Nix on Nanowrimo
Written by Sofie
Tuesday, 15 November 2011 00:00
Blog - The Writer's Life
I was all geared up to do Nano this year - of sorts. I was going to write a novel, but it probably wasn’t going to be 50,000 words. I didn’t know how many words it was going to be, and I wasn’t going to track it. Because that number, when you come down to it, is a nonsense way of judging whether you’re “done” yet.
I read this post by Jason Black on Plot to Punctuation who gave a great argument against using word count as a daily goal. The little number at the bottom of the screen (or wherever) takes far more of your focus than the words you’re churning out to increase it, and tempts you to stop when you’re on a roll, just because you’ve reached today’s number, or keep pushing when all you’re doing is padding or waffling because you still have another 200 words to go.
I find when I give myself wordcount goals, that rapidly becomes the case. And because my first drafts of anything tend to be absolute-bare-bones, super-condensed story, I fight the urge to pad out my story when the wordcount’s a little low despite my being halfway through already.
When you consider that, especially for self-publishing, story-length really doesn’t even matter anymore, it seems fairly idiotic for me to focus so much on wordcount when it hinders me in so many ways.
Black has a great solution that I really wish I’d thought of earlier. He’s ignoring wordcount, and focussing instead on scenes.
It makes so much sense. Instead of having some fairly arbitrary counter distracting you, you judge your progress by how much of the story you’ve completed. You know instinctively how far through the scene you are. Scenes invite you to finish them, it’s a much more natural, unobtrusive goal. You’re not tracking a number while you write, you’re just writing this scene.
Scenes in my novels range from 2000 to 5000 words. I can write a scene - or most of one, if it’s a long one - in a day’s writing, before and after work. And serendipitously enough, my novel broke down into exactly thirty scenes. So my great plan was: one scene a day (accepting that they’d be bare-bones scenes. I go back on a second pass and fill in the description and detail and everything else before I consider the draft ‘finished’).
I was due back from Paris the morning of the 1st (oh, yeah, I went to Paris. Again. Did I mention that? Pics in later posts. Luxembourg is beautiful.). That gave me, somewhat optimistically, a full day to write a scene. Allowing for jetlag, I still had several full free days before I had to go back to work. If I missed the first day, I could make up for it later.
I didn’t account for Qantas. I didn’t account for a three-hour delay on the euro-star. I didn’t account for jetlag to be coupled with illness, sunburn and my fridge breaking down, so that my brain was too scattered to even think about story until possibly last night. Well, Friday night. Because I write these in advance. Sorry.
So, a week late, I could still start and make the ‘spirit’ of Nano. I looked at my story-plot, all neat and organised in Scrivener. Then I realised that, while I’d plotted out my story, I’d skimped on the worldbuilding. Again.
Somewhere along the way, I got it into my head that spending time ‘worldbuilding’ outside of actually writing the novel or just daydreaming was a form of procrastination. Actually writing down the story bible was procrastination, and should be avoided.
Now, this is nonsense - I’ve even written about how important your story bible is, especially for series. But there was a little opinion in my head telling me I should just be writing the novel, not wasting time faffing about the edges making decisions on what plant to include near the desert. I’m a very impatient person, and I wanted the book done now now now. I wanted to be selling it already, and moving onto the next ones. I have way too many ideas, and not enough brains to channel them.
But there are no shortcuts, here. So - no Nano for me this year, not even to try out my snazzy new notion (though I will be trying it, once my planning’s done. Just not in Nano.). But for anyone else who tends to write their first drafts in ‘story shorthand’ - try aiming for scenes instead of numbers, and see how well those goals work for you.