but not yet in your device?
Ok thanks, Amazon kindle library I will look there, thankyou.
Did it work or are we back to problem solving lol
What a wealth of information, Gary! I’ve pinned this for reference, and shared it all over.
First, I read “On Writing” last year – what a fantastic read! I love that King started writing comics as a young child, and had a printer in his basement by the time he was in high school. The amount of time he spends on writing is admirable too.
Painting has slowly encroached on my life, and it’s been hard to find a happy medium between it and writing. Writing has taken a back seat to painting for the past few weeks, but my projects are finally slowing down, so I’m excited to jump back into my writing world.
Wonderful post, Gary! Thanks so much for sharing all of your expertise!
I’ve seen your painting grow and improve massively in your posts. Truly impressive in my humble opinion. Not a skill set I have, but can appreciate it in others.
Kings book is a must for anyone considering writing seriously. It shows a different system to more conventional approaches that are often taught in writing courses. It even validated my approach after getting disheartened during one of said courses.
Thank you fo sharing too, not to mention the considered comment 😊
Thanks so much, Gary!
This is really encouraging Gary. Thank you!
Thanks Gloria, I’m always eager to emphasise NaNo is a tough one and appreciate those not making it might have reasons that can also be construed as positives. Writing habits are hard to set up too. Often we over egg ambitions here and that can seriously dent mojo. It’s possible to increase productivity though with advice, encouragement and support 😊