Writing is often a constant battle between getting the words out and getting the words right. For the month of November and NaNoWriMo, the goal is getting the words out—whether it’s right or not. Not everyone can work that way, and that’s fine, but it’s often a handy tool for me to jumpstart new projects instead of procrastinating and waiting for inspiration to strike.
I had been a bit ambivalent about doing NaNoWriMo this year, mainly because I would be away for half the month, but I’d been encouraging a lot of people—mostly from our baby writing group—to do so and I thought I should set a good example by at least attempting it. After all, winning or losing wasn’t my main goal; my main goal was to continue to build this writing community.
I talked to our weekly write-in group as well as the NPO I work with, LUMA, and we set up the LUMA Drop-In Writing Space to host writers from 10am-10pm daily for the last 6 days of November. The dates also coincided with the annual George Town Literary Fest & In-between Arts Festival, which was focusing on food and zines, so we made a public event on Facebook and announced it in all the writers' groups we knew of online.
And then November started, and I went on my holiday, working sporadically on the new novel and totally pantsing all the way. Which was how I found myself at the start of our write-ins on 25th November with only 17K words. On one hand, I did wonder if I could actually reach 50K in such a short time, but on the other hand, I wasn’t very bothered because I knew that I had a lot of time before me and all I had to do was sit down and write, besides opening and closing the door for people (ah, the privilege of not working a 9-to-5). And so I broke a personal record and wrote an average of 8,000 words a day over the next 4 days, finishing 2 days earlier than I expected.
Now, obviously, I want to replicate this since I’m making writing my full-time job. If I know what’s been working these 4 days, that would help me to work better, right? I tracked all my writing this month (wordcounts & times) in Wordly and here’s my analysis of the data:
- I rarely wrote anything more than 1K before lunch (noon/1pm). I open the place at 10am, but by the time I’m finished pottering around, making tea, going up and down the stairs, turning on the laptop, checking my phone, it’s usually almost 11am before I even sit down and start writing. This isn’t anything new. Even in my previous day jobs, when I had to be in the office by 8.30 – 9am, I always felt super unproductive before 10am, especially before making tea.
- Tea is important, as noted above.
- I averaged about 5.5 hours of writing time per day, despite being at the centre for 12 hours a day. If you subtract approximately 2 hours for lunch and dinner, I only “worked” about 55% of the time. It seems unproductive, but I’m not very good at focusing for extended lengths of time. It also works out (as averaged by Wordly) to about 1,541 words per hour. I’m not entirely sure if that’s good or bad, but at least it’s measurable.
- Not having Internet access probably helped a lot, because there’s only so long you can stare at your phone before you feel that you’re wasting time.
- Setting small goals helps, especially when I don’t feel like writing, or am unsure where the story is going. During those times, I do a sprint of maybe 15 minutes. At the end of that 15 minutes, I’ve either written a good bunch of words and am excited to continue, or I’ve figured out a new direction and need to sit back and think about it.
- Knowing where the story is going helps me to write faster. Some of the “unproductive” time was spent thinking about the story’s direction and possible plot points, which then translated into higher word counts during the next writing session. (Some of the unproductive time was also spent staring into space, which is another matter altogether ;) )
- The best writing sessions were usually between 20 – 30 minutes.
- The best writing session goal was usually to hit 1K words per session, which usually averaged out to 30 minutes.
- I was hampered at times because I’d previously researched some local fairy creatures/folk tales, but I’d only saved the stub or link, instead of saving the whole document for reference. Having all research on hand (that is not online, where I’ll get distracted) is probably pretty important.
- Having the right mindset really helps. During these 4 days, all I thought about was “I need to finish writing this story before I can do anything else”. This is very different from when I’m writing at home and thinking about ‘oh- I haven’t finished my book review’ or ‘I need to do this other project first’ or even ‘maybe I need to read/research this’ (and the usual culprit - ‘I’m hungry/bored/sleepy, I need to find something to eat’). So – I do really need to get into this ‘cave’ mindset when writing to make sure that I stop procrastinating! (Also already noted by the way I can be superbly productive finishing a short story for submission… the WEEK before the deadline!)
In summary, here are the things I need to be working on to make sure I’m really writing and not just being a bum:
- Set writing goals & deadlines and STICK TO THEM
- Work on only one project at a set time.
- Research BEFORE writing where possible (ahahahah) and SAVE/archive my research
All of which I already knew before, but now there’s DATA. Hard, measurable data.
But other than that, the writing space has also been a win community-wise. There were some down/slow times, especially in the beginning where I feared I’d be sitting there writing alone (which turned out okay because I was productive), but there’s also been a steady group of regulars, as well as a few newcomers added to our writing community. The group’s excited to take it further, so we might see more people coming for write-ins in future. And maybe more collaborations/discussions/critiques happening spontaneously.
… the only thing I am actually uber sad about is that I didn’t attend anything in GTLF at all. I’d been eyeing maybe 2 – 3 sessions, but I needed to sit in LUMA to keep the space open. Maybe next time we’ll try not to overlap with the fest. I had been hoping for some drop-ins from fest attendees, but that didn’t actually happen.