Nanowrimo metrics

We’re more than halfway through Nanowrimo by now. This is my 11th Nanowrimo, and I’m sticking with the usual goal of 50k. In the past I’ve done 100k or even, one excruciating year, 150k, but that’s not something I can manage this time.

This time of year is always filled with debate over whether Nanowrimo is a good thing or not. No one denies that Nanowrimo is focused more on quantity rather than quality, but its detractors argue that more bad words aren’t helping anyone, while supporters point out that you can’t perfect a draft if you’ve been too picky to write it in the first place.

I always have considered writing a novel to be a lot like oil painting. I took a class in oil painting a few years ago. One of the other students in the class was very well versed in watercolor, but had never done oil painting before. She was a great artist, but her canvases would end up with a lot of white, unpainted parts and half-finished sections, because she would spend so much time perfecting one particular figure. Since she was used to watercolor, she didn’t really get the idea of building up the paint in layers and working from a general sketch up to a perfect finished product. She felt that it had to be perfect from the start, and that every stroke of paint couldn’t be moved once it had been put down.

The instructor, on the other hand, taught that one of the things you wanted to do first when you started painting was to cover the canvas in a thin wash of paint, and then sketch out a general outline of the painting with more of this thin paint. Then you slowly build up the painting, layer by layer. This way you find the structural issues early on and can fix them before you’ve spent too much time perfecting a section that needs to be smudged out and redone.

It’s pretty clear where I’m going with this. Ultimately, when you’re working on a novel, it’s a lot easier to dash out a very rough draft and then kick it into shape, building it up with revisions over time, rather than fiddle around with a perfect first chapter and slowly dole out some hand-chosen words a little at a time before realizing that you’ve made a terrible plot hole in the story and need to delete the stuff you’ve worked so hard at perfecting. The book’s never going to be perfect, so expecting perfection from the start is an insidious form of procrastination.

Nanowrimo is great for me since it’s a deadline imposed by an outside force. I can give myself deadlines all I want, but it’s not that hard to blow them off. Nanowrimo doesn’t really punish you for losing, but I have a ten year winning streak going and I’d hate to break it.

This year I’m adding 50,000 words onto a draft already in progress. The ultimate goal is around 95-100k, and it was roughly 45k to start.

Current wordcount: 66,091/100,000 words

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