Two days. 1,828 words.

Well. That’s not precisely correct. That sort of implies I’ve been chugging along at an even keel, on the days of May 1 and May 2, averaging 914 words of fiction a day. That’s somewhat below what I was theoretically aiming for (a goal of 50,000 words over 34 days comes to an average of 1470 words per day), but it trumps my usual NaNo participation strategy which is: Day 1 – write 1500 words. Day 2 – Decide I hate what I wrote on Day 1, write 1500 words of something completely different. Day 3 – throw a temper tantrum. Day 4 – quit. Considering that, I’m content with where I’m leaving off, particularly because I left off at a place that seems to mean something, and I have a general idea of what will be happening next. (The fact that what will be happening next owes a certain debt to a particular scene in Fellowship of the Ring doesn’t concern me much, because based on how this thing is going so far, what I end up writing will be completely different. More on that below).

If I want to be precise about how my work has been going, though, the daily averages don’t really cut it. What actually happened is: Friday/Saturday after midnight, I declared myself officially started, wrote a few feverish notes out in longhand (basically first sentences for a couple sections, which dissolved into notes about what I wanted the sections to convey, plus a few snatches of dialogue that I’d been saying to myself and didn’t want to lose.) I hardly ever write full paragraphs in longhand, though; I don’t consider that I’m really drafting until I get on the computer. So when I went to bed a bit after midnight, I basically had a couple first sentences, a couple lines of dialogue, and the epiphany of trying particular sections (the ones I’m doing to introduce each major character) in second person. And I’m usually the first one to bitch about things being written in second person (unless it’s the short story “Until Gwen” by Dennis Lehane because that one starts with — and I paraphrase from memory, so this isn’t exactly right — “Your dad picks you up from prison in a rented Dodge Neon with an eight ball of cocaine and a hooker named Mandy in the backseat”, and in my opinion, if you can write a sentence like that, you are allowed do absolutely anything you want). But the point is, I’m already aware that this project is extremely self-indulgent, so a little POV-hijinks are as acceptable as anything else. Plus, there’s something a little humbling about deciding to try the thing that you’ve said ‘No, no, absolutely not!’ about a zillion times in writing workshops. Though if I ever start using parentheses in spoken dialogue (which is, with apologies to Brian Michael Bendis, who loves to do it, my least favorite writing tic in the entire world) every single one of you has permission to punch me in the face. Anyway.

By the time Day Two rolled around, I had these longhand notes but no actual word count. In the morning, I went out for coffee, read a few comics, came home, made scrambled eggs, read a few more comics, then sent a couple emails and reviewed the comics I just read on GoodReads. Then I took a phone call from a friend, made plans to meet up for dinner in about two hours, and gave myself a two hour window to write some actual words. I started with the character intro section I knew I wanted to write, and worked on it until I had to leave. About 700 words. Then I came back and wrote 400 more words of that section, then went on to the next section, which was about 700 words more.

Here’s the thing about my word count: I think that first section probably needs to be about 500 words at the most, and the second section needs to be longer. Probably some of the stuff from the first section belongs in the second section? If this project ever gets beyond the self-indulgence stage into the editing stage, those are things I might juggle around. And if I don’t get back to it, I guess it doesn’t matter.

Still, this isn’t how I usually approach fiction. When I sit down to write a story, I usually have a starting point and an end goal in mind. The last story I wrote was about 5,000 words and went from concept to finished product in less than 48 hours. I had goals, I had deadline pressure, I knew who I was going to show it to.

The words per day approach. I can’t help thinking that if I’d taken the same amount of time with the goal to write two properly balanced sections that worked, instead of focusing on the number of words, I might feel like what I finished writing was more polished. More correct. But that’s not the NaNo/MyNo approach, and here’s something else: when I was thinking about a certain number of words, that basically translated to sitting down at the computer for a certain amount of time (today, roughly 4 hours, but that was really 2 days worth of writing time). And because I was there for that amount of time, instead of banging something out as quickly as possible to reach the end goal, I let the story go off in a sort of sideways direction. I invented a character who I hadn’t planned to include, and I had some fun with her. I really don’t have a plan for her to show up again in the novel, but then, I don’t really have a plan for the novel overall yet. If this thing turns out to be all about her, the character I just invented, and my other main characters never show up, I haven’t done anything wrong.

So I guess it depends on the goal of the MyNo project. I’ve started NaNo in the past thinking, “I will get a rough draft of a novel done,” despite the fact that I didn’t have an outline and didn’t have any clear goals. Of course I gave up in frustration. But if the goal is just, “I will stretch my fiction-writing muscles as much as possible, for the next 34 (now, 32) days, and at the end I may have something, or I may have the raw material for lots of other somethings, but if worst comes to worst, I will have made words.”

That’s where I am right now. I’m curious about how other people feel — either the participants in the current MyNo project, or people who have done NaNo or other word-count based projects in the past. Do you change your writing process drastically to fit with word count requirements? Do you try to make the word count approach work with your process? If you make changes in your process, do you think it affects the quality of your writing, either positively or negatively?

I’d really love to hear about other people’s experience!

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