At Nanowrimo time of year I see all sorts of tips on how to increase your word count. Use "all of a sudden" instead of "suddenly". Do not use contractions. Use every adjective you can think of to describe something and then come back and edit down the correct one. These will work, and it would be a bold faced lie if I said I've never let unnecessary words stand in the name of the mighty word count, but I honestly try to avoid them whenever possible. If you plan on doing something with your manuscript that doesn't involve fire or locking it in a drawer and throwing away the key, then you are going to have to edit it at some point. For me, I have to trim enough fat out of my work that I can't afford to just throw in snack sized Kit Kat bars of words for fun, even if it will get me to the 50,000 holy grail faster.


My Word Count Tip: My word count tip is actually very simple. When I finish writing for the day (preferred) or when I start in the morning I take a couple of minutes to make a plan of my scenes. I know all of you pantsers out there are quaking in your writing pants right now, but I'm not talking about outlining here just a to-do list of sorts. For example, if my word count for the day is say 1,667 words, I would jot down a quick list of all the scenes I know I have coming up (in whatever order as I am a non-sequential writer) and an estimate of their word counts. If possible I try to make sure I have at least one scene more than the required word count for the day in case my other scenes fall short or I'm just not feeling something during the scene. 

If you were writing a book about wizards and vampires in a dystopian fight to death reality show, your list might look like this:

 

Wizard Zednor offers self as tribute - 250 words

Zednor says goodbye to best vampire friend Sally - 500 words

Full cast homage to Frozen - 800 words

Zednor tells Sally he loves her - 250 words

Sally tries to bite Zednor - 500 words

 

As you can see I usually keep a standard (250/short scene, 500/medium scene, 800/long scene). None of this is set in stone and none of it goes into too much detail that it affects my ability to run with the scene wherever it takes me. Most times, I am usually conservative on my word count estimates and end up going way over. 

This gets tougher as time goes on because it is always easier to start a new scene than to add words to something you've already been working on. Around the last week of November, my to-do list has a lot of "Finish chapter/scene X - 250 words" on it.  

 

 

Why It Works: There seems to be two reasons, at least for me anyway.

1.) I'm not staring at a blank screen trying to figure out where to start. I have an idea about the focus of the scene and about how long I think it's going to take. This helps cut out a lot of that wasted time trying to figure out where to go next. 

2.) If I have a plan, and even better if I wrote the plan the day before, my subconscious starts doing the heavy lifting for me. If I know that tomorrow I'm writing an epic battle or a first kiss, my brain is already starting to put together the details without my knowledge (or sometimes my consent). By the time I put my fingers to the keys I already have some of the kinks worked out letting me get the ideas out faster.

 

So that's my tip. If you're a plotter you might already do something like this, but it breaks down your outline to a micro level to get the brain juices pumping. If you're a pantser, you only have to plan one day at a time. Maybe only half a day if that is how you operate, but it will help give you some direction and at least some early morning motivation to get moving. 

 

How do you keep up with your word count goals? Are you? 

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I’m doing Nanowrimo again this year. Although I “won” last year it wasn’t without difficulty. I admit that I only had 8000 words on the 17th of November and I quit 3 times during the month, twice in one day alone, but at 3pm November 30th I uploaded my 50,117 word manuscript for confirmation.  It was tough, but I learned a lot about writing and about myself as a writer.

 

There is always time to write: During November of last year I was working my full time and then some day job, a part time job that consumed another 20-30 hours per week, had two hockey tournaments and had to devote time to trivial things like eating, sleeping, and showering.  I also wrote 50,117 words. I’m not a very fast writer. Sometimes I get on a roll, but I didn’t pound out those word gems over 3 days, it took time. A lot of time. But even though I was extremely busy, I found that time. I got into a routine and I made writing a priority. So in July when I think that I don’t have time to write, I do. No excuses.

 

When to cut and run: If you have done any studying on writing craft I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to “arrive late and leave early” when writing a scene or to “not write what readers skip”. I’ve tried, I really have, but Nano was the best teacher for this concept. When you have a limited amount of time you write what you feel and what drives you. There is no time to smooth out a nice transition or worse add another Tolkien-esque walking scene. During Nano I wrote pages of dialogue with no action, action with no dialogue, and great snippets of plot treasures that popped into my head. After November I needed to beef up these scenes, but in most cases I didn’t need to add transitions. Had I taken my time to write the first draft I know I would have dragged these scenes out, which was something they didn’t need.

 

Developing a routine: I write more during the week than on weekends. I write better in mid afternoon than any other time of day. Although I had been writing for years prior to 2013, the short time frame showed me some truths about what kind of writer I am. This year, I have actually created my Nano word count goals based on the weekdays in November instead of the entire month, with weekends being bonus words. Now if I can just get my life to stop at about 2 pm so I can have uninterrupted writing time, things would be perfect.

 

Fast drafting keeps voice consistent: Any writer can tell you that their characters get in their head. They live and breathe even when you aren’t writing, so when it comes time to put fingers to keyboard your characters can come alive on the page. When you are writing regularly, the voice of your characters stays consistent because you are visiting with them more often. My first novel was written over a long period of time and I found that the voice of my character changed every time I picked up my laptop. When fast drafting for Nano my characters sounded more like themselves from beginning to end.

 

I know there are mixed opinions on the value of Nanowrimo due to speed of production and focus on word counts instead of quality, but it has been a great experience for me. I might not have an award-winning novel on December 1st, but I will have a less lumpy piece of clay to mold into something beautiful.

 

For all your Nano’s out there, best of luck. If you are interested, my screen name for Nano is RookiePen. See you all in December!

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