My thoughts on NaNo overachieving

I naturally write very prolifically, very quickly, particularly when I’m inspired. Some books have written me more than I’ve written them, judging by first draft wordcounts like 397K in three months and 406K in five months. When I’ve had that particular story memorized backwards and forwards in my head for years, the words flow even faster, as they’re finally given an outlet.

Every year I’ve officially participated in NaNo, I’ve gone over 50K. Two of the three years I unofficially did NaNo, I also went over 50K. The only reason I didn’t go over 50K the first year, 2010, was because I didn’t start till 18 November. I certainly did write at least 100K each month I was writing that book. As of the end of Tuesday, my NaNo wordcount for this month stood at 42K, so I’m well on track to overachieve yet again.

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However, there’s a big difference between naturally coming by a high wordcount in a short span of time and forcing yourself to crank out hundreds of thousands of words within a mere month. At absolute most, I might be able to do about 250K in a month if I were really well-prepared, motivated, and inspired, and had the luxury of enough time each day. That said, that’s still not something I’d ever deliberately shoot for.

Some people try to write the first 50K on the first day. This year, I even saw someone humble-bragging about finishing within the first twelve HOURS. It’s called National Novel-Writing Month, not National Novel-Writing Day. What do you honestly get out of forcing yourself to sit at the keyboard for almost an entire day at a stretch, pounding out so many words? This isn’t a contest.

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While I do feel disappointed in myself for not keeping to my normal daily averages more days this month, my typical output is still only several thousand words, NOT at least 35K each day. I’m truly curious as to what kinds of projects these extreme overachievers are working on. My conservative guesstimate for my book is 300–400K, but it’s a historical/family saga. I doubt all these people trying for 250K, 300K, 500K, 700K, a million words, are also writing deliberate sagas with huge ensemble casts, spanning many years.

Are these collections of stories? Several different projects counted together? Really long fanfictions? Just unfocused rambling that could easily be cut down to 100K or less without losing anything? Even I’m not crazy and prolific enough to think every book needs to be a doorstopper, nor that a length of several million words for one book is normal. I was stunned enough when the first draft of Journey Through a Dark Forest ended up 891K, though at least each of the four Parts reads like its own story, with a focus on different characters and storylines.

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Someone who’s, e.g., struggling to meet the daily minimum every single day, or who’s fallen sharply behind due to unforeseen circumstances, doesn’t need to see someone humble-bragging, “Ooh, I was so lazy yesterday and only wrote 30K!” or “I totally failed NaNo because I only wrote 750K instead of a million like usual.”

I’m going to call the majority of this as crap writing. How can there be any quality when you’re forcing out that many words so swiftly? Quality matters more than quantity. I like getting to know my characters and going on the journey through life with them, not plowing through their stories within one day. It’s also ridiculous to plan any story at a million words. What are you writing that absolutely needs to be a million damn words?!

Crafting a quality story, no matter its length or brevity, takes time. Quality can never come when you’re pounding away at the keyboard for almost every waking hour, forcing out at least 25,000 words each day. Some of these people even give tips on how to pad out wordcount, like lots of dream sequences, explaining basic things over and over again, infodumps, complete song lyrics, many quotes, not using contractions, writing out common abbreviations like DVD and ATM, and characters constantly recapping scenes that just happened.

I’d rather stick to my realistic, natural type of overachieving than vomit forth a profusion of words just for wordiness’s sake.

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3 comments on “My thoughts on NaNo overachieving

  1. shanjeniah says:

    As a fellow prolific writer (but not on your scale!), I wholeheartedly agree. I set the projected wordcount for my Kifo Island books at about 65K – because they’ve each got three POV characters, tend to emerge as lean first drafts (the one I just finished is the fifth completed volume in this series; they’ve ranged from about 58K to about 72K – Tsunamis was a bit over 62K – so right on target.

    For my epic fantasy Trueborn series, the projection is 100K, because – epic fantasy.

    Fan fiction – well, that tends to take over, but, as you know, I don’t regard it as any less serious than any of my other writing, but, since I’ve been with my fandom since I was 13, and I’m now 47, I’ve had lots of practice, and those characters (particularly the Vulcan ones!) have lots to say.

    Two years ago, my fanfiction novel about Spock’s rather horrific early days at Starfleet Academy took me over, and I was the conduit for 125K NaNo words that month (it ended at about 250K, I think). That one was a wild ride, but those words came without forcing, and without ignoring my husband and the kids, who were then 13 and 10, so needed me more than they do now.

    Still, I don’t know if I’ll ever quite hit that mark again – there was a lot of insanity in that story, and I seem to write fast and deeply engaged when dealing with that…I don’t know why, but I know it’s true.

    But for me the word count is ALWAYS going to be secondary to my responsibilities as a wife and homeschooling mother, and secondary to the caliber of the story…I want as clean a first draft as I can get, and I don’t want to force the writing, because, when I go back, I can always tell when I’ve done that – the writing is passionless and plodding, very different from my engaged storytelling.

    You made me chuckle a few times there….

    And happy writing – I KNOW you’ll be clearing that 50K soon, and I’m happy to sprint with you along the way!

    Like

    • Carrie-Anne says:

      Real-world responsibilities always come before writing! I don’t understand the people who say they take off work for the entire month of November just to work on writing a doorstopper. On the last day of NaNo last year, I ran myself ragged writing over 7,000 words just to try to get my wordcount up to over 70K and get closer to my 2014 final wordcount. If writing 7,000 words in one day was gruelling, I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to keep four or five times that pace for an entire month. By the end of that marathon day, I was just writing rambling nonsense which I knew would immediately be deleted or rewritten once midnight struck.

      Not having any children is also a big factor in how much I’m able to write on a good day. As much as I wish I would’ve had kids by now (either with a husband or through a donor), I must admit it’s been a blessing in disguise to be childfree far longer than I ever planned. If Samuel (or Anastasiya) ever exists, I don’t think I’ll be able to maintain my usual pace until some time has passed!

      Liked by 1 person

      • shanjeniah says:

        There was a long period of not many words, and no real progress in quality, while the kids were young.

        The good news?

        That investment in them when they needed me created the foundation for them to become strong and independent older kids – and now, I have nearly as much free time as I might if I were childless – AND the benefit of all the added love, challenge, and inspiration that comes from living with young humans!

        Totally worth a few years! =D

        Like

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