Nanowrimo Checkpoint One

If you’re doing the Nanowrimo thing, you ought to be about a third of the way through your novel writing journey. This is a good chance to take stock of your progress, see how far you’ve come and how far you’ve yet to go. Writing a novel is about more than just work count, even in Nanowrimo. This is the right to time to check your course and perform a correction if need be.

Word count is the first thing the Nanowrimo author should check. The goal is 50,000 words. How far along are you? Have you been keeping pace? I don’t know exactly where I fall in relation to other writers or typists in terms of speed, but I’ll share a few quick personal stats. When I’m writing articles or research papers, essentially anything for which I need to get the facts right the first time, I average about 500-750 words an hour. When I’m writing fiction and I don’t have a clear idea of where I’m going or how to get there I still make about the same speed. When I’m in the zone, when the words are flowing, and when the story is practically telling itself, I can do 1500-2000 words in an hour. Most of the time, I fall right between those extremes at 750-1000 words.

This means that most novel writing days will take me at least two hours of dedicated writing time. This isn’t multitasking time; there is no TV and no podcasts playing in the background. I might listen to music, but it’s invariably instrumental. If you’re anything like me you’ve got a million and one things clamoring for attention. The house needs to be cleaned. Homework assignments are coming due. Clients are waiting for you to call them back. Meals need to be planned. None of that gets done while I’m writing. That’s two hours or more of my day dedicated solely to writing a novel. That’s a lot of time, and I need to plan for it before it happens.

So this is Checkpoint One and your word count is on track. What next? Is your plot progressing according to plan? Do you outline your novel before you start writing? I do, and it’s a practice I recommend. I refer to my outline as my Map and Compass. Even if you don’t this is a good chance to look over your story and make sure it matches the ideas in your head. You may be farther along than you had anticipated, potentially discovering your novel to be a short story. You may be lagging behind in the pacing, accidentally devoting more word count than you had intended to setting description, character moment, or chasing rabbit trails in your plot. Whatever the case, reverse course and figure out where things have gone and how to get them back on track.

As it happens, your word count is right and your outline is dead on. But for some reason your characters aren’t behaving and your plot seems to have deviated into a far corner of the warren. The good news is that this is okay. I haven’t met a plot outline yet that has survived contact with the story. Reassess. Figure out who your characters have become, and adjust the journey of their develpment to suit your needs. Check the logical construction of your plot, deduce the new direction of the action, and chart a course into brave new waters.

You didn’t really expect your novel to flow flawlessly from the pen, right? Great artistic efforts tend to wander from the familiar into parts unknown. It’s a thing to prepare for and embrace along the way. Here there be monsters. Here there be pirates. Here there be writers.

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