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Novel progress: productive or not?! January 19, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

on-fireToday I had one of those days when I just kept writing away.  I wouldn’t quite call it ‘on fire’, but it was definitely my best performance in quite some time (which doesn’t mean much in context).

Instead of studying, which I should have done, I decided to get down and dirty with the writing – forget about all these writing techniques I’ve been trying to implement, forget about the quality of the actual writing – just get words down on the screen and forget about the rest. 

At the end of a few hours of gritty work (probably 3 or 4 or 5), I realised I got a decent 3,500-4,000 words pumped into my fantasy novel.  I should be elated, considering how slow progress has been lately (and equally worried, because I hadn’t been studying).

But the big problem was, I hardly made any progress at all in the actual story.  Despite writing around 16,000-17,000 words so far (by my shitty calculations that’s around 50 pages in a regular sized novel?), I’ve barely just made it past the ‘introductory’ stages of the novel.  The protagonist hasn’t even had his preliminary adventure yet! 

Should I be concerned?  Is 50 pages to set-up my fantasy world really not that much?  I mean, the plot has ben moving along at the same time, but I just fear it’s going way too slow for a novel that’s intended to be exciting.

Or should I just finish the damn thing and worry about length later?

I remember reading somewhere that Dan Brown said that for every page of The Davinci Code that made it to the final version, 10 other pages he wrote never made it.  So does this mean write away and tighten it all up at the very end?

Serenity now.



1. leftywritey - January 19, 2009

It sounds as if you are right where you should be at your posted word count. Reading your post reminded me of the second week pep talk from Chris Baty during NaNoWriMo 2008. I’m going to post his email below, in case it may help you with your novel.

Good luck!


Dear NaNoWriMo author,

I am writing with excellent news.

The high-speed noveling deities have seen fit to bless us with five whole weekends in November. This hasn’t happened since 2003, and the fact that we have three more weekends ahead of us pretty much guarantees that each and every one of us will coast to an easy NaNoWriMo victory. But even in cakewalk years like 2008 (ahem), it’s sometimes nice to have short-term goals. So here’s my idea: What if we all plan on getting at least 15,000 words by this Monday before we go to bed? That’s slightly behind pace, but if we can pull it off, we’ll levitate up into an important new stage of the noveling journey.

That stage is called Plot.

Week One of NaNoWriMo tends to be all about characters. Our imaginations have been leaving a lot of them on our doorsteps lately, and it’s pretty much all we can do to bring them in, give them names, and teach them the rudiments of steering their battle-yaks. Then our doorbell rings, and we’re rushing off to welcome another
group of newcomers to the party.

Because of this, the first week of November is largely a matter of crowd control. I love this part of NaNo, because it’s hard to mess it up. This phase also contains one of the greatest moments of novel-writing—that point when characters first unstick themselves from the page and begin interacting with the world around them, revealing aspects of their lives and personalities we hadn’t known were there.

This is a sweet moment in the noveling adventure, but now it’s time to move on. Getting through the next week of NaNoWriMo will require we set our stories in motion by sending some winds of change howling through our characters’ lives. The sooner we do this, the better. If you’re stuck for story-launching ideas, consider borrowing from the menu of time-tested plot devices: deaths, firings, loves-at-first-sight, siege ladders quietly appearing against ramparts, disappearances, robberies, accidental wealth, plagues, road trips, illnesses, kidnappings, a shortage of gummi bears when there had appeared to be many gummi bears, mysterious letters, shocking discoveries, betrayal, and wiener dogs.

Any of these things will likely alter your characters’ lives forever, which is tough for them but a boon for your book. Still, getting up the nerve to foist these game-changing events onto people you just met is a little daunting. It’s easy to worry that you’ll blow your potential-filled opening with a lame plot that takes your novel in the wrong direction.

Happily, there are no wrong directions in NaNoWriMo. The only bad plot move you can make in the next week is lingering too long at your story’s crossroads, vacillating over the right path. Be bold. Plunge in.

And while you’re sprinting through the second stage of your novel, know that some winds of change will likely be blowing through your own life as well. Week Two tends to be when the novelty of NaNoWriMo wears off, and the difficulties of making so many tough decisions in such a short time period add up. Enthusiasm dwindles, fatigue rises, and we begin squinting at our manuscripts, thinking, “This derivative pile of crap is my literary statement to the world?”

Everything gets better soon, trust me. You remember that jolt you felt when your characters first spoke up? Keep writing, and it will happen again. But this time, it will be your whole book rising off the page, pulsing with electricity and life. Today’s tangents will become tomorrow’s arcs, and unforeseen connections will tie up your loose ends in a way that will make you want to slap your head and holler at your accidental brilliance.

So turn off spell-check. Leave those ungainly sentences on the page, and let your punctuation be imperfect. And whatever you do, don’t read your previous day’s entire output. The next seven days are all about moving forward. Let’s focus on hitting our daily word-count goals, and, before we know it, Week Two will be behind us, and the wonders of Week Three will begin.

See you on Monday at 15K!


pacejmiller - January 20, 2009

Thanks for your reply! It i so hard just to move forward without worrying about the past, but I will keep trying! I almost got into NaNoWriMo 2008, but I chickened out at the last minute and made a lot of excuses about not having enough time to do it. I think it would have been an awesome experience.

2. leftywritey - January 20, 2009

You’re very welcome.

So, in a nutshell, at around 15,000 words, get your character in trouble. : ) It sure worked for me.

NaNo 2008 was my first NaNo experience — up until the day before, I had no idea what it was.

It *was* awesome. I do hope you try it out next year.

The most important lesson it taught me, was to get the words on paper. Unless you have words on paper, you can’t edit and make them brilliant.

Also, for writing help or inspiration or just to mingle, check out



pacejmiller - January 21, 2009

Thanks so much for your kind advice! That forum looks very helpful. I will be sure to visit.

3. leftywritey - January 21, 2009

Insert a curtsey, here. : )

The AW forums are awesome — I turn to them to learn about the business, about writing, for query research, for inspiration to keep plodding on, and just to have some fun, sometimes, with other writers going through the same things.

It’s hard to go it alone.

I’m HorsebackWriter over there. Send me a howdy if you see me. : )


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