If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, don’t let me stop you! NaNoWriMo does a lot of good. The writing challenge encourages you to start something new, to follow ideas and brainstorm. And during the challenge, you get the extra motivation to write more than normal. Motivation is great! But there’s a small beef I have with NaNoWriMo, and that’s the word count goal. In this article I bring you four alternative methods to track your progress.
For the uninitiated, the traditional writing challenge is to write fifty thousand(50,000!) words of a brand new novel in November. In 2017, over 400,000 writers participated in the challenge, fostering and connecting a large community. That’s wild!
Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is hard. Doable, but hard. Although the organization lets you create different goals for its Camp programs in April and July, NaNoWriMo in November is all about the 50,000 word goal. But is a word count the best way to track progress?
Well, it is a way. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing that number go up, especially on the NaNo line graph. It’s satisfying to see my total progress increase when I’m drafting, but sometimes I work on my story for an hour and my total word count only goes up by 200 words. What was I doing for all that time? I feel unproductive, but that’s because word counters only track one aspect of writing: the word count. And this is where my beef lies.
So much of the writing process isn’t “writing.” How can this be? How can writing be anything other than adding words to a page? Let’s imagine a situation together:
You write 500 words of your story in an hour. Later that day, you read your story for an hour and decide to delete 500 words elsewhere. Your total word count for today is 0. So did you do nothing?
I hope you agree with me and say the answer is no. Today you added words, read your story, and edited it. All of these actions are considered writing or “writing tasks” because they advance the story forward. Even if you wrote 500 words and deleted the same 500 words later, you still did writing.
So you did all this, and your word count still says 0. There’s got to be a better way to track progress on days when we outline, read, or revise our stories.
I know I can’t write 50,000 words this November. I’m swamped in classes and work and simply do not have time or the will to sacrifice my mental health just to achieve a big shiny 50,000, virtual confetti, and a winner’s certificate. Would I like to? Yes, I would like to win. But part of being a writer is knowing your limits and meeting yourself where you’re at. It’s going to be very easy for me to feel like I failed at the end of the month. But this November I’m not going to let that happen. I’m going to track my writing through the Check-In method instead of focusing on 50,000 words.
So if you’ve been feeling stressed out about the number of words you write, or you’ve been encouraged through writing challenges that the only way to track your writing is through a word count, let this be your sign to turn a new page and create a healthier mental relationship around your writing. Using one of these alternatives, or devising your own strategy, can make you less stressed about a number and more satisfied with your progress! I encourage you to try one of these methods during NaNoWriMo this year. Happy writing!
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.