As a first-time NaNoWriMo participant—the worldwide community of writers who subject themselves to bleeding 1,667 words a day or 50,000 words total during the month of November—I was confused about how to keep up the pace the rest of the year. And should I? I asked five successful authors to discuss their year-round strategy and was surprised by the differences and flexibility in approaches. See for yourself…
Pintip Dunn is a New York Times bestselling author of YA fiction. Her debut novel Forget Tomorrow won the RWA RITA® award for Best First Book. Her other books include The Darkest Lie, Remember Yesterday, and the novella Before Tomorrow. Find out more about Pintip’s books here or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
“My word count goals depend on where I’m at in the writing process. I start by writing a fast draft—something I call a “zero draft”—in order to get the story down. At this point, my word count goal is usually between 5k and 10k a day. The most I’ve ever written is 14k in a single day. Then, I rewrite the entire manuscript slowly, using the zero draft as a foundation. At the beginning of this stage, my word count is very low—usually 500 or 1k per day. I gradually ramp up as I get comfortable with the voice and characters and figure out the exact plot. Most of the book is written with a 1–2k daily word count goal. And then, I usually zoom to the finish line by writing 2–3k words per day. The longest stage of this process is the zero draft/slow beginning/plotting stage. This can take anywhere from one to six months (or more!) Once I get the plot figured out, I can usually finish a book in a couple months. Promo/marketing definitely cuts into writing time. My best advice is: Get the words in first!”
Currently living in the Pacific Northwest, my editor Heather Ezell is a Southern California native with an affinity for moving and extreme weather. Though by many definitions a high school dropout, Heather ultimately graduated from Colorado College and is now a freelance editor, sometimes-instructor, and can often be found practicing ballet in her kitchen. Heather’s debut YA novel Nothing Left to Burn will be published by Razorbill /Penguin in Spring 2018. Follow her writing journey via her frequently-rambling blogs, Goodreads, Twitter, and Instagram.
“Oh, word counts! Because my life is in constant flux, generally changing by the month, what’s most key for me is flexibility: allowing myself to frequently adapt my writing schedule. The one time I’ll have a must-hit word count is when I’m speed drafting: those days, I aim for 1500-2000 words. But, more frequently, I instead have a designated amount of writing hours (a minimum of three, pretty please.) Likewise for revising, I’ll have developmental goals to hit but my main attention is in regards to the hours at my laptop rather than the words I haphazardly spit onto the screen. I’ve been writing for some ten years now, and for too long, I let the idea of making a daily word count stall me. The pressure of numbers easily consumes me. And yet it took years for me discover that I’m far more productive when I focus on putting time into my draft, nurturing the story, rather than hitting a word count. Truth: I’m often a slow writer. I’m also often a fast writer. Sometimes, I’m a once-a-week writer, though usually I’m an everyday gal. I usually finish a draft in two–four months. Once, it took a year. Regardless, what’s most important is showing up to the page consistently, whatever that means to my current schedule, and maintaining my momentum—keeping my hands deep and dirty in my story. I highly recommend Forest app and StayFocused for tracking time and accountability—both have been game-changers in my work habits!”
Michelle Hauck is a fantasy writer, whose Birth of Saints series from Harper Voyager currently features Grudging and Faithful with book 3 underway. Check out Michelle’s books and amazing writing contests on her blog and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.
“I attempted NaNoWriMo exactly once and managed to write 20,000 words in one month. That’s a prolific word-count total for me. Better yet, many months later I ended up with a novel called Grudging that sold to Harper Voyager as a trilogy. To be honest, I’m a very slow writer, and I seldom worry about word-count goals. Instead, I focus on producing a chapter a week—however many words that turns out to be. I just can’t shut off the need to edit as I work, which makes speed writing difficult for me. A chapter has to be perfect before I can move forward. It can take over 10 months to write 100,000 words. I long ago learned to shut off fretting about word counts. But on the bright side, when I’m done with the first draft, I’m done. My first draft seldom needs major editing or much polishing. Everyone has a different style. You just need to be aware of what works for you.”
Summer Lane is the bestselling author of 15 books, including the Collapse Series, Zero Trilogy, and Bravo Saga. She just released a new novel, Unbreakable SEAL this month. Summer also owns WB Publishing and is an accomplished journalist. Follow her writing journey here and on Twitter, and check out her books on Amazon.
“When it comes to writing a book, there are a couple of sure-fire tricks I have to keep the creativity rolling and the words pouring onto the page. For a 30-day novel, I like to hit 3500–4000 words per day. When I’m not rushing to get a manuscript done, I’ll do somewhere between 1500-2000 words in a day. I always give myself weekends off—always. My brain is usually creatively drained (and exhausted) by the time Friday hits, so I make sure to have a rest period. I didn’t always understand this when I was younger, but with experience comes wisdom, apparently. Pacing yourself is oftentimes smarter than sprinting, when it comes down to it. My average time to finish a manuscript draft is anywhere from 30–90 days (still quick by most standards, but I like to get things done, savvy? *wink*.) I make sure that nothing cuts into my writing time. Marketing, consulting, teaching—all of that is on the side. Writing is number one, always. Anything that interferes with that is removed from my life! I advise aspiring authors to do the same: protect your writing time as fiercely as you would your newborn child. Keep hydrated, eat properly. Keep the windows open if the weather permits. Office yoga or Pilates will keep you relaxed. Stay focused. Write your goals down and tape them to the wall. Don’t let anything distract you! You can do it.”
I’d love to hear your advice, thoughts, complaints on daily word count goals. Please drop them in the comments.