NaNoWriMo: Assessing Your Goals

November 14, 2017
Keri Horan
Riveted Editorial Board

We’re officially half-way through NaNoWriMo which, depending on your progress so far, can either be a relief or a nightmare. I’m definitely in the latter camp, which is why I thought it’d be a good time to check in and talk about realistic goals. For context, here’s my word count so far:

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As you can see, I did not get off to the strongest start. But! I am not discouraged. Even though I’ll have to hit it double time to make the 50k goal, I still think I can do it. And you know what? If I can’t and I only get 10,000 words, that’s still 10,000 more words than I had on October 31st. Either way, I consider myself a winner.

If you, like so many others I know doing NaNo this year, are having a hard time hitting your daily word count, let me be the first to give you permission to change your goals if you need to. It’s completely fine to lower your word count, switch between projects, or simply use this dedicated writing time to improve upon something you’ve already written. To be clear, I am not encouraging you to give up on NaNoWriMo. I’m saying if there’s one takeaway from NaNo, it should be: you write you.

So let’s take a look at some goals, and talk about how to reach them.

50,000 Words
This is, of course, the traditional goal of NaNoWriMo, and purists will decry anything less than that magic number. Julie, a member of the Riveted editorial board, says: “I’m still shooting for the 50,000, but only because I’m using this challenge as the time to play with part 2 of a story that I’ve been working on for a while (NaNo rebel status). I didn’t go in with an outline, so I’ve been spending this month generating ideas and learning more about the characters and meeting new ones as I go along. It’s all over the place, so the neat ending I thought I’d have by the end of NaNoWriMo probably won’t happen, but at least I’ll have a much better sense of what’s in store for these characters.”

Julie is using the word count to explore more about her characters without necessarily writing a cohesive story, and that’s a tactic many use for their long-term novel-writing goals. But I’m here to say if the 50,000 word goal working for you, you do not need to add more pressure to your life. Take a step back, get some perspective and realize you are doing an incredible thing. Writing a novel, or even part of a novel, is an incredible thing. If you’re on track to finish 50,000 words by the end of the month, I’m SO proud of you. If you aren’t, keep up the hard work but don’t you dare feel disappointed in yourself. No matter how many words you end up writing, you should end the month like:
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Any Other Word Count Goal
Last year, I met up with a writing partner who right off the bat was attempting to write 35,000 words. She knew she had a busy month coming up, and wanted to participate in the NaNo community, but knew there was no way she was going to hit 50,000 words. So she started working on a TV pilot (I know, I know, it’s not even a novel, and the word NOVEL is in the name of the competition! What is this blasphemy?). But by the end of the month, she had a draft of a TV show she’d been trying to write for months and she was really, really happy with it. She made NaNo work for her.
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Work Out a Framework
Finding the arc of your novel is absolutely a worthwhile goal and can often take longer than 30 days. The planner in me feels like I should have done a better job of outlining my novel, but at a certain point I couldn’t do any more research and just had to start writing. This isn’t always the most effective plan, though, because I came to a point in my writing where I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in, and I also ended up needing to go back and significantly revise. If you have the core idea of a story but aren’t quite ready to go for 50k, think about using your NaNo time to really think through your story’s plot.
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Figure Out That Ending

I’m in a pretty comfortable place with my story and my word count (NaNo aside), so this is my new goal for November. Realistically, I’m not going to have enough time in the next two weeks to write 45,000 words. But one thing I can do, one thing I really NEED to do, is figure out the ending to the novel I’ve been working on since June. I love these characters so much and I’ve already invested a lot of time into the novel, so I owe it to my characters and to myself to end this thing right. The next two weeks I’ll be sitting at my keyboard figuring out how to resolve my novel, and I will absolutely consider myself a winner.
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Write Out Your Characters’ Backstories
If you’re having trouble figuring out your story’s arc, think about at your characters. Why are they the way they are? What is their mission and why do they care enough about it to try to do it? What was their home like as a child? What are they trying to prove, and who are they trying to prove it to? In essence, your story is about what the person doing the thing is trying to do, and why they’re trying to do it. Spend some time really giving their objective and their motivation for achieving that objective a lot of thought. It’ll make everything so much easier when you do have time to sit down and write.
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Tara has decided she’d rather spend her time reworking the novel she started five years ago. She’s added and removed a lot of words to it, so her new word count for the month is a little murky. But her novel is something she’s been wanting to revise and finish for years, and it wasn’t until this NaNoWriMo that she made herself sit down and work on it. Sounds like a winner to me.
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Give Yourself an Extension
Sarah Jane realized she wasn’t going to be able to meet her initial goal, but instead of altering her word count, she decided to give herself an extension. What a brilliant editor move! “I am pretty behind in NaNo,” she said. “But I’ve decided to give myself a NaNo extension and aim for 50,000 words by 12/9. Because a finished novel is a finished novel, even if it’s a week late.”
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