Sunday, 13 July 2014

Word count training challenge

Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson

This is something I hadn't thought about for a little while and hadn't given much energy or intention to in years either; one of my dreams in life is write a novel. I spent a while reading some advice for writing and there seems to be a general consensus that the best way to become a writer is to actually write.

I was probably hoping my novel would just be delivered at the door by Amazon, or at least that some nefarious supernatural being might show up and offer me a Faustian deal, but neither of those seem to be happening so I might just have to do the work myself.

Given my slob-like tendencies, I have been lazy with my writing - how often I update my blog being a case in point (and/or I can also be too busy with other important stuff like watching TV shows or making/drinking beer), I'm putting together a training regime and making some commitments about how much I'll be writing. And I'm telling people as well as writing it in my blog so I don't laze out of it and even if I happen to slip, this way I'll have friends reminding me by asking how I'm doing with my writing projects.

This takes us to NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which happens in November. For those who haven't heard of it, it first started as a community initiative to encourage more people to practice creative writing and a group of people supporting each other with their writing projects. Now it is also a non profit organisation and they have several creative writing initiatives in addition to NaNoWriMo

The main goal is pretty straightforward: write a 50,000 word 'novel' between the 1st to the 30th of November. I added quotes to novel given I understand the main goal to be quantity rather than quality, nobody checks what you write, it's all about the word count to practice writing in quantity. Apparently the 50k goal represents about a small novel like The Great Gatsby and is theoretically possible to achieve while also having a full time job.

According to the website 341,375 people participated in 2012 from all around the globe, it has become quite popular. I first heard about NaNoWriMo at a Barcamp in London a few years ago, someone told us about their experience of participating and spending way too much time with the support groups, and nowhere near enough time actually writing.

There are also quite a few people with divided opinions about NaNoWriMo, but the way I see it, I need to get up to speed and force myself to train to up my word count, once I'm more comfortable with that, then I can worry about quality and re-writing something to get a finished novel. This reminded me of a story, apparently first published in a book called Art & Fear and I've seen several mentions of since, but I haven't identified the actual source, so while I like the story I'm not totally certain it is true.

In short, it is the story of a ceramics teacher who split his classroom in two as an experiment, telling one half they would all be graded on quantity: the more pots they did, the better grade they would get. He told the second half they would be judged on quality: one clay pot would be sufficient to get a top grade, as long as it was perfect.

You can already imagine the results: the pots of the quantity group were if a higher quality standard than the second group because they had a lot more practice and given they didn't worry about quality, ended up learning more from their mistakes as they went. The quality group spent a lot of time pondering about the meaning of perfection but didn't get any better at pottery (Whether they got better as philosophers, the story doesn't say).

I see participating in NaNoWriMo the same way, and I'm setting a training regime I'd like to share with you.

Writing 50,000 words of a new novel or story in November 2014 means writing an average of 1,667 words per day. I'm nowhere near that kind of volume so I'll start with getting up to speed first.

I'm setting myself a few rules:

  1. I'll measure my daily word count and tally weekly and monthly numbers
  2. This is what can go towards my daily word count:
    • Writing about myself, my life, my travels, in a biography or journal style - this is to warm up as it were, apparently writing about what you know is a recurring piece of advice and I imagine if I get stuck with a story, writing about myself would be easier to make my word count in the beginning
    • Writing for a novel or short story
    • Writing a blog post
    • Posts or articles I might write for other publications
  3. I can postpone word count for a day or a few, as long as I'm up to date by the end of each week (if I don't do that it's a fail and I'll work out how to catch up in the following week)
From today to the Sunday 16th August I commit to writing at least 500 words per day (3,500 / week) and up to 100% in biography style.

From 17th August 2014 to 13th September I'll increase to 1,000 / day (7,000 words / week) and up to 50% in biography style - this is so I start forcing myself to write more fiction stories.

From 14th September 2014 to 18th October  I'll increase to 1,500 / day (10,500 words / week) and up to 50% 
in biography style.

From 19th October to 31st October I commit to writing at least 1,800 / day (12,600 words per week) and up to 25% in biography style.

Then on the 1st of November I will begin a new novel for NaNoWriMo, meaning I'll write an average of 1,667 words per day and an overall goal of 50,000 until 30th November.

I'll re-evaluate how things are going and wether I need any more or different rules. After November, I'll evaluate how well I've done and what the next phase should be about in the overall novel writing project.

If you see me, or contact me, please don't hesitate asking how I'm doing with the writing challenge!

PS: By my own rules, this blog post counts against my daily writing, adding 1,095 words to my daily word count!

PPS: I realise after publishing that my word count for NaNoWriMo naïvely divides the 50k by goal by the number of days and that even to write a completely unfinished pile of crap it might still require more than 1,667 words written per day. I will revise this in a few weeks, seeing how the training goes.