Given that NaNoWriMo is almost upon us I thought I’d share a little writing trick that’s helped me heaps. I know you’re supposed to write 1, 667 words a day for NaNoWriMo but for many of us that’s just not possible. I wanted to reassure those of us who struggle to hit such high daily word targets.
Plus when I discussed this method on Twitter quite a few people seemed to find it useful. So here it is:
For the last few years I have gone from attempting to write 1, 000 words every day to a much smaller daily target of around 300 words a day.
Here’s why. In 2009 I wrote a lot less than I had previously. 2010 wasn’t a whole lot better. It began to turn around in 2011, which was when I realised that aiming at 1, 000 words or more was doing my head in and I needed to change.
At the end of every day that I did not write 1, 000 words, which in the lean writing years of 2009-2010 was most of them, I would feel like I had failed. I would also feel that I had to write 2, 000 words the next day to make up for the failure, which I would also fail at. It would snowball. I began each day feeling like I had failed which left me not feeling particularly thrilled about writing. Before long I was looking at a daily target of 8, 000 words. I think I’ve managed to write 8, 000 words in a day maybe once in my entire life.
Not good. I used to be a relatively fast writer. It was part of my sense of myself as a writer. That made me very slow to recognise that I had to rethink what kind of writer I was. In the olden days a daily goal of 1, 000 words was a doddle. I had days when I wrote as many as 3, 000 or 4, 000 words without breaking into a sweat. The 1, 000 word target had been a very low minimum. It did not compute that such a low goal was now insurmountable.
But then I remembered Nalo Hopkinson‘s words of wisdom, which she shared with me early in our friendship, which I shall now paraphrase: writing as little as 300 words a day will result in just under a 80, 000 word novel even if you don’t write on 100 days of the year.
At the time, young and stupid as I was, I thought to myself: so if you wrote 1, 000 words a day you’d be looking at a huge novel of more than 250, 000 or more than one novel a year. That’s what I’ll do! (I have never written more than one whole novel in a year.)
On my first day with a 300 word target I nailed it and I felt so fabulous about this success I wound up writing quite a bit more than 300. Same thing happened the next day and the next and the next and so on. Positive feedback at last! Turns out I quite like writing after all.
The next stage in my new small word count regime was to switch to a daily recalculated target which was even more helpful.
At the beginning of every new novel I now set myself a due date, usually six months away, and a target amount of words, usually 65, 000 because. That gives you a target of around 350 words. But every day that you write more than 350 words it means the next day your target is lower. So you’re getting two sources of positive feedback: meeting your daily target and seeing your daily target get smaller.