NaNo Check-In: Lessons from the Halfway Point

by Jami Gold on November 15, 2012

in Writing Stuff

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Today, November 15th, marks the halfway point for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month—write a 50K word novel during November). That means all NaNo participants should reach 25,000 words on their NaNo project by midnight tonight.

Yikes! That sounds like a big number—and it is—but I passed that milestone on November 11th. So far, I’ve been ahead of the word count curve (which matches with my real goal of finishing this whole novel). And so far, I’ve been loving NaNo because I’m learning so much from the experience.

Four Lessons from NaNo: The First Half

  • Write Every Day

We’ve often heard the advice to write every day. We’ve heard it so often, in fact, that we blow off the advice. Or we think we’re doing a good enough job of it already, so we don’t question or change our habits.

But for me, I discovered that, No, I really wasn’t doing as much writing every day as I thought. Now that I am, my word count is climbing higher and faster than I thought it could.

  • Create Daily Word Count Goals

The nature of the NaNo website, where we report our daily word count, has been hugely motivating. I want to hit that 1667 words every day, even if I’m ahead. The NaNo website’s “My Month” calendar widget with the colors for whether you hit or missed each day’s word count is awesome. I wish I had green for every day. Again, even if I’m ahead, I still want the green on that day. I angst over the fact that my calendar isn’t solid green. *whimpers*

For me, just keeping track of my daily word count isn’t enough. I want a goal I can aim for, so I can call a day a “writing success.” (Sometimes it’s the little things, right?) Most of all, I want a color-coded calendar to see my status of meeting each day’s goals. Does anyone know where I can find one for after NaNo?

  • Know What Motivates You

By keeping track of our daily word count, we have better insight into what works to motivate us. Is our daily word count higher or do we reach it faster when we want to get in our NaNo words before our favorite TV show? Or maybe our word count is better on the days when we reward ourselves with chocolate.

Obviously, I’ve learned that colorful calendars work for me. Call it the completion-ist or perfectionist in me, but hey, whatever works. I say again, if you know of an app or widget or something that will give me a color on each day of a calendar based on goals, you must let me know. *smile*

  • Learn How Far You Can Push Yourself

By writing every day, we learn which events throw us off our game, and more importantly, which don’t. We learn whether we really need to turn off our internal editor to get the words in. (I haven’t. My word counts have all come from normal, perfectionist-me drafting, no ignore-the-errors word sprints yet.) We learn how many words we can get in on a normal day. We learn how much we can squish into a day if we’re not procrastinating.

Unlike my friend Gene Lempp, I didn’t write any blog posts ahead of time, yet I’ve been keeping up my normal blog schedule. Yay! Good to know I can do that. I’ve also learned that 1500 words a day should be doable for me on a daily, ongoing basis. Together with higher word counts during the weekend, I’ve been averaging over 2000 words a day, so 1500 a day should be easy-peasy for me.

All that said, I’ve seen plenty of my NaNo Writing Buddies take a different approach. Some drowned in the words on the first day, putting the rest of us to shame. Some are still at zero words.

I’m not judging. We all work best under different circumstances.

I know some of my friends write best under a deadline. Others write in insomniac bursts. Still others had various commitments in the first half of the month, and they hope to catch up in the second half.

But other Writing Buddies I worry about, especially those who haven’t done any words since their initial burst. Did they burn out and won’t be able to finish? Will they join back in later and win NaNo with everyone else? Only time will tell. But I hope it’s not like the Aesop fable, The Tortoise and the Hare.

For those of us who aren’t sure of what works best for us, NaNo offers a great opportunity to experiment and try different methods. I, for one, am grateful for this chance to discover my strengths and weakness. I hope to take these lessons and apply them to my writing after November ends. And that insight into what makes us tick might be one of the biggest benefits of NaNo.

If you’re doing NaNo this year or have you done it in the past, what did you learn about yourself and your writing? Did you (or will you) change your writing habits to incorporate any NaNo lessons? Do you know what habits work best for you? Do you know what motivates you? How did you discover those things about yourself?

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32 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Kerry Gans November 15, 2012 at 7:26 am

Jami – I don’t know where you can find a color-coded calendar, but it is easy enough to make your own. I often track things in Excel – just make a date list down the side and then color code each square yourself at the end of the day. You can even type the word count in the next column over – and you can turn that data into a chart if you want!

You can also download a free calendar for Word each month. Then you can color code each day youself at the end of the day. And put in word counts on the days, if you want.

Just some thoughts. Good luck NaNo-ing!



Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 7:36 am

Hi Kerry,

Thanks! Unfortunately, I have a feeling it’s the automatic part of the color-coding that drives me. You know, like I can’t cheat on the color unless I cheat on the word count–which I wouldn’t do since keeping track of the word count is the whole point of NaNo. 🙂 But I’ll certainly keep that in mind as “the poor man’s” version. LOL! Thanks for the suggestions and the comment!


ChemistKen November 15, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I mentioned this on my blog, but I’ve discovered that most of my best ideas come while I’m putting the words down on paper (or on the computer screen). And all these new ideas have rendered my original outline obsolete. Really set my NaNo numbers back after the first five days. Oh well. I’ll catch up. (I hope)


Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Hi ChemistKen,

“I’ve discovered that most of my best ideas come while I’m putting the words down on paper (or on the computer screen).”

Exactly! That’s why I’m a pantser now. It drove my anal, perfectionist self crazy to veer from that outline, so now I just avoid outlines. 😀 I’m sure you’ll be able to catch up. There’s still lots of time. Good luck and thanks for the comment!


Edith November 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm

What you have learned from participating in NaNoWriMo pretty much tallies with my own experience. So yes I too have learned that I can write every day, that my output is a lot higher than I previously believed it ever could be, and probably most important of all for me is that I can write no matter how I feel. Seems my little theory about waiting for the Muse to arrive before starting is simply not true! Just hope I can maintain these writing lessons for the rest of NaNoWriMo!


Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Hi Edith,

“I can write no matter how I feel. Seems my little theory about waiting for the Muse to arrive before starting is simply not true!”

Oh yes, brilliant! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Marcy Kennedy November 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm

If you do find a no-way-to-cheat color-coded calendar, please do share it with us. I find that sort of thing incredibly motivating too. I write faster and with more determination in Scrivener (for example) when I keep the little word count box open and can watch the color change as I approach my goal.


Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Hi Marcy,

Heh. Will do. 🙂 I mentioned it to our resident WANA tech guy yesterday (@jaytechdad) to see if he could come up with anything. We’ll see. It’s probably outside his usual tech-ery.

The first couple of days, it drove me crazy to have the Scrivener word count box open, but now I leave it open on my other monitor all the time–so it’s there, but not in my way. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Carradee November 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm

One year, I tried tackling a dark fantasy novel for NaNoWriMo. I think only one of the major characters was completely sane.

I got tense, crabby—snapped at least one friend for no good reason. By halfway through the month, I wanted to curl up in the closet and hide from my MMC. Friends later told me that I (and my story) had scared them.

Lesson learned: When writing unapologetically dark fantasy, tackle it in short spurts, for the sake of my own health.

For this year, I had some deadlines get bumped around, so I’m expecting to pick things back up this latter half of the month. I’m also planning in terms of time chunks, rather than word count goals.

We’ll see how it goes. 🙂


Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Hi Carradee,

Ooo, yes, I can understand the emotional toll of writing without breaks when dealing with deep, dark emotions. I’ve discovered that many places in my NaNo project where I thought I would write them fast (because I knew where they were going) have actually gone slow because they’re just so painful to write. Good luck and thanks for the comment!


AJ Bradley November 15, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I’m totally with you on that calendar thing, Jami, perhaps if we ask really sweetly, the peeps at NaNo will release a widget we can keep for our own use after NaNo.

I’m new to writing, and this is my first time trying NaNo and I can totally SEE why writing every day is the most-given advice. It’s not just about developing discipline, it’s about SEEING your own improvement. I went back and read the first 10k words from the beginning of the month and, wow, already my writing is sharper. AND, it’s MORE FUN when it comes just a bit easier, when the process becomes familiar, when it’s less some foreign, theoretical, exercise on the ole to-do list, and it’s just sitting and writing. No big deal, just did this yesterday. And the day before.

Unless I write 4k+ tonight, I will be a wee bit behind. But, to be honest, I’m doing better than I’d anticipated (since NaNo I’ve written more words than in the last year!), so I’m good with it.

Thanks for your advice, Jami, and keep it up!


Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Hi AJ,

Yes! They should release that calendar as a widget. 🙂

“since NaNo I’ve written more words than in the last year!”

That’s amazing and incredible! *high five* *fist bump* I love to hear about personal successes like that. Good luck in the second half and thanks for the comment!


Serena November 15, 2012 at 6:09 pm

I really enjoyed going pure-pantser for my Nanostory! It’s really fun to keep pulling and pulling things out of my unconscious. But most importantly, I love this pure-pantsing because the stuff I write is so “true”. It really reveals what I care most about, or am thinking a lot about. This nanowriting feels more genuine than my normal stories, and the experience of self discovery is so rewarding! I’m especially pleased because what I found inside me was a lot nicer than what I thought it would be—there was so much stuff from the psychology courses I’m taking right now and I’m so happy about that. I’m finally “applying my knowledge” and wow I love psychology even more than I know! 😀


Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Hi Serena,

Ooo, yes, I love that pantser feeling of finding the “truth.” I get that especially when I do the #1k1hr word sprints–of which I did my first ones of NaNo this evening. I didn’t need to do word sprints for the word count, but I wanted to do them for the feeling of letting the subconscious go.

How fun that you got to apply your psychology! I almost minored in psychology (long, long ago) because I had so many credits in that subject, so I’ve often wondered how much that knowledge informs my writing. 🙂 Good luck with continuing to get those words out and thanks for the comment!


Serena November 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Haha, yeah I kind of venerate my subconscious and do whatever my subconscious says. XD Which might sound very strange to nonwriters, because they may not understand the benefits of letting your unconscious side come up with the ideas, and how CONSCIOUSLY coming up with stuff often yields lower quality stuff–at the very least, anything conscious tends to be of poorer quality for me.

Psychology! It is indeed a popular subject, and I do major in it—actually I double major in both psych and English lit, woo hoo! I’m relentlessly attracted to writing, lol.

Just out of curiosity, what subject did you major in/ minor in, if you don’t mind telling me? (You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.)


Jami Gold November 20, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Hi Serena,

Exactly. I might consciously say “I need X type of scene here,” but my subconscious comes up with the details. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Teresa Robeson November 15, 2012 at 7:19 pm

I think I’m so clueless that I never found out what I learned during the 4 years I did NaNo (I only “won” 2 of those 4). :}

But you are rockin’ it, lady! Good for you!!

I like their new calendar widget…that might inspire me to do it next year. LOL!


Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Hi Teresa,

Yes, so how come you’re not doing it this year? Hmm? 🙂 I’m missing doing it with you. :-/
*sigh* Thanks for the comment anyway. LOL! 😉


Fiona Ingram November 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm

This is the first time I am participating and I decided to use my next historical romance (The Lady’s Revenge) as the guinea pig. It makes you really buckle down and write! Some days I have just scraped into the word count, other days (like yesterday) I doubled the word count. It is a really motivating experience. The annoying stuff is having to do all the things that demand attention, like shopping, laundry etc…. when one could be adding to that word count!!!!!


Jami Gold November 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Hi Fiona,

Those yellow days on my calendar ranged from about 800-1500 words, so I had a lot of days where I was close, but ran up against the midnight deadline. *sigh* Note to self: Don’t start so late. 🙂

Yes, I’d wanted to get laundry done and blog posts banked and all sorts of stuff taken care of ahead of time. *cough* None of that happened. 🙂 Good luck with those words and thanks for the comment!


Julie Glover November 16, 2012 at 6:20 am

Love the lessons you shared here. I also like that you don’t throw words on a page either! I know all of the advice about turning off the internal editor, but I can’t do that. I have to think about word choice sometimes, grammar, punctuation, etc., to feel good about where the WIP is going. That edit-as-you-go approach has never hindered me from writing, though, and I think that’s what’s important. Some people would obsess too much and need to just write, but I like taking a little more time. And, as you say, I can still hit the word count when I focus.


Jami Gold November 16, 2012 at 8:52 am

Hi Julie,

Yes, last night I did my first two word sprints of NaNo, and they still worked out because they were very emotional scenes and doing the word sprints forced me to write “raw”–not to mention get all that drama done and over with. 🙂 But even with those, I still went back and fixed grammar and word choices as I typed. (The ones I noticed anyway. 😉 ) I hit 980 words in the first hour and 927 words in the second hour.

Those are fantastic word counts for me, and I can’t imagine hitting the numbers like 1400-2400 words in an hour that some of my friends were doing. LOL! So I’m good, and I’ll take it. Thanks for the comment!


Gene Lempp November 16, 2012 at 1:25 pm

I would love to find a calendar app like that – widgitize! All the same, I’m pretty tough on myself already when it comes to writing times. One of those slow building disciplines.

I’d love to say I had “all” my blog posts prepped, but I have ended up writing all of my Designing ones since the beginning of November. All the same, the bit of prep has helped free my up to read a few extra blogs (smiles).

You are doing fantastic, Jami – which comes as no surprise to me 🙂

Keep it up!


Jami Gold November 16, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Hi Gene,

Yes, I tweeted to the NaNo folk yesterday about releasing the goal/calendar widget. I think we should all join in with the request. 🙂

Really? I’d have guessed your Designing posts were the ones done in advance. They seem like a lot of work. In that case, super-mega-kudos for your word counts! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!


Jami's Tech Guy November 16, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Hi Jami (and all),

Congrats on all your Nano successes!!! While I ponder the details of a calendar widget, I have some random NaNo thoughts.

There needs to be an official NaNo greeting. My first thought was “May all your days be green!” which Jami liked. However, I prefer “May the words be ever in your favor!”

And it’s a good thing NaNo is in November. Were it in December, and well, if I wrote, -I’d- find myself tempted to write 1666+ words one day and 0 words the next so I could have my NaNo calendar be a very Christmassy Green/Red pattern.

-Jay (Proof that writers haven’t cornered the insanity market)


Jami Gold November 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm

Hi Tech Guy,

I’m not going to celebrate until I finish this thing, but thanks! 🙂

Ooo, I like both of those, along with your December theme colors. LOL! Thanks for the laugh and the comment!


Angela Quarles November 17, 2012 at 6:33 am

Great points all! It tallies with what I’ve discovered about myself–this is my third year doing NaNo. What I’ve learned this year is interesting though. This is my first year doing it after doing Candice Havens Fast Draft where I wrote more than NaNo in 14 days, so going in I wanted to experiment and see if I could do NaNo without interrupting my normal life (seeing friends, watching TV, etc). Unlike FastDraft though, I didn’t have my turning points and beats figured out. I also started one day late because I wasn’t sure if I was participating or not. Well, things went fine for the first 5 days, but then I realized I didn’t know what the heck was happening. So then, due to the confidence I’d gained in FastDraft as far as my output, I took 4 days off to brainstorm plot and characters knowing I’d still be on track for finishing because I knew I could output 3500-4000/day if I really had to. But as it was, when I picked back up, the little counter said I only needed to do 1900/day which I knew I could do easily.

The last time I did NaNo, which was for MUCH LOVE BREECHES in 2010, I freaked out when I had to skip one whole day to figure out where I was stuck (that one I pantsed). This time I had more confidence. Last time I was also sick for about a week and a half, but found I could still write no matter how I was feeling or what mood I was in…

And so far, I’m still going out with friends and catching my episodes of Castle, etc.


Jami Gold November 17, 2012 at 9:46 am

Hi Angela,

Oh! Thank you for chiming in on NaNo vs. Fast Drafting! I was hoping someone would. 🙂

“I wanted to … see if I could do NaNo without interrupting my normal life (seeing friends, watching TV, etc).”

Yes, that’s been my goal with NaNo as well. I was prepared to cocoon if need be to catch up, but I wanted to see what kind of word counts I could get with my normal schedule. So far, other than a few nights of going to bed at midnight (so I can get more words in before the cut off) rather than 11 p.m., I haven’t done anything differently–and I’m ahead of the NaNo word count. So if all I was aiming for was the NaNo 50K, I wouldn’t even need to stay up late. It’s good to know that I could write a whole book (85K or so) in 6 weeks without changing my habits. We even have clean dishes and laundry in the house. LOL! Thanks for the comment!


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