My Magic Word Count Formula

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OK, book friends, I have a confession: I don’t actually like NaNoWriMo.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. The camaraderie, the ‘let’s just DO THIS!’ attitude is great. But banging out 50K+ words in only one month, especially if it’s someone’s first crack at a novel, is pretty much insane.

When you do the math, completing 50,000 words (the length of a short novel) in 30 days means you’d have to be cranking out an average of over 1,600 words per day. If you have to go to school or work, that can get tricky, and playing catch-up can quickly spiral out of control. It’s so easy to fall a little behind, then fall A LOT behind, and then to feel really bad about yourself (and maybe writing in general).

Dude. Feeling bad is the opposite of what this is all about!

The first time I tried to string together a 50K word story, I actually injured myself. And the time after that, I remembered to take breaks but still forgot to plan for the ending of my book. The result: 50K words, but really nothing I felt good about. Obviously, the first draft isn’t going to be ready to share with the world, but I was ready to crumple up that draft and pitch it out the window. Not my finest stuff.

So for the next attempt, I took it slow. I started NaNoWriMo in November but figured hey, let’s try to outline a draft by Christmas. That gave me a whole extra month. And as Christmas approached, I was actually getting closer to a natural end of the story. I was even feeling pretty good about it! By New Year’s, I promised myself. I’ll finish by January. And then, just to be safe, I’ll finish before January ends.

And for me, that was the ticket. I adjusted the deadline as necessary, didn’t beat myself up, and let myself take it at a more reasonable pace. Instead of writing 1,600 words per day, I found my own magic number that worked even better: 500 words per day. That was it. I could scribble 500 words on my lunch break if I was really flying, and if I couldn’t make it through, I could still catch up later. If necessary, I could miss a day or two and still catch up on the weekend. I could mull over ideas, but I still had to keep moving, even if it was a little slower.

And that was the magic! Keeping it sustainable. I think the Murmur draft took about 2-3 months, and the same for Devil’s Den. (The Raven Mocker was rudely interrupted by real-life shenanigans and a stressful day job, so that took more like 8 months, I think.) There would be edits a-plenty ahead, but the heavy lifting of getting things down on paper was done.

So if NaNoWriMo has you knocked flat, maybe take a breather and try only 500 words a day. Or 800 words. Or 350. Whatever lets you gain ground, even if it’s slow and steady.

Then we can all meet here for the best New Year’s party on the planet 😉



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