by Robin Spano
Question of the Week: How do you hammer out your first drafts? Have you ever used NaNoWriMo or the 3-Day Novel Contest, or a similar group motivation effort, to get your first draft done?
I did NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2014. I think I'm in love. Here's why:
NaNo asks participants to write 50,000 words in a month. The idea is that if you can get that far, you have the skeleton of a first draft and you'll probably continue. This means you need a daily word count of 1667 words per day. It includes weekends and holidays, so if you want to take a rest day, you have to pad your count on other days.
I used it slightly differently. I had 40,000 words of a work in progress, so I used November to hammer out an additional 50,000. This way, I reasoned, even if the words were a mess (and they were!) I'd have a good chunk of material to shape into a readable story.
2. They have graphs and progress bars and stats. Addictive.
Every day, I would update my word count about forty times. (You know, during those thirty second lulls when I would ordinarily drift over to Twitter...) Each time I'd update, the graph would be reset and I'd see how well I was doing compared with my daily goal, overall goal, and daily average.
So let's say it was Day 3 and I'd written 1200 words to reach the project goal for that day of 5001 words in total. I would be rewarded with a green bar for my project goal, BUT my daily word count would not turn green until I hit 1667 new words that day. So I'd write 467 more words until I got that second green bar. But what if I reached both my daily goal and the project goal, but I was still under my daily average? Unless I really had to be somewhere, there was no way was I going to let the day bring my average down. So I'd keep at it for another few hundred words.
3. You can compete with your friends.
I had a few “writing buddies” on the site. I couldn't let them get ahead of me. (OK, I'm not THAT competitive; I wanted us all to win.) But my friend Christopher (he's @blackcanoecafe on Twitter) became my worthy adversary. If one of us was slipping, we would nag the other until they got back on track. But when we were both on track, oh the trash talk flew.
I haven't been allowed to read his book yet, but we both have a special interest in the other person's NaNo project because we were so much a part of each other's process.
4. You learn time management.
Writing was not the only thing I had to accomplish in November. I was also being paid to edit two manuscripts, I had readings and author events to prep for, and my husband still wanted dinner every night. (Though I admit we ate leftovers way more often than we normally do.)
At the beginning of the month, I took all my long term tasks, broke them up into daily tasks, and set a checklist for each day in my Google Calendar. (I even included “work out” to make sure I didn't skip it.) I'd never used a checklist system before that, but I've been using it ever since, and I feel much more productive these past few months as a result.
5. You end all this fun having written a book.
Okay, so it's a shitty first draft. But I've never written one in such a short time before. My goal: to take the rest of the year to turn this into a solid novel, then take my next new idea and write a whole new first draft again in November.
Come join me! I love adversaries...I mean writing buddies.