Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Using the NaNo Events to Go from Zero to 50K

When I posted the other day about hitting my Camp NaNoWriMo wordcount goal for April, I likened the experience to a "Couch to 5K" running program, but with words. That got me thinking that it wouldn't be that hard to use the Camp NaNo events to train for November's big event, using a similar training model. I'm sure I'm not the only person to think of this, but it was something I wanted to expand on a bit.

Let's say you've never written a novel, or perhaps you got away from writing and you want to get back at it. If you're like me, having a system, or gamifying the process in some way, helps keep you focused. So let's look at the time period from the first Camp NaNo event in April through the end of NaNoWriMo proper on November 30th. Our goal will be to start getting our word counts consistently higher, and using the Camp NaNo events as measuring sitcks.

For April's Camp NaNoWriMo event, we set our word count goal at 18,000 words. Now, you will hear different things from different sources, but most people can agree that 18K fits within the smaller end of "novella" category. But whether you think of it as a novella or just a good-sized short story, it's a nice chunk of words nonetheless. So, here's how we achieve that goal over the 30-day period of April:

Camp NaNoWriMo--April
Days 1-15: 500 words per day
Days 16-30: 700 words per day
Total words: 18,000

Now, we could break it down even more to begin with 250 words a day, and then go up incrementally, but I think that's over-complicating things. The fact is that if you can write 500 words per day for a two-week period, you will have hit a groove and will already be drifting into the 700 range. Maintaining that for the next couple weeks (and exceeding it on several occasions), will be a very reachable goal, and will give you a lot of positive momentum to build on.

For the months of May and June, you don't want to lose that momentum, but you also don't want to put too much pressure on yourself. So, here's your "word workout" plan for May and June:

May: 3 sprints a week of at least 500 words
June: 4 sprints a week of at least 500 words

These can be blog posts, part of a larger project--it doesn't matter. You just need to be writing at least three times a week. If you're breezing through the 500-word workouts, then shoot for 700 for the second month.

Now, let's move on to Camp NaNoWriMo in July. Our word count goal for this event will be 37,500 words. Here's how we do it:

Camp NaNoWriMo--July
Days 1-15: 1000 words per day
Days 16-30: 1500 words per day
Total words: 37,500

Again, these are minimums, so you may well come in over these numbers. This is very doable. By the end of the month, you'll have doubled your output from April's event, and you'll be well over halfway to your NaNoWriMo goal.

So, you've got August, September and October to stay in shape for the big event in November. Since we have three months to work with, you can vary things a bit to build more momentum going into November. You'll be working out four times a week instead of three, and the word counts will increase:

August: 4 sprints a week at 500 words or more
September: 4 sprints a week at 700 words or more
October: 4 sprints a week at 1000 words or more

Now, on to the main event--NaNoWriMo proper, and the 50,000 word goal. If you've been training up to this point, you will attack that number, not be afraid of it. Now, if you want to have a consistent number to shoot for the entire 30 days, 1667 is the number that will get you just over the 50K mark at the end of the month. A lot of people (myself included) set a goal of 2,000 words a day, because it gives you a little breathing room, especially if you fade a bit toward the end of the month, or miss a day here or there.

You don't have to start there, though, you can take the same approach as you've taken to the last two events, and break the month in two, like this:

Days 1-15: 1600 words per day
Days 16-30: 1800 words per day
Total words: 51,000

Congratulations! You just won NaNoWriMo. Now before you start worrying about trying to hammer that first draft into an amazing novel that will set the world on fire, you need to rest. You've earned it.

NOTE: The numbers in this post are just my suggestions, and you should feel free to tweak them as much as you want. Please also note that you can put together a plan like this outside of the NaNo events too, so if you missed the April one, then maybe do July's and then use September as your second "event" month, using August and October as training months.