#NaNoWriMo: Okay, how far behind are you?

Okay, sometimes I talk about things that help with NaNoWriMo, and quite by accident they happen to also be useful things for just… you know: writing. I don’t know if this is one of those times. It may not be. We’ll see.

We’re hitting a point in NaNoWriMo when the disparity in wordcounts is starting to show. Some folks are done already (don’t worry about it – we don’t like those people very much), some folks are a little ahead – around 40k, say, some are just chugging along doing a few hundred more than they need every day (that’d be me), some are five thousand or ten thousand words behind.

And some of us are… really behind.

Let’s talk about being behind.

The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I started out behind. There was this thing I had to go do, and on November 4th I had like… I dunno. 350 words. So I was about 5k in the hole right off. Plus I had never really written anything of any significant length at that point. I so chugged and churned and built a multi-user blog for other crazy people who were doing this new NaNoWriMo thing so we could cheer each other on, and right around the 14th, I finally caught up.

And then I went to this gaming convention (when I should have been home writing anyway), ate a bad chicken sandwich (Carls Jr. can die in a fire), and was hospitalized in ICU with the most mind-blowing case of food poisoning imaginable. Safe to say I fell behind again.

That year, I sent my family off to Thanksgiving dinner at our friends’ place and stayed home, pounding away at the keys to finish up. Only me and ***Dave finished of our local band, that year.

I thought that was the most I’d ever be behind. The following year went fine, though ***Dave’s wife did mention how disruptive NaNoWriMo was for everyone around the writers.

A few years later, I decided to do it again. However, I also wanted to finish up revisions on a previous story (Hidden Things, which has seen at least four ‘final revisions’ since then), and I wouldn’t let myself start til I was done with those revisions.

I didn’t finish revisions until November 8th. As I wrote the first word of a story called Spindle, I was sixteen thousand words in the hole and needed to average about 2300 words a day to finish in time.

Also, I didn’t tell anyone I was doing NaNoWriMo. Nobody. I wanted to prove that I could write a book without disrupting everyone around me. As a result, I didn’t have a good (or even bad) excuse for turning down some honey-do projects during the month, and ended up:

  • Landscaping the front yard.
  • Learning how to tile and then tiling the master bath and the kitchen.

I never got caught up at any point that month. I had a few 5000 word days, a 6800 day, and one 8700 word day, but I had a couple 0 days in there too, so don’t get too impressed. I submitted the final text four minutes to midnight on November 30th. The count was 50012 words.

I’m not mentioning any of this stuff to brag; I’m trying to tell you that I know from being behind.

So, you’re behind, what do you do?

Buck up, lil buckaroo.
Buck up, lil buckaroo.

1. Forget about the word count.

I know: It’s NaNoWriMo! Word count is king!

Well, the king ain’t on your side anymore.

You remember the story I told about mowing the lawn? Well, if you need to write 33000 words in the next 11 days, that’s too much lawn to look at. You can’t worry about that. (Note: I’m saying 33000 simply because it’s a big number, and 11 divides into it nicely.)

You need to work with numbers your brain and your ego can handle. 3000 words a day? Ouch. Let’s try…

Pages. Pages might work for you. Each page in double-spaced Times New Roman 12 is about 250 words, give or take. I’m saying 250 for the sake of easy math. 3000 words is about 12 pages. Call it 13 for a nice symbolic number. Baker’s Dozen. Totally…

Okay, no. That still feels like a lot to me. Let’s try…

Scenes. Okay, this is a lot better. A decent scene with some action or a good argument or whatever will give you 1000 words. (A really good scene will give you 1200, 2000, or more, but let’s not get greedy.) A thousand words! That’s awesome! You only have to write three solid scenes a day! Totally doable!

Dirty Trick: Don’t just write three scenes. Start the fourth one and stop for the day mid-sentence. You are too far behind now to fuck around at the beginning of each writing session with window- and/or navel-gazing. Sit down, look at the screen, see the half-done thought, finish it, and KEEP WRITING from there. Hit the ground running, cuz you have miles to go.

2. Scout ahead.

Before this year, I’d never written with an outline, but during the year-of-16k-behind, I did scout things out from day to day so that when I hit the ground running, I knew which way to go. Here’s what it looked like:

“But where will I find — [START HERE]


[Bobby and Kiffer, outside Bobby’s house]


[Keven meets the King]


[Keven meets the Master of the Hunt]


[Bobby and Kiffer and the Entourage go marching]

So I’ve got my half-finished scene, three full scenes to write the next day, and a scene to start and not-finish. All I have to do is word-search for [START HERE] the next day and start typing.

Did I word count at the end of the day? Sure I did, but mostly I didn’t bother.

3. Skip to the good (read: easy) parts

About 15k into Spindle, I decided to do a flashback to where the girl (Keven) first met the King and the man she’d later fall in love with (the huntsman) — both of whom are chasing her with a pack of hunting dogs at the start of the story. I wanted to see how we’d got to that point.

So I got into this flashback, and I just… didn’t want to come out. I’ve always liked writing in a fairy tale style, and this was that, but with a sort of gritty YA twist, and I just loved the hell out of it (still do, come to that). I knew I’d eventually have to write the rest of the story, but I figured I’d ride that pony as long as it’d carry me, because the words were coming out easy and I needed all the help I could get.

So that’s what I did: scene after scene, all part of that flashback… which ended up taking the next thirty-five thousand words.

When you do your scouting ahead, you’ll be writing down a few scene ideas out ahead. If you get to one of those starter-notes where the words are coming hard… yes, normally, you’d slog through anyway (and honestly the hard-to-write stuff comes out very well most of the time, even if it felt like sanding your brain to write it), but right now? No. If you see that the next scene after this hard one would practically write itself, get the fuck over there and LET IT DO THAT.

However, be aware that the scene that looked super painful and hard and slow to write yesterday might be your ‘practically writes itself’ scene tomorrow. That stuff happens all the time.

4. … I dunno.

That’s all the tips I have about this right now, except for this:

You gotta have fun. (It may be “17th mile of the marathon” fun, but that’s a kind of fun, too.) Do not fucking burn out on this. It’s not worth it. Write what you write, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit 50k, and try it again next year. Or don’t. Or just keep going come December 1st. (That’s what I’m doing, because no way will Adrift be done on the 30th, and I’m kind of thrilled about the prospect of seriously working on something solid for probably three months.)

Remember that you’ve already learned stuff. Maybe you’ve learned that you can’t just stop when you get hung up on a protagonist’s issue, cuz it kills your momentum. Maybe you’ve learned you can sit your ass down and write every day, even when you don’t feel like it. Maybe you’ve confirmed that you really do love this stuff. Maybe you’ve found out you don’t. That’s okay too. Every book needs a hell of a lot more readers than writers.

Still here?

Okay. You’ve got a lot to do right now.

Get back to work.

Have fun.

6 Replies to “#NaNoWriMo: Okay, how far behind are you?”

  1. I definitely do #2 and #3! I’ve got a little list of “things to write, eventually” at the end, so when I run out of ideas I can hit that list. Which, incidentally makes #3 very useful. I’ve got scenes I want my characters to be in, but since the hard part is getting them to that scene, I’ll just stick in a [stuff happens] bracket and worry about said stuff when I have the luxury of time (i.e. sometime after Dec 1st!).

  2. “Remember that you’ve already learned stuff.”

    Yes! That’s one of those things you tend to lose sight of when you’re deep into it.

    I may have dropped out and failed to get my groove back, but the whole thing really is an exercise in craft, so word count isn’t necessarily king if there are other lessons learned.

    For example, I have discovered that I REQUIRE an outline!

    Thanks again for your words of wisdom. I will be referring back to many of these posts in the future.

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