Don’t Let Quality Stop You Now

Nov_NaNoWriMoIt’s November.

That means the NaNo is on. National Novel Writing Month. Write a novel in a month.

In the case of the NaNo this means 50,000 words in thirty days. That’s a lot of words – unless you’re a full time writer, or very productive, or for some other reason you’re just used to it and don’t feel it’s a big deal.

For me, 50,000 words is an enormous amount. I won’t be taking part in the NaNo, but that doesn’t mean I’m opposed to it, and I won’t try and convince you not to do it. It’s just not my thing.

What I will try and do is encourage you to keep going if you’ve started. Last year I saw plenty of posts from people who’d begun and then gotten discouraged in one way or another and stopped. I’ve got a few words that I hope may help you avoid that.

I’m fairly new to the whole writing thing. I’m not published, and I’m not very productive, but I’m eagerly soaking up all the tips and advice I can find about the art of writing. One saying I encountered fairly early on was about how no writing is ever wasted.

Every word you write adds to your experience as a writer, regardless of whether it’s good or bad, or whether you keep it as a part of your story or delete it five seconds after writing it. Time spent writing isn’t wasted, as long as you actually write.

By “actually write” I mean you spend time with your story. You sit down with your pen in hand, or your fingers on the keyboard and you work on your story. In the case of the NaNo, it probably means you get words down on the page too, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

I’ve had sessions where I’ve sat down to write and after an hour my story has increased by an entire two paragraphs. I still consider those to be productive, because what I’ve written has moved the story forward, or taught me something new about my characters or the world I’m writing about. Sometimes, that’s what it’s taken to get over a hurdle in the story.

Productivity isn’t just about word count.

Except, when it comes to the NaNo, it kind of is. 50,000 words in thirty days means an average of 1,666 words a day. Maybe you’re working a full time job, or maybe you have a family to look after – maybe you’ve got both. All of a sudden, getting the time to write close to 2,000 words in a day is a feat in its own right. In that case, spending hours polishing a few sentences isn’t a luxury you can afford.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the NaNo, just that you have to use the time you have effectively. You have to keep knocking out those words and you’ve got a limited time to do it. I think it’s safe to say not all of it is going to be up to your usual standard, or to the standard you expect from yourself.

That’s fine.

Remember what I mentioned earlier? No writing is wasted. Even if the story you’re chipping away at isn’t as good as you wish it were you’re still learning from it. You’re putting words on paper (or screen). It may not turn out the way you imagined, but you can go over it later and figure out why. You’re creating a story, and it may feel to you like it’s absolutely dreadful, but it’s there, and you can fix it later.

Most of all, you’re doing something. You’re writing. You’re not just thinking about writing, or talking about writing, or dreaming about how great your story will be once it’s done. You’re writing. You are a writer.

To me, that’s what the NaNo is about. It’s not about producing a masterpiece. It’s about putting in the time and the effort and writing that novel you’ve been thinking about. Don’t worry about the quality. You can fix that later, but if you don’t write, you have nothing to fix.

And on that note, get off the internet and get back to your novel. It’s not going to write itself.

Oh, and best of luck with it. It probably isn’t nearly as easy as I’m making it out to be here.

Make the Journey with Fellow Scribes

Looking for friends? Visit our NaNoWriMo forum on Mythic Scribes.

What are your goals for National Novel Writing Month this year?

What are your favorite strategies for improving your writing productivity?

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5 years ago

I’ve never done Nano, but I might try and do it during a different month (seeing as November is so far away at this point.) I agree that there’s something to having output, even if it isn’t the highest quality — it’s about creating a work ethic/habit. You can always go back for edits.

J. Paul
J. Paul
5 years ago

So, the first paragraph of this article made me want to throw this out there. I’m one of those people who writes full-time…and I crank out an average of 10k words a day on various projects. When you get to the point that you’re able to write as much as I do, take care of your wrists! After two years of doing this, I’ve ended up with some pretty screwed up hands and wrists, sometimes cramping up into monstrous claws that are useless for several hours. Do the stupid rubber band hand exercises, do the stretches, do anything you can to keep it from happening to you. It truly sucks.

Nils Ödlund
Reply to  J. Paul
5 years ago

This is a very good point. Thanks for bringing it up. 🙂

Grace Allison
Reply to  J. Paul
5 years ago

Take time to relax and breath into your body. I squeeze a soft ball to release tension and build strength. Yoga also would be good for you.

Ryan Crown
5 years ago

Gave NaNo a try last year, a few months after I’d started to really try and get serious about my writing. While I can see the appeal for some people, I quickly discovered it was not for me (which is why I’m not doing it this year).

The issue I had is that while many people find that deadlines give them motivation and inspire them to push harder, for me they just add extra pressure and stress. When I first started last November, I was pretty happy with my progress, until that first day when I didn’t have time to write. Suddenly I’m behind on my word count!

As the days went on and my word count fell further behind where it needed to be, writing started becoming not fun, because I was so stressed about word count — and if it’s not fun, then what’s the point? So I decided that for me I’d rather just set a more realistic word count goal and try to knock that out every day of every month, instead of trying to meet an elevated word count for one specific month.

All that being said, I did manage to knock out just over 25,000 words of my first novel during that November, so I can’t say I have any regrets about doing it. And to anyone who hasn’t done it, I’d say it’s definitely worth doing at least once, just to see how the experience treats you.

Skip Knox
5 years ago

Good article, Nils. Whenever Nano rolls around, I’m reminded of one of my favorite aphorisms. I read this years ago, applied to software development, but I have found it works in just about every aspect of life.

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

Nils Odlund
Reply to  Skip Knox
5 years ago

I’ve seen you mention this now and then on the forums, and haven’t quite gotten my head around it – but then I haven’t much thought about it either. In this context though, it sort of makes sense, even if there’s a bit of a clarity issue.
They way I see it, it means that if it’s worth doing it’s better if you do it badly than not at all. It’d of course be better if done well, but doing it badly is a step on the way at least.

Skip Knox
Reply to  Nils Odlund
5 years ago

Yep, that’s about it. But it’s also about being willing to take the risk of doing it badly. If you’re only willing to do a thing if you know it will turn out right, the thing in question is probably trivial. Important stuff always runs the risk of being done badly. So, you could turn it around: if it’s worth doing badly, it’s worth doing.

Also, I’m just fond of the word play.

Grace Allison
5 years ago

I am writing at a pace that soothes my creative soul. My book, “Einstein’s Compass: A Novel of What if” has been coming through me for two years. I am blogging chapters to find a platform. Antonio Del Drago’s book, “Mythic Characters” has been very helpful in creating my story. Let me know if your Facebook page or email if you would like to read my story. Should be published2016.

Diana Peach
5 years ago

Excellent advice. I’m participating in Nano for the first time and appreciate the “permission” to drop other life responsibilities for a month. But speed-writing isn’t my method and I don’t like racing through scenes that I generally would rework and savor. If I do Nano again, which I probably will, I suspect I’ll ignore the word count goals and just indulge in the writing excitement and camraderie. Thanks for a great post.

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