If you’re new to “Summer’s Ultimate Novel,” click here to read the first post (listing ideas in a notebook), here to read the second (choosing the right idea), here to read the third (themes and one-line synopsis of your novel), here to read the fourth (one-paragraph synopsis), here to read the fifth (research and settings), here to read the sixth (character questions), here to read the seventh (character charts), or here to read the eighth (outlining). Whew! This is the last time I’m referencing all these posts, thank goodness, because this is the final preparation post for SUN. Less than a week until the novel-writing begins!
Today I need to talk about word count goals. If you’re a beginning writer, you may have little experience with counting words. When I was in high school, our English teacher assigned us five-paragraph essays; she never mentioned word counts that I remember. I took one creative writing class in college, and our professor usually described stories as “number of pages” rather than “number of words.” If writing for school or work, I wrote what someone told me to write. If dabbling in a short story for fun, I wrote when inspiration slapped me upside the head. I never kept track of the number of words in my notebook.
I didn’t care about daily word counts until I participated in National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write 50,000 words in one month (averaging 1667 words a day). After NaNoWriMo, word counts became the driving motivation of my first drafts. Why? Because now I don’t have anyone assigning me to write; I’m my own boss. On the other hand, I don’t have oodles of free time to meander through a manuscript only when inspiration strikes. If I’m serious about finishing a novel quickly, I must have discipline. And the easiest way to discipline myself is through daily word counts.
It’s not the only way … maybe some writers don’t pay attention to word count at all. Maybe their motivation is to just finish the book as quickly as possible. For me, that would be too vague of a goal. Then again, scheduling and organizing are fun for me, so who am I to talk.
But in this case, since you have one month to ideally finish the entire first draft of a novel, you must be organized, disciplined, motivated, and whatever else makes you write. Set goals for yourself, but also hire some cheerleaders for the month of July. Tell your trusted family and friends about your project; then they can hound you all month, and you’ll want to write more words just to impress them.
So let’s get technical. You know you need to set word count goals, but maybe you’re not sure how. The answer lies in what I said last Saturday: know what type of book you’re writing. MG, YA, adult? For MG, strive for 20,000-40,000 words; YA is 40,000-65,000. And since this is a first draft, the word count can be on the low end of that scale—you can always add more words in the second draft. So once you have a total word goal for the month, just divide that by 31 to get your daily word goal. I like my daily goals to be easy-to-add numbers, such as 1000, 1500, 2000. That way I can calculate in my head what my total word count should be by Day 5, etc.
You set your own personal goals based on your book and what you’re capable of writing every day. Haven’t a clue? Here’s an experiment that might help: sit down and practice writing your novel. Describe your story from the point of view of your protagonist (this is also a great exercise in “voice,” to help you work out any kinks before July 1st). Type for one hour, or two hours, or however long your daily free time is. At the end, use the word count tool on Word (or whatever software you’re using) to determine how many words you wrote. This might be a good estimate of how much you can write in a day. If you’re still unsure, just shoot for 1500 words a day. It’s an even number, and it might help you surpass 46,000 words by July 31st.
Something else you can try, if you want to: somewhere in your notebook, number the days of July down the side of your paper. Then list the expected word count next to each date (Day 1 = 1500, Day 2 = 3000, etc). Once you start writing, you can list your actual word count next to the goal (Day 1 = 1789, Day 2 = 3245, etc). Then you can see at a glance whether you’re ahead or behind your goal.
When I did NaNoWriMo, I wrote 50,000 words in one month … but that was only the first half of the novel. I wrote the beginning and middle but not the end. Don’t make my mistake. You want a completed first draft, even if you have to skip a few scenes in the process.
So I recommend having a chapter goal as well. Know how many chapters you want so you can schedule in all those chapters. Fifteen chapters = one chapter every two days. 31 chapters = one chapter per day. If you don’t get the chapter done in that amount of time, you just move on to the next chapter (maybe you’ll have time to go back to it at the end of July). This may sound crazy, but it’s a great way to keep your first draft moving. You won’t get bogged down by a tricky chapter or spend too much time on a really fun scene.
Chapter goals work better if you outline your chapters. Here’s the method I used for THE RIVER’S EDGE: I gave myself two days to write one chapter. I’d look at my outline to see the most important parts of that chapter. On the first day, I’d write the highlights of the chapter. The second day I’d go back and fill in details or add lesser scenes. Third day—starting anew with the next chapter.
Okay, this post is getting long, so I better wrap up with a final checklist:
1. Decide on your goals! Total word count, daily word count, and chapter goals—know them all by July 1st!
2. Practice writing a novel excerpt! Are you writing past tense or present tense? First person or third person perspective? Know your “voice.”
3. Plan to backup your novel! Backup your file EVERY DAY. The easiest way to do this (if you have a reliable email account) is to email the story to yourself every day. Another option is to get a USB flash drive. You just plug it in and save the newest version of your story. Some people keep the flash drive on a keychain or in a pocket—in case the house burns down. Just don’t lose your flash drive (yeah, Pat, I’m looking at you!).
4. Sign up for the SUN contest! June 30th is the last day to enter the contest, so leave me a comment before then! More details below.
5. Ask questions! If in doubt about anything, just ask me! And come back here every Saturday in July for pep talks and motivation! Good luck writing Summer’s Ultimate Novel!
SUN contest rules: Sign up for SUN—the deadline is midnight on June 30th. Then comment every Saturday in July to report your weekly word counts, and comment on August 1st with your final word count. It doesn’t matter if you fall short of your word count goals; it only matters that you try. Those people who sign up and comment consistently will be entered into a drawing. I don’t know yet what the prizes will be … books or Amazon gift cards or something. I don’t know yet how many prizes I’ll give away—it depends on how many people enter. Somebody will win something. How can you resist that, right? LOL.