Alright OAs, I need some help. What are your best tips for putting up those big numbers?
Find your most productive time slot. Time of day to write is good, but what I mean is amount of time. I tend to do good in 15 minute stretches. Enough not to burn out, enough to keep up a good pace. Then I take a five minute break and continue on with another 15. Yours might be five minute stretches, or even an hour. Find out where you are most productive.
Another is to put other things aside. Writing come first. I might want to play a video game, but I have to write first.
And finally, for me at least, I tend to outline. For longer works, that’s how I get my bigger numbers in, because I don’t get lost. I don’t need to outline for shorter pieces, but then I have to come up with ideas for enough shorter pieces to get the words.
I probably have other tips, but they are evading me right now. What do your current writing habits look like?
I also do 15 minute increments. I also find it helpful to keep track of how many increments i’ve done so that I can divide by four and see my hours. Plus then I get the satisfaction of marking off every fifteen minutes, which motivates me at least a bit.
During Nano I find that word crawls motivate me a ton, as do word sprints and wars.
In terms of setting aside time to write, I set a daily goal and nothing unnecessary gets to be done until the goal is met, including hobbies, chilling out, etc. But I make it reasonable.
Try to write every day. It really adds up.
In a similar vein: use little breaks or downtimes for writing. For example, I often write on the train to work. Again, it might not be much in a single sitting, but it does add up.
I try to get ahead early on. For some reason being ahead motivates me a lot to write even more and get even further ahead.
Use the first few days / the first weekend. Your idea still feels fresh and exciting, boring routine hasn’t started to slog things donw yet. Perfect time to get lots of words down.
Take breaks and allow yourself to recharge. This is very important, too. You’re faster, more concentrated and more creative after a little walk, a nap or whatever.
Develop a fix-this-later-attitude. Might not be the best writing habit (unless you actually fix it later, then it’s perfectly fine. Actually I find fixing certain things after letting them sit and simmer for a while and when coming back with fresh eyes much easier while still in the midst of it). That side character you can’t think a name of? Yeah, let’s call them [Name] for now. But for getting down words fast without letting anything stop you it’s perfect. Note: use a special character for these placeholders that doesn’t appear in your text to be able to find them via search function later. Mine are brackets, as you might have guessed. But xxx or anything similar does the trick just fine, too.
Break your goal down in smaller units. 100k, 200k or whatever your goal may be can look daunting. 5k a day maybe, too. But writing 500 words sounds nice and easy. Let’s focus on just that. Rinse and repeat a few times and those dauting 5k are done!
Last, but not least: try out new things and find out what works for you. Each writer is different and some stuff that works perfectly for me doesn’t work at all for others. The above stuff worked for me. But if you find anything of these utter rubbish feel free not to use them. (I would recommend trying out lots of stuff, though. Trying new things, be it genres, writing techniques, plotting/pantsing, sprints, crawls … keeps the writing process more fun and more interesting, thus more words ^^)
Alright so my OA numbers are a bit on the “smaller” side compared to what others in this group achieve, however I am pretty proud that I managed to do stuff like 50K in two weeks or 8K in a day - everything is possible!
My biggest motivation is to have friends who also write and motivate me. Talking about progress, challenging each other in sprints and crawls and meeting up and typing on always brings me words. Other than that I have to absolutely agree that writing every day and in a consistent shedule is the next best thing. Make time to write and try to let go of distractions when you write. Don’t look at chats or forums or youtube when it’s the 15 minutes that you have to type. You can take a break after you’ve written.
I’m also someone who works a lot better with a decent outline and planning done before starting work. Just remember that if there is some unplanned action or a scene which you dislike that you push through that. Rewriting is something for later, not for the first draft.
For me personally it also helps a lot to know what ending I want to write because if the characters have something to achieve and a goal to work towrads to then I absolutely want to bring them there! With a set ending in mind I can focus the story on actually getting there at some point.
I hope that some of these tips will help you figure out how to get those words written
I’m not on the top end of OAs either, but here’s what works for me:
For me, I have found that it’s good to do just a little most days (doesn’t have to be every day), so if I’m really tired after a long day of work, it’s okay to just do 10 minutes and be done. But when I DO have more time/energy, I find that if I do short sessions like 10-15 minutes, my breaks are longer than my writing time, so FOR ME, it’s better to go for long sessions when I have the time/energy. I have an hour-long playlist of what I call Halloween classical music on iTunes. I usually do 1-hour sessons on my free-er days and finish when the playlist is done. Sometimes I am not writing that whole time. I’ll pause the music to fill up on water or go to the bathroom or something, but I don’t do anything else (ESPECIALLY not internet) during the music, so I end up writing the full hour’s time, with very short (1-2 min.) breaks as needed. Then I’ll take a longer break in between sessions.
I do use placeholders and the fix-it-later mentality for a lot of things. There are times when I feel a scene just totally didn’t work. In those cases, I write [THIS SUCKS. STARTING OVER] and I will start the scene over. I keep both in because I don’t know 100% for sure that everything in the original needs to be tossed. Most times, I expect I will keep a little bit from each. Most of the time during first draft, I don’t trust myself to know what really is better, and dithering over this vs. that is a waste of time especially before I have reached the end, so I just write.
And some of the stuff I write, like huge paragraphs of exposition, I know I will delete, but I need to write it out for ME.
I like doing challenges. I used to like crawls, but many of them have too many short steps (see my first paragraph) because a lot of people like them, but they cause me to stop and take long breaks after each step even if it’s only 100 words or 5 min. or something, so I stopped doing them. But I like the bigger challenges, like the 5-hour challenge, the 1-hour word wars, and the special days (usually there’s a 10k Black Friday or Day One challenge).
Each project is different in terms of how much planning I’ve done. I find I need to know my characters and the world more than the plot, though I do often have an idea of the end. I’ve found that when I have too detailed an outline, I end up diverting from it sometime around the 1/4-mark and by the 1/2-mark it’s completely unusable, but sometimse I like doing that anyway because it’s fun.
Edit: Fixed a typo.
Agreed, should have thought of saying this. Even if you just write a little everyday, that adds up. More than having some huge days, I would just write every day. Have at least one 15 (or insert other time here) minute stretch of just writing. Don’t include time spent reading over other things and prep, make sure that time thing is only for the writing.
Like @RavenOFiernan I’m at the lower end of the OA but what works for me is (a) outline so that I know before I start a scene what is going to happen and, (b) chunk up the time I spend writing. I usually do 15 minute sprints and they work well but I’ve been doing slightly longer ones today and that’s been getting me about 600-odd words a go which is good. (Not to say that the work is good - it’s going to need an awful lot of editing/ re-writing and revising - but it gets the words down.)
Echoing the suggestions to use short sprints + breaks, and to try to write every day if at all possible. My self-talk on days when I’m tempted to skip usually sounds like “But I don’t have any good words to write today,” so I remind myself that the goal isn’t to make forward progress today – it’s to have less catching up to do tomorrow. For some reason, that helps me get started.
Unlike others, I absolutely cannot write in small pockets of time. I’ve tried, I’ve failed, I can’t. I know that I need to have a reasonably big block of time open to write because I loathe feeling interrupted and I would rather not start than risk interruption in the middle of a good flow, which I know isn’t rational. I may only write for fifteen of those minutes, but I need a long runway of flexible time ahead of me before I start, so I plan for places where I have two hours of flexible time. Doesn’t mean empty time, but places where I could make compromises if I had to or if the story really took off.
I give myself permission to talk my way through something. I count my “unstucking” words because when I don’t count them, I don’t write out my unstucking, and if I don’t write out my unstucking, I stay stuck. And honestly, a lot more of it than I expect ends up in the draft anyway because I usually find my groove again halfway through the explanation and lapse back into narrative. It’s irritating to clean up on the edit, but less irritating than staying stuck.
I have a spreadsheet that I fill in with my daily word counts every day, similar to the NaNo stats page but with some custom stuff too. I didn’t realize how motivating I find that! It’s really encouraging to look back on the month and see all of the effort accumulating over time.
I set monthly and annual goals and I track my progress toward them. I try to outline ahead of time or at least have a broad idea of what I’m writing. I try not to leave my stories alone for more than a day or two at a time or else I will lose track of them and they’ll grow cold on me.
And if I’m going to have a marathon day like today, I declare a specific goal for that day (e.g. today was 15k) and I set up a section on my spreadsheet for tracking my hourly totals toward that goal. I learned that from another OA a few years ago before I was an OA myself and it has made SUCH a difference in my marathon days! Instead of getting halfway through the day and going “Ugh, close enough,” I just keep writing toward the next milestone.
The smaller I break down the units of writing, the faster I write. For fiction, I like 15 minute chunks, which are roughly 900-1,000 words for me, followed by a 5 minute break (so I can do 3 of those per hour including the breaks). For essays, I aim for 1,000-2,000 words and I can usually write that in one to two sessions unless it’s a super dense topic. For longer non-fiction pieces, I’ve been experimenting with breaking it down into even smaller segments. My current non-fiction piece is broken into sections with 400 word goals and it is so satisfying to be able to blitz through them and tick them off my to-do list.
I color-code things so I can see which sections I’m working on that day, which allows me to have some productive tunnel vision.
I mind my caffeine levels and my blood sugar, because both of those will mess me up if I don’t.
I use 4theWords to motivate myself to keep writing because the quests are surprisingly motivating for me and I really enjoy the game.
I make notes to myself as I go when I’ve found something that needs to be fixed, because if I just change it midstream, I will confuse the crap out of myself. So I’ll make a note like (Fix this scene, this doesn’t sound like Pell’s voice at all, make sure that Saxony acts more independent and less meek, also Aeduen is a trapper and not a woodsman and apparently that is going to be plot relevant later so go back and fix that in the earlier sections). It doesn’t take long and it makes editing feel less like wading through a swamp.
On days when I can do more, I set aside a big chunk of time and write as much as I can. On days when I am slammed for time, I try to at least check in with my work. I find it easiest to write at night when I know I won’t be interrupted, but I’m trying to convince myself that writing in the morning is also an option. Trying. Slowly.
One word for me: spreadsheets. I have a good tracker that I use during November that puts a red box over my wordcount until it gets above 1,667. That makes me try and get at least the minimum words in each day, even if I’m super far ahead. While my OA might not necessarily be the number of words, I’ve reached 50k by (at least) the 12th during the past 4 years.
Other than that, I do use the “15 on/15 off” approach to force the words out on some days. That’s a 15 minute word war (even if its by myself) at the top and bottom of the hour, with a 15 minute break in between. Sometimes I forego the break if the momentum hits. Others have mentioned that they don’t allow themselves to do the “reward activities” until they’re done with their words for the day and I’m the same way. If I get away from the writing for the day, then it’s hard to get back into it. I also commit some of the earlier weekends (Saturdays, especially, as well as Veteran’s Day, which I get off from work) to do a “marathon” and write as much as possible. My most recent record is 15k in 8.5 hours, but I’ve consistently hit 10k+ days in the past as well.
Things I have found that work:
Spreadsheets - if you customise them for things you want, I found it did not take long to amend required formulas etc but macros are beyond me at present. With a little bit of internet searching and a bit of experimentation it doesn’t take long to find what you want and generally speaking excel or sheets can do what you want. Echoing @BMW_the_Author above, using the conditional formatting to mark the days where I have not hit the daily goal.
Graphs- one of the things I love about Nano is I get to see a daily graph and visualise my progress. I have only found one other site that managed to echo this in an excellent way. I usually export these from excel when I need to see them as they do bog excel down when I’m using it depending on the level of detail in my spreadsheet.
Rolling oars: Every Nano this seems to vary for me, but I like doing a sprint, then having a 5 min break then doing another of the same length tends to work. Lately for me this has been rolling 10s.
Oars: Just in general, oars are great fun. Set a timer, then write like the wind until you hear the timer go off.
Racing: I love racing other humans. When we have the faces chart, I find someone or I check in on it and see who is above me then write like fury to get ahead of them, then once I’ve left them behind I find another human and do the same while chasing down the ones that I know will write somewhere in the same range that I am aiming for.
Rolldowns: this is for my days where I have the entire day to write. I start with an hour, write for the full hour, take a 5-10 min break then I write for 55 mins, then another break and I write for 50 mins and on repeat until I’m down to 5 mins then a very decent break after that. It takes me 1 and a half Rolldowns give or take to get to 50k in a day depending on the project or what I’m writing.
Word Crawls: I do the same ones every year, and one day will get around to writing a hardcore OA version to go with the actual OA crawl. I like crawls that are quite gritty and hard going. I find that this helps and helps me plan my week (although stumbling upon the next step being an hour when there is 30 mins left in the day is extremely frustrating). For little crawls I am quite guilty of adding an extra 0 on the end, so if the step is 200 words, I just make it 2000.
Habit: Write every day, during Nano this is my main priority over taking care of my wrists which have been getting worse over the years. Experiment with other modes as well (but never try to train dictation software during Nano) - so that when your voice/wrists get sore you can take a break.
Breaks - they are important and should be taken often. If the wrists hurt, then time for a break.
Multiple projects: I always do one brand new minimum 50k project for Nano or for Camp. Always, but I always have back up projects once that one is finished. Although I do this slightly differently, I only have one project I’m working on at a time. Note that I don’t outline, everything is pantsed so if a project is not working I find an ending and move onto the next. I don’t go back and edit or anything as I go. When all else fails I go to fandom and write fanfiction.
If I am really particularly stuck or there are no bunnies nipping at my heels I will go and do a rewrite of something to help kick the muse into gear. This is slower paced for me as I am tidying up/noting things up as I go but it does help. For me I don’t count rewriting as editing as I’m just tidying up what was already there.
Background noise: I cannot write without it. I am always watching TV or listening to music when I write.
And I think that’s it? And wow this got longer than intended.
Oh yeah! I love my graphs. It gives me a good visual glance at where I am, where I need to be, and (important to the second point) where I used to be.
I do tend to—at a minimum—compete against myself and my previous years, which is where I also like adding conditional formatting to let me know if I’ve broken some personal record (fastest to a certain word count, largest word count in a single day, etc.) I did have a year where I wrote 123,456 in November because I had another Wrimo I was racing with, but often I find I’m the leader of the pack. Overall, though, I try and at least keep up with/beat my average, which is also represented in the aforementioned graph.
Also, 50k in a day? Wow. Kudos and “I’m not worthy” from over here. I think I calculated out my wpm last year with the help of the updated ChatNaNo sprint tool and realized I could do the 50k in 23 hours . . . I just don’t think my body could take it.
EDIT: I just realized I can actually add pictures in Discourse, so here’s a screenshot of my spreadsheet and its corollary graph . . .
Oh no, not if that 50k in 23 hours speed is your absolute top speed. Please don’t do that to yourself
I feel you on the “racing myself” part, but that tends to backfire when you’re having an off year. For real XD.
@BMW_the_Author I would not dare to race myself from previous years. There was one year I got to 808,808 and I seriously don’t think I could do that again. Or that may have been a camp. My wrists hated me for that.
I hope to do another 50k day again this year at some point but I never plan when I’m going to do those and the last few have just happened. I also have to plan the writing around work which is never fun. Workmates fortunately have been well informed that I am the most anti social human in the world during the month of November.
That spreadsheet is beautiful! Mine is not as together as that. I had to stop timing everything because I got truly obsessed with WPM so I now only calculate that when I am doing oars. I love the graphs. Do you have all your Nanos on that graph? Because it really looks like you do and that is an amazing idea!
Off years are not fun. Off years are the least fun thing in the world.
Last year was my fastest yet (9 days), but in general I just try and hit the average of all 9 years (the dashed gray line). No sense in killing myself
The graph shows all the NaNos I’ve done so far, but I already have it set up to track the books I’m planning on writing in the future (if you look at the dates, it currently goes out to 2025). I like seeing how my first three NaNos are certainly different curves from my second three and third three. Plus, the gray dashed line is a good visual reference that I can see bump up or down based on a day’s word count. But yeah, I’ve been tweaking that spreadsheet for probably a good six years now . . . which is why it has all the features it does (the mini progress bar for each day is one of my personal favorite touches via conditional formatting).
Things I haven’t seen come up:
Writing something that even lends itself to OAing: One of the reason I never OAd before last year was that everything I wrote was just like 50k-60k anyway. There is nothing wrong with that, but you just logistically won’t get high word counts in a month if your word count isn’t big at all. You can of course have multiple projects.
Warm up: This is a big one. Writing is a habit, so if you stone cold start writing in November, you will struggle. Warm up beforehand, or even better, just write (and edit) all year round. If you’re already good doing a bunch of words every day when November starts, it’s easier to up your daily for the month. Something that helps develop this kind of mental state is, in my opinion, also to keep writing in December for a while. If you drop your writing like a hot potato, you will fall out of habit at lightning speed. If you keep writing, it’ll be easier for you to write outside of NaNoWriMo and keep up the habit which in reverse makes writing in NaNoWriMo easier. If you only write during NaNo, you’re mentally seperating November from the rest of the year hard. I know this works just fine for some people, but I think it’s worth at least thinking about.
In that vein, your level of excitement for the project. If you hit it too early and wait, then you won’t have that rush to start and get all the words out. If you need to prepare and don’t ahead of time, you’ll be doing more research than not. Helps if you don’t really care when you get all of the words. I no longer wait to start a project for a NaNo month, I just do it. I prefer having all of the words when they come to me, not waiting for the proper month, only writing at a specific time… Other people need that structure for writing, let alone OAing, but that doesn’t work as much for me.
I agree about both of those. Granted, I was one of the “Nano-only” writers many times. I always planned to continue in December, but rarely did, and occasionally would get back to writing in the spring or summer, but many, many years I went where the only writing I ever did was Nano. And while I’ve pretty much OA-ed since the beginning, it HAS been easier the last couple of years where I have been writing all year round, even if not always on a specific project. Having a specified time when I always write is really useful to help with Nano.
I’m on the lower end of OA-ing, but what I do is chase my own numbers, at least past the first day. Reach the number of words neeed per day left, reach the 1667, try to beat the average number of words written. The first one gets easier for each day.
With me being a slow writer, I need 4-8 hours just to keep up with the par line, usually closer to 8. So the days I can get past 1667 in close to 4, I often try to push myself to still do close to 8 hours if I can, to build a buffer or increase it. So, maybe not so strange that I need to rest up after NaNo events.
Few things in NaNo impress me more than (very) slow writers OAing. I wish I had that level of focus!