One of my resolutions going in to 2011 was to write more, and more regularly. I've been tired and frustrated with spinning my wheels, and not making as much progress as I want to on my projects. Because I don't just want to be a writer; I want to professionalize my career, and that means writing, re-writing, and polishing something that I can take to the market.
My current Big Project is a novel, my first. As though of you who follow my irregular updates here, it's an urban fantasy with the working title 'All That Glitters' that shares a setting with my webcomic Cold Iron Badge. It's shaping up to be pretty darned good, if I do say so myself. But I have to finish the damn thing.
Industry-standard length for a fantasy novel is in the range of 90,000 to 120,000 words. Urban fantasy generally occupies the lower end of that range, probably because there's less need for world-building and scene-setting.
But even 90,000 words is far longer than anything I've even written before.
As 2010 wound down, the manuscript for All That Glitters was sitting at a word count of around 44,000; nowhere near done. The problem wasn't the direction of the story, or the ideas. The problem was getting the damned words on the page.
Something needed to be done.
I am a big proponent of goal-setting as a motivator. I like giving myself a BHAG (a "big hairy audacious goal") and then telling people about it to ensure some external accountability. It doesn't always work, and it can be frustrating and embarrassing when I fail, but I've found that it works much better for me than NOT setting a goal does*.
So, partly inspired by Mur Lafferty's podcast I Should Be Writing**, I came up with an idea for a Goal that was Big, Hairy and Audacious.
I decided to make January, 2011 My Own Private NaNoWriMo.
This probably requires some explanation. NaNoWriMo is 'National Novel Writing Month', the annual event held each November to encourage new and aspiring writers to set and meet the goal of writing 50,000 words of prose in a month. People from all over the world participate; there's a whole community that's formed around the event. It's a lot of fun, but it's fun that I generally pass on, because I often don’t have the time, and I'm not big on the community aspect; I get about as much socializing with other writers as I need from shop talk with my writers group and a few other peers.
But that meant, I realized, there was no reason not to have my own NaNoWriMo any time I wanted.
I chose January 4 to February 3, 2011, and I started writing, with a goal of trying for 50,000 words. That would have put me within striking distance of finishing the novel, at least in terms of word count.
(Word count, as my friend and fellow writer Nicole points out, is in many ways a completely irrelevant and even counterproductive measure, since it has nothing to do with the narrative; it's akin to measuring the value of an ambulance by looking at the mileage. The story should unfold for exactly as long as is needed to tell it, no shorter, no longer. And that's true; but word count does give me a clear measure of whether I've been producing. Since productivity, not the shape of the narrative, has been my sticking point, it's a good metric in that sense.)
So, how did it go?
I'd call it a qualified success. I didn't write every day, but I came closer to writing every day over an extended period of time than I ever have. I didn't write 50,000 words, but what I did write -- over 23,000 -- was more over a single month than I ever have.
Not bad, in other words.
Now, a few days after My Own Private NaNoWriMo, the manuscript is at just about 70,000 words. That means that, if I can maintain this level of output through, say, the end of February, I'll really be nearing the end (and not just in terms of word count; I can see the story threads starting to come together, and can feel the narrative crescendo building. Hoo boy, can I. The next 30,000 or so words are going to be FUN).
Ideally, of course, I'd like to do better than I did in January; I had too many non-writing hiccup days and days with very little writing. If I can make a good January day into an average February day, my productivity will increase substantially. I just proved what I can do, when I try. Now the only thing I need to do is keep at it. I hope to be able to have real grounds for bragging soon; watch this space for updates (you can also follow me on Twitter. I’m @Stephen_GM and I often post about my word count there).
I set out to climb a mountain, and conquered the lower slopes. That’s something to be proud of; the view from here is pretty nice.
But I bet it’s even better at the top. And I intend to find out. Onward!
*Like Churchill said about democracy: It's the worst system, except for all the others.
**Which I recommend to everyone, to the degree that I think I’ll do another blog post where I talk about ISBW, and why you should be following it, at length.