NaNo Tip no. 4: Word Count is Not Everything

I know that NaNoWriMo is set up with a specific word count in mind. And word counts are, indeed, a useful way to keep track of you progress. However, do not get obsessed with them. The world will not end if you don’t meet your daily word count. Nor will it end if you don’t have 50,000 words at the end of November.

I’m seeing too many people stressing out about word counts and beating up on themselves when they fall short of them. Cut yourself some slack!

Here’s why:

NaNoWriMo is meant to be a fun, companionable way to try your hand at novel writing. That means that over the month you’re going to start to learn what kind of writer you are.1 One of the things you might learn is that you are not a fast writer. There is no shame in that. Lots of very fine writers are slow. Nalo Hopkinson rarely writes more than 500 words a day. Doesn’t get in the way of her producing many wonderful books.

You may also discover that you’re a very fast writer. No shame in that either. I swear I’ve seen Maureen Johnson bang out 20,000 words in a single sitting. That would kill me. She continues to live and breathe and write more wickedly funny words.

Give yourself permission to enjoy NaNoWriMo. So if at the end of the day you’ve only written 150 words, celebrate those words. Do a 150-word dance! Same if it was a one-word day or a six-thousand word day.

Some of you won’t get anywhere near 50,000 words in the month. Perhaps you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about your novel. That’s writing too. There are many writers who need to nut the whole novel out first in their heads before they can start writing. Could be you’re one of those.

Like I said, use the month of November to explore. Whatever you wind up with—on paper or in your head—you’ll know more about yourself as a writer.

Have fun!

  1. I’m still not entirely sure what kind of writer I am. Sometimes two thousand words a day is easy, sometimes it kills me. []


  1. Mike F on #

    Thanks for posting these tips. I’m doing NaNoWriMo for the first time and I am stressing a little about the word count. But, you are right, I need to make sure to have fun and enjoy it. I’m at 2,400, which is more than I had on October 31st! 🙂

  2. bookwormchris on #

    Good advice. Having done this (once) before, I know I can usually manage about 1,000-2,000 words per hour. This works out to a few k per day. (Usually about 10k words during the work week and 5-10k on weekends.) Since I haven’t even started writing yet, except for about 50-60k worth of notes done the last month or so and lots of thinking, this should be interesting and ultimately different than my previous experience.

  3. Alberto Lung on #

    Maureen’s part it’s preatty scarry… hehe!

  4. sarahhazelton on #

    Ha. I had a go at NaNo several years ago, and it was useful for me in another way — it helped me realise that I’m MUCH happier on the reading/editing side of the desk. At least at this point in my life. Thanks, NaNo!

    Also, thanks, Justine – I always look forward to your pithy, non-prescriptive posts about writing.

  5. Erika Robuck on #

    Thanks for giving me permission to celebrate any word count! I’ve been steady between 500-1000 a day, but felt like I wasn’t hitting the target. Now I can see that the routine and the progress should be celebrated anyway. I write historical fiction, and I just can’t live with inaccuracies, even in drafts. It slows me down a bit to fact check, but I’ll keep at it just the way I’m going. Thanks, again.!

  6. Aline on #

    Thanks for this. By 3rd day of NaNo I decided 1667 was not my stride. I’ve been writing everyday since Sept. 5th, 300 to 2907 words a day and everything in between. My intention is to finish the book. If I continue to write everyday I’ll have to get to the end at some point.

    It’s great to have support for the process as well as the word count.

  7. Ami on #

    I totally agree with you here, Justine. The first time I participated in NaNoWriMo I learned more about myself as a writer than I did about my characters (and I learned A LOT about my characters). I realized that writing fiction can be fun, that I don’t have to stress out about getting things perfect on the first go-round, and that if I just sit down at the computer, the words will (usually) come out pretty easily.

    Thanks for the great post!

  8. mb on #

    Some of my best writing days involve deleting thousands of words.

  9. Summer on #

    Thanks for the tips!

  10. DWongster on #

    I see your point, and agree to some degree. However, NaNoWriMo was the kick in the pants to get me writing the novel version of an idea a friend and I talked (and plotted) about in the early 90’s!

    Seen that way, this first draft will turn out to have an average of 8 words written per day (50000 divided by oh, 16 years!).

  11. Sirena on #

    I’m trying to keep that in mind as well – I feel that a week or so into it (I’m coming in late, with three days lost already) I’ll know what my pace is. It also depends on the story – some of the things I’ve tackled can’t write themselves fast enough, and others just linger and lag. I’m not sure if I’ve started out with the right story, but the next few days should be pretty revealing for me!

  12. Chris on #

    I’m trying not to stress about it either. I just want to be consistent and write as often as I can.

  13. Julie Polk on #

    “Some of my best writing days involve deleting thousands of words.”

    Ha! I LOVE this. Never thought of it that way. I’m adopting it immediately.

  14. mb on #

    Julie Polk:
    It’s true! You know, that day when you get a sudden insight about that character that wasn’t working out, and you go back and cut out the scenes that weren’t working and you tweak some other stuff and you feel REALLY GOOD even though your word count is now considerably less than yesterday’s?

  15. wandering-dreamer on #

    Quite a bit behind on the word count myself, it appears that November is the worst month for me to try and write a novel since I always have teachers that pile on the biggest papers in this one month. But my plan is that if I ever get really behind the word count I’ll just describe stuff as best as I know how, that should bring it back up pretty fast.

  16. Stephanie Leary on #

    1667/day is way too much for me and always has been. I love the enthusiasm people have for NaNo, but it’s so discouraging to fall short of that standard! The Novel in 90 community on LiveJournal sets a much more reasonable, sustainable pace. (Here are the rules, such as they are.)

  17. Laurie on #

    Hah, that someone as amazing as Nalo Hopkinson averages that low makes me feel a little better. (I’m not even aiming for 50,000, I’m aiming for 20,000, and I’m still falling below my daily quota.) But…

    “I swear I’ve seen Maureen Johnson bang out 20,000 words in a single sitting.”

    Man, how is that even physically possible?!

  18. Katie on #

    This is my first NaNoWriMo experience, and I’m averaging about 1000 words a day between classes, work, and homework. This time yesterday, that felt awful, but you just made me feel a whole lot better about it. Thanks!

  19. PixelFish on #

    Man, I needed to see that. I think me just writing regularly is going to be the important thing.

  20. Julie Polk on #

    mb: I totally know that “this character isn’t working out” thing. We’re only on day 4 and I have a character who I suspect might be in the wrong novel. It’s a little early to say she’s not working — it’s day 4! I don’t even know what “working” really means for this book! — so I’m going to let her wander around for a while. I’m curious to see what happens, especially since this is my first novel and I’ve never had a field this big to wander around in. Fun!

    Laurie: Maureen Johnson is bionic. Don’t tell.

  21. gabfra on #

    thankyou very much for this tip.
    it made me realize that the stuff in my head are just as much stories and potential writing as the stuff I write down.

  22. Summer on #

    Thank you!

  23. Leah Adams on #

    Thank you so much for these tips! Some of my sentences right now are looking like the bloated one in your other post. It’s nice to see the actual real process of writing from someone who has been published. It gives me hope!

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