Sunday, November 06, 2005

Day 6 : Daily goals

One secret to successful NaNo'ing, I think, is to pace yourself. Although there's a temptation to treat this "novel in a month" insanity as some sort of sprint, the human body can't go full-out for 30 days (at least mine can't!) So a lot of people who get a quick start out of the NaNo gate, it seems, struggle with later segments of the race. When you consider that NaNo is a month-long endeavor, crossing the word-count finish line is more like running a marathon than doing a sprint.

November 1st was Tuesday: a teaching day for me. On November 2nd, I co-led my first coaching tele-group (interestingly enough, on how to make progress with daunting writing projects), so I didn't do much NaNo'ing that day. By Thursday the 3rd I was tired from a busy teaching week: this past week was the first week of the semester for SNHU Online, where I had two new classes starting. And on Friday the 4th, I was preoccupied with grading-catchup (a seemingly perpetual task), so NaNo wasn't a high priority then, either.

I mention all of this not by way of excuse, but as an observation. Yesterday I sat down and looked at my NaNoWriMo numbers. From Tuesday through Friday, I managed to write just over 1,000 a day: progress, but slow progress. If you divide 50,000 words by 30 days, you need to write approximately 1,667 words a day, every day, to reach your novel-in-a-month challenge.

But. Most of us don't write the same way every day. We each have our own writing styles, and we each have things apart from our writing that make some days better writing days than others. Last year, for instance, I tried to write 2,000 words a day so I could take an occasional day or weekend off, and frankly most days I didn't meet my own guidelines. But by the end of the month, I had enough uumph to produce those last 10,000 words or so when I needed them, so all's well that ends well.

This weekend's goal was (and is) to catch back up to where I "should" be with that rough, 1,667-word-a-day guideline. On Friday, I'd reached the 4,000 mark, so I figured if I wrote 3,000 words on Saturday and another 3,000 words on Sunday, I'd have met my "more or less" target of 10,000 words by November 6th.

And so yesterday was a good day: I wrote a total of 3,000 words in three less-than-forty-minutes segments. Those of you who know me (or who have heard me talk as a writing instructor and coach) know that I love to work with timers, alternating 40 minutes of distraction-free work with 20 minutes of goofing-off. I don't know about you and your attention span, but 40 minutes is "just right" for me when it comes to working: long enough that I can make progress, but short enough that I don't get too antsy. As luck would have it, I can typically write 1,000 words in 40 minutes or long as I'm not allowing my Inner Editor to stop and re-read. And as luck would also have it, working on the novel in roughly thousand-word chunks seems to work for me intellectually: I can dive in and let my writing thoughts wander, but about 1,000 words later I appreciate a chance to stop, stretch, and figure out "what's next?"

So, after writing another 1,000 words or so this morning, today's goal is to write another 2,000 words: enough to get me to the 10,000-word mark. At my current writing speed, that's two 40-minute writing sessions, which shouldn't be too difficult on a Sunday when I'm not planning to do much of anything else.

All this talk of word-counts and daily goals might sound ridiculously anal-retentive, and of course it is. But one great thing about goals and guidelines is that having them means you get to stop and rest once you've met them: last night, after meeting my 3,000-word daily goal, I got to take the night off, catch up with reading the newspaper, and just relax. Like I said in the beginning: NaNo is a marathon, not a sprint. Although it might sound romantic and fun to spend ALL of today writing, I know that if I write much more than my alloted 3,000 words today, I'll probably experience a NO WRITING backlash tomorrow. So, I'm taking a clue from the tortoise in that old children's story: Slow and steady wins the race.

So, how do you pace yourself when you work on a large, long-term project? Do you like to write a little bit every day with occasional "catch-up" days? Or are you a Marathon Man (or Weekend Warrior Woman) who prefers to crank out huge word-counts in occasional sprints? I'm convinced that either approach can work: it's a matter of finding out what works best for you.
Word-count: 8,043

Last line: Tom smiled at this remembered mischief, his eyes glinting with nostalgia.


At 11/06/2005 12:54 PM, Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I am impressed

At 11/06/2005 4:56 PM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Aw, shucks... ;-)

At 11/06/2005 7:25 PM, Anonymous Angelle Trieste said...

Great progress, Lorianne! :) I'm so impressed! When you put your mind to it, you can seem to write more than 3K words. I think the most ever for me was 10K, but then I was totally in the zone. But I do agree that it's hard to keep that pace up for a long time unless that IS your natural pace. :)

At 11/06/2005 7:39 PM, Blogger Lorianne said...

I usually don't have any trouble cranking out words *when* I find the chance: it's an issue of time, not inspiration! Even so, though, I really like working in 1,000-word chunks. I suppose it would be different if I knew exactly where my story is going, but I *don't*. So I find myself writing about a thousand words and then stopping to figure out what comes next!

At 11/07/2005 12:19 PM, Blogger Diana said...

I'm still trying to figure out my "pace," but this post helped me a lot with that. Gave me some great ideas. Thanks!

At 11/07/2005 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your plan of attack seems reasonable and sensible, especially the "20 minutes to goof off" part of it. I find that if I stay too DETERMINED TO WRITE that nothing gets written, so having that bit of elbow room seems rather smart. It does feel great to reach that goal (shiny gold star for you!), and then step away and let your mind move on to other things. It's when we're not thinking about writing that many of the complexities get sorted out.

I'm sorry to say that the weekend was rather non-productive for me, (computer problems, and long-hand writing just won't do for me), so I'm having to regroup and prepare my next assault. Maybe non-productive isn't the appropriate term ... I certainly didn't produce any word count, but that doesn't mean that I didn't make progress. I've begun thinking of this NaNoWriMo project as a kernel of inspiration - more than anything else, I think I want to prove that I'm capable of the discipline.

I'm impressed with your logic, discipline, and progress - gold stars aren't just for kindergarten anymore - they come in handy any time we need to acknowledge our abilitiy to persevere. You definitely earned your gold star this weekend!


At 11/07/2005 4:35 PM, Blogger Lorianne said...

Diana, I'm convinced that each writer and each *project* has it's own pace, you just have to find it. So good luck as you continue writing...and remember, don't stop! :-)

ntexas, I think there are different kinds of progress: writing progress & thinking progress. I started this novel with no research, character sketches, not much of an outline, I'm having to make things up as I go along. I think many folks, though, need to think things out before they get going, so that's a valid approach, too (especially if your computer is dead: yikes!)

And yes, the "20 minutes to goof off" is the KEY to productive 40-minute hours. If I don't have the goof-off time as a reward to keep working, I'll goof off *while* I'm writing, which of course is disastrous. But even *my* Inner Child will sit semi-still for 40 timed minutes *if* I bribe her with the promise of a STUDY BREAK at the end. :-)


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