Tag Archives: wordcount

Guest Post: No Mountain is High Enough

Sometimes when Novice Wordsmith and I write, we try and beat a wordcount bar; whether it’s the 50K of NaNoWriMo or some other arbitrary number, it’s a goalpost to shoot for.

I’ve had years where I’ve done really well, pushing 100K words, and other times where I barely made it over the bar.
But like the climbers that just finished a 19-day free climb of El Capitan, the reasons for doing it are to have a direction to climb.    What we find sometimes is that a story can’t be quantified by ‘X words’ — it demands more.  A short story becomes a novella; a novel becomes a trilogy, because ones words just can’t be contained by a wordcount _limit_.
Similarly, at times the words just don’t come.   They’re lodged in our unconscious writers’ block of iced out ideas, and we just stare at the blinking cursor or blank page and nothing happens.  We start stressing because time is ticking, and our wordcount average is falling behind.
And yet we’re capable of superhuman authoring bursts of thousands of words in a single day — when the story demands it.   When the time is short.   The ‘right’ way to win NaNo is to meet or beat your daily average, since there is a defined ‘stop’ time at the end of the month, but for me, once November is over, I used to stop writing no matter where I was in the month.
Fifty thousand, sixty thousand, fifty four thousand two hundred and one — it didn’t matter.  I’d stop cold, and say, “I’m taking a break from this.”
The mountain of words was too high.
But the thing is, not everyone can reach the summit of a novel.   Sometimes the avalanche of words comes crashing down and you think your novel is a confused mess of words without resemblance to the perfect climbing path, with waypoints and scene interludes just _gone_, and you don’t know what to do next.
Other times, the way is clear, the steps to get from point A to point B are crystal clear in your head and make it onto the page — or you discover an even better route to the top of the peak — that ability to place that ‘Finished/The End’ flag there with triumph, and you can look back down at the beginning of the novel and go, ‘wow.  I wrote all that?’
But really, don’t see your novel and your writing as one mountain.   There are several large mountains in the world that people attempt to climb every day; there are also small hills, rocky outcroppings, and the tricky climbing wall of haiku or a screenplay to tackle.   Every person’s writing ascent is different, done for their own rationale and reasons (or lack thereof) and finding what challenges you to keep writing — and your wordcount climbing — is something you find within, rather than without.
Moreover, whether you’re at the top or at the bottom, you should always be looking to the horizon, to see what the next mountain in your path might be.


When I was younger, the most intimidating thing for me was writing a novel. I always thought I couldn’t commit or I couldn’t spend that much time, or effort, or put something together that was an intricate, good story.

And now, I have Big-itis, both in the form of finding so many different ideas to create into novels instead of short stories, or to work on long-term, and in the form of running so long with my writing that I’ve barely reached the beginning meat of the novel’s rising action and it’s the halfway point of the month.

Part of it is inflation: I wanted to reach wordcount so many days that had been so badly off and struggling for me that I just drolled on and on without a care in the world and racked it up. I indulged in detail where I could have summarized, and I put in action where I should be just moving forward. So now my main character has had two physical problems happen to her and she hasn’t even gotten on the road yet… Not to mention that I just realized, a love interest hasn’t even been introduced.

It is easy to get caught in this loop. Inflating until you hit where you need to be is a good way to get the obligation done for the day and move on to other things. The other part is lack of motivation, or creativity for the day, stalling out and not being so certain where to go next.

I have a friend who was going to write in a certain style, of extra detail with every little moment, just to get wordcount. When the goal feels far away and you don’t feel like you can reach it, sometimes the first thing to do is just to add until you get there instead of letting your head run wild and coming up with new plot ninjas or something to keep the story running, or to stop it.

It sort of defeats the purpose sometimes, of writing daily. It gets you to sit down and commit, but sometimes when all you do is throw words at it, are you really making much of an improvement?

Don’t let Bigitis catch you! Give everything extra thought, keep those gears turning and continue to drum up new and innovative ideas to get the characters talking. Filler should only be there in case of an emergency, sort of like a swinging door; it can be there, or it can’t. You can even keep it from swinging back in one direction by taking it out later, in revision.

The story, however, needs you to keep writing in a productive direction. Don’t let it down! Bigitis can only take you so far!

-The Novice Wordsmith

PS: Happy Hundreth Post! Woo!

NaNoWriMo 2014 Week 2 Update: Smooth Sailing

So after struggling all of last week, and even harder toward the end of it, somehow I kicked into high gear and managed to find the motivation and drive to push forward hard. Sunday night, I think it was, I was writing like I hadn’t in a while, and it felt so good to just lose myself in the story again.

So after dropping down to about a 1700 wordcount average, after about Wednesday, I’m working my way back up to the 3-4k average that I usually tout. Hit 20k last night, might try for 25k today, but that’s a long shot, even if I can just pull myself down into the dregs of the novel and not come up for air for a while. I, unfortunately, still have stuff to do every day or I’d be glued to my desk, writing all day.

I went to a write-in on Wednesday, and one of the people there had told me that she wrote 13k in the first day and was teetering off and I was like, what!? In ONE DAY?

It’s not too hard to believe, but seeing someone pull that off is still pretty remarkable. I was able to write 10k in two days once, just committing to the project, but I’m still trying to find how you can pump out so much in just 24 hours. She did say that she was basically just sleeping and writing and taking small breaks, so I guess that would have something to do with it, just writing all day…

As much as I’d love to be one of those people to get out a premium amount of wordcount, 150-200k, it’s a very intimidating prospect. Being someone who just blows away the requirements and does their own thing, soaring above the average, that would feel great to me, but I don’t know if I’d ever really have the time to give it. Maybe it’s not the time so much as it’s the constant writing, writing, writing.

Friend, like I said back in July, managed about 15k in one day to hit 50k, though our goals were 25k. His fingers hurt like crazy at the end of it and he had managed to burn himself out, but he caught the goal he wanted.

Though on the other hand, I’ve found that there are still a lot of other people struggling to keep up as well, through engagements and work and school and whatever else they have going on, so being able to be a few thousand above the curve feels good.

You’re going to have people on all three sides of the spectrum, I realize. Those lagging behind, those who straddle the line and stay on task, and those who reach far and away what they want, early, and then keep reaching. None of them are bad for the month, because every single one of them is trying, some better than others, but I’m not going to lie: it feels great to be able to say you wrote every single day, and hit the target wordcount or went above it. In my fear-of-failure eyes, not seeing the target hit  sucks, but I’m working on accepting that the goal for the month, most basically, is to write, every day.

An undeniable part of us says that winning feels good, and it does, it’s why we strive for it so hard, in everything we do. We can pep talk ourselves to accept what we did if we didn’t win, but I think we’re still going to be even a fraction let down by ourselves if we don’t reach the goal we intended to get.

Just because I tell you how great it is that you wrote daily, doesn’t mean you’re going to feel any less bad about not getting that 50k at the end of the month.

But daily writing is crucial, which I think I’ve mentioned before in another blog post; when you get a routine down, and you write every single day, you’re creating positive habits that help you and your creativity. So really, that is the key to this month, writing every single day, and making the time for it. If you can keep it up outside of NaNoWriMo, the better. It’s a great feeling.

Even if 50k still feels good, so does being able to say that you write daily anyway.

We’ve passed week 1. We’re reaching mid November already and it’s coming up fast, but don’t let it intimidate you. Good luck, and keep going! I’m on the sidelines for you with pompoms made of old book page strips!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Camping Update: Finale, also known as “Can we get to 50k anyway?”

In the beginning of this whole thing, my friend and I decided, for the sake of his sanity more than mine, that we’d focus only on getting to 25k, and collectively, 50k. The plan was, don’t strain yourself. If you miss a day, no big deal, you have a lot more pressing engagements anyway.

We did miss a few days. We skipped days altogether where we couldn’t get up any inspiration or were just more interested in watching movies or running around Calaveras county and doing whatever we wanted. I had days where I’d write 4-5k easily, and he couldn’t get the chance to write more than the 800 or so daily wordcount. We allowed ourselves to relax and not fret about it at all.

And then he finished all of his pressing work and we had three days left with 10k past our goal and we were suddenly eyeing 50k.

“We could do it if we pushed,” he said.

“I’ve written 10k in a couple days before,” I agreed.

And then suddenly it’s July 31st and we’re pulling prompts and ideas to write about from every which direction we can just to pin down wordcount. It’s about 4:45-5:00 p.m. when I realize, he has 47k and I have 43k. He was behind me before he finished his work and now he was kicking my ass like he was teaching me the meaning of it. Not to mention he’s got two hours on me.

So now it’s 11:45, and I’m at 45.5k words, and I’m okay with that. I wonder how much of that was my personal thought of, “I can’t do this,” though, but to be fair, I had dragged myself in deep with being as wordy as possible about everything my MC was encountering and it was dragging me down something fierce.

I will say that I’m kinda glad for July to be over. I think we might finish the story out anyway, afterward, but it’s kinda hard to tell. I’m ready to jump back into other projects and lose myself in the other different ideas and sprawling storylines and the new ones too. Speaking of, he and I had just picked up another story and finally got running with it, so that bodes well.

That story is my first foray into being the “dungeonmaster” of a joined project, so it is providing to be an exciting challenge.

Anyway, all in all, winning Camp Nano with soaring colors this time around, and it feels good. Now the countdown for NaNoWriMo begins!!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Camping Update: Rolling up the Sleeping Bag

I got an extra day in California, and with it, we banged out the last of our goal wordcount for the month. We sacrificed finishing watching a movie, but we had finally found a really strong rhythm for writing that we were having a hard time with the entire week and didn’t want to let go. So we didn’t.

I may not have gotten much sleep because of it, but it was very worth it.

My 3pm flight on Friday got knocked because the plane was having mechanical issues, which I’m grateful for, really, and while I could have taken a flight out at the same time at a different airport, there was no way I was gonna make it. Honestly, I rather liked having the extra time with him and a couple other friends.

So, the 7:30 am flight out the next morning had to do, which was fine, and very productive, because I got a lot of writing done in the span of four hours. I think I knocked out about half of the chapter I was working on, which ended up being just over 4k words altogether, and got an idea or two out of my head and into RTF.

Unfortunately, my next chapter afterward has been stalling for a bit, and we’re being faced with the fact that we strung out the story long, so we may not finish this month. Which is funny, because before, we were having trouble not solving the mystery too quickly.

Technically now, we can hand in our wordcount and get winner’s validation in return, and the temptation to finish the month’s story out slowly is creeping up on us. We still have seven days left! And to be honest, I am quite enjoying it, even if it means I have a giant sized block on the rest of my other writing projects.

Either way, I can’t wait to see what the last week has in store for us!

-The Novice Wordsmith

A Camping We Will Go: Update

We’ve hit week two of Camp Nano, and me and my friend are still trucking through. I am, for once, actually writing more than he is, but I have an unfair advantage because I have nowhere near as much work to do as he does. Originally, he wasn’t even going to do the month, but I’d expressed an interest and we found an idea we liked.

During the previous Nano Camp, I had the worst time ever. I hit a major block, barely grabbing 25k out of my 50k proposed goal and making very little productive revisions.
I am a lot happier with this month’s progress, obviously. It helps me realize that I was only having a bad month and that I blew out of the funk that I’d dug myself into and I am very thankfully, doing better and writing better.
I found it odd in April, because usually I am very motivated when I have a wordcount goal. I know what I need to do and I do everything I can to reach it, but when I put my revision goal in there too, it helped me feel like I’d actually do it, too, since I’d been putting it off. Instead, what I got was clogged up, unable to write or think well and just absolutely sputtering out. It was an upsetting month for me.
Luckily, I can say that I haven’t glanced back at that… whatever, had caused that to happen. My thought was that I’d spent a couple weeks waiting for my laptop to be repaired, in an old room that I felt like I had no business being in. Maybe it just threw me for a harder loop than I expected.
I am not being thrown for any loops this time! I’m at about 21k of a 25k proposed goal, and I should finish by tomorrow or the next day.
I should be happy for the long flights ahead of me tomorrow, too, on my way out to California, but I fear for my laptop’s battery. Layovers are good things that help you recharge, though! I’ve never had a flight come in so late, though, I’ll be touching down at 11:30 eastern and I’m central time, so it’ll be about 1 a.m. my time. Damn. Still, very much looking forward to it.
Anyway, the writing is coming along well. This is my first time doing a joint project, but I’m really liking it so far, and having a partner is very fun. We’ve been blazing through the story and we’ve still got 21 days left!
A little frustration goes to not feeling up to par with my vocabulary as usual, but I’ll get back to normal soon. And, mystery is new and exciting, I’ve never done it before, but I didn’t know if I’d be good at it. So far so good, though, even if I’m a little sketchy about it. It’s all about hiding things and figuring out how to find them, and who finds them and why, and while i know how to do that with some developments, I’ve never made it the whole MO of the story.
If anyone has any suggestions or tips, I’d love to know!
-The Novice Wordsmith

A Camping We Will Go, With NaNoWriMo

Last night, I mentioned that I was doing Camp NaNoWriMo, and then gave a short explanation. Tonight, I’d like to expand on that a bit, for those who don’t know, but I’m going to start with a more basic explanation.

Camp NaNoWriMo is a sort of sister program to NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in the month of November. There’s a website made from the organization that puts the event together (http://nanowrimo.org), and you can create a free account and track your wordcount through the month. NaNoWriMo is a challenge for everyone to take on, to write 50,000 words toward a novel, to dedicate as much of your time and effort to a new idea, or just to see how well you can do it.

There was a motivational letter that went out at the end of November, or I think it may have been in the revision months of December and January, where an author wrote about a friend of theirs saying they failed. The response they gave was, “No, you didn’t fail, you tried, and that’s what matters.”

It’s more about growth as a writer, is the point; whether it’s that you want to write as many words as possible, or you want to finally give some life and body to something that’s been knocking around in your head for a while. That you tried at all, made any kind of effort, is really what the event is about, letting creativity reign.

Unlike NaNoWriMo proper, Camp NaNoWriMo is your chance to write whatever you’d like, it doesn’t have to be a novel. You can do revisions, you can write short stories, you could get some prompts out of the way that you’d had stored up for yourself (read as: something I do for myself), or even use it as motivation to work on something you had in the works before.

NaNoWriMo, or as it’s also frequently called, NaNo, is a very big event, that people all over the country take part in with kick off parties, some at midnight and others in the middle of the day. Some travel across to collect locations on where they go to kick off the month, meeting new people each time. Throughout the month, there will be more meet ups, word sprints, word wars, tons of different things you can do through the forums to help your motivation, and even an IRC chat (I think) that they host.

With 50,000 words, the daily average is 1,667 words, or 1700 if you want to round up.  Which, I will say, if you haven’t worried about wordcount before, may not seem like a lot at first, but it is. It’s certainly enough to make a difference, but don’t let it intimidate you.

I spent last year going, “what is camp nano?” And this year it was, “Oh! These are the months!”

Each year, they change the months, but they’re always in spring/summer. April and July were this year and I believe last year was July and August. So they change annually, but it’s still an invitation to get you writing daily for a couple of months.

A fiction writing professor that I had said several times that if you’re going to get serious about writing, you should have a time that you sit down and do it every day. For me, at that time, I was too scatterbrained to really get to that point, but it takes time, it all just takes time, and effort, and if you’re willing to put that into what you want, you can get there, wherever you want to be.

If you’re having trouble finishing any projects, too, Nano is perfect for you, too. I was a chronic story-starter, but I could never finish anything. Nano laid out for me that I could do something from start to finish, though I admit that the first year I tried, I made it through half the month before giving up.

Whatever you can manage through the month is remarkable. Especially if it turns out a personal best. It gives you, most of all, a goal to reach, whether it’s simply writing every day, or at all, to hit 50k, or 100k, finish early, or finish on time, and even just to meet others an collaborate ideas. At its core, NaNoWriMo, Camp and the month of November proper, is a tool for you to utilize how you see fit, to help yourself. Don’t hesitate.

-The Novice Wordsmith