Approaching First Drafts more Sanely

This will be my tenth year of doing NaNoWriMo, the month-long frenzy of writing a first draft that officially requires writing 50,000 words on a new novel. I’ve always had the personal goal of completing the first draft of a novel even when that required 100,000 or 120,000 words. I always began writing on November 1st, and finished before the end of the month. I enjoyed pushing myself more each year, often passing 100,000 words even when I finished the first draft by adding material to another novel. Then a few years ago, I decided that if I could do one novel of 100,000 words in a month while balancing work, I could write two novels and 200,000 words since my only work was fiction writing at that point.

Pen with number of words written in 7 years of NaNoWriMo.

Pen with number of words written in 7 years of NaNoWriMo.

I did it, but at a cost to my glutes and neck muscles. Turns out 12+ hours of writing daily isn’t so good on a 50+ body. I was careful to give my wrists a break, but didn’t realize how hunched I was, particularly when the story was flowing. At the end of the month, I had two first drafts, but found sitting in a soft chair uncomfortable.

It got me thinking that it was time to either stop doing NaNoWriMo, or be more sane in my approach. But what I like most is completely a novel in November. Okay, I also enjoyed updating my daily word count, and competing with other fast writers to see who had the highest word count. Writing lots of words on a given day isn’t difficult for me. In fact, the very first time I participated in NaNoWriMo, I wrote 10,000 words the first day, and 8,000 the second.

I’ve tried writing at a more sane approach, but still finish in November, which only requires an average of 3,333 words per day. Problem is, I dislike doing anything at the last minute, so I still ‘need’ to write 5,000+ words per day in order to finish early enough that I’m comfortable.

This year I’m being a rebel. I’m starting on October 1st with a goal of¬†averaging 1,000 words a day for the first month. That will still leave well over 50,000 words to write in November, but allow plenty of time for walks, stretches, and other things. I didn’t decide this lightly. I’m a little concerned that messing with the formula of NaNoWriMo will make it less effective for me. But I think what is important to my writing process is working on the outline for several months, then pausing before plunging into the first draft. Not what date I actually start on.


About Katherine Lato

Writer, thinker, observer and participant in life.
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