Words Getting in the Way – Of Words

So I learned something about myself this November.

I am not much of a sprint writer.

For those of you that don’t know, writing sprints are – well – probably exactly what you think they might be. Writers will sit down, either singularly or in groups, set a time limit, and, for that time, write as much as they can, as fast as they can.

The idea is to get words down. It doesn’t matter if they are any good. This is a raw sprint, no finesse required.

I’m not a sprinter. Which is not to say that I ~can’t~ sprint (as you’ll find out later), it’s more that I’m not comfortable sprinting.

NaNoWriMo is a month-long sprint.

I know that there are some of you out there that might not see it that way, but consider:

The average word count needed to hit 50,000 words in 30 days is 1667 words per day throughout the entire month. How long it takes you to reach that 1667 is largely dependent on a number of things: How fast you type. How organized you are (if you’re a plotter). How easy it is for you to let go and type (if you’re a pantser). How much time you’ve got to write, etc.

There are more factors involved, but you get the picture.

For me, my average daily word count was somewhere between 350 and 700 words an hour. This is waking up early to snag that hour, before doing the full-time day-job thing, getting home and doing the day-to-day stuff: Cooking, cleaning, walking the critters, etc. AND doing the family thing, unplugging, refilling the well, etc.

That’s a lot of stuff going on.* Let’s say that I’m consistently getting down 500 words per day. To hit that 1667 word count goal, I would need to produce a little over three times the amount of work in either the same amount of time or carve out more time. Assuming that my typing speed doesn’t mysteriously increase, I’m looking at finding two more hours in a day already packed. That’s a sprint.

I managed it for the first three days.

By then, it was already uncomfortable and things were starting to fray around the edges. As I mentioned in my Friday Fess-Up post I fell off track. Needless to say, there was pressure – all of it self imposed – to get caught up.

The thing was, try as I might, I couldn’t get caught up. In fact, I was falling farther behind. The push to amass words was becoming an obstacle to actually getting words down.

It was like being too busy driving to stop for gas.

Last Thursday, the tank ran empty. I puttered to a stop having written 93 words and I called it a day. Before then, I’d been writing longhand at work and, when I got home, I’d type up what I’d scribbled down and then pushed to make up the difference. I did none of that Thursday night.

I unplugged. Relaxed. I admitted to myself that I wasn’t at a place where I could generate that amount of work in a sustainable fashion, and reevaluated the goals I had set for myself.

Then I got a solid eight hours of sleep, woke up the next day at my own pace, and knocked out 1000 words and some change when I sat down to write – in about the same amount of time it would have taken me to get 500 words down.

So I learned something about myself this November.

After looking at the numbers (You guessed it, I have a spreadsheet for this month), I saw that after I fell off track, I was consistently getting down somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 words a day.**

That is, roughly, double what I had been getting down. And it didn’t feel like grinding.

What I learned was that I’d moved the bar a bit. I may not be at the point where I can crank out 1700 or more words a day. I may not ever be at the point where I can generate those kinds of numbers.*** My writing time still has limitations imposed on it – which is not to say that, if I could quit my day job tomorrow, I’d knock out 60,000 words a month. That kind of thing is something that you need to work on. Like I described to my writing partner, it’s like I’ve been comfortably running 5K races, and I decide to run a marathon without any extra training.

So I encourage you to push yourself. You may be surprised at what you find you’re able to accomplish.

I also encourage you to not push yourself to destruction. Try and realize when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Develop that skill now, before you over-commit yourself and start missing deadlines.


Time: 12:20 pm-ish

Music: Blind Guardian – Sacred Worlds


*Your mileage, of course, may vary.

**This was while stretching myself, before I crashed and burned on Thursday.

***1700 was kind of an arbitrary number. Stephen King has said that his writing day isn’t done before he has 2000 words down.