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If you aim at nothing

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
~ Zig Ziglar

Aims.I didn’t win NaNoWriMo (again) this year.

I’m okay with that.

The first two years I participated in National Novel Writing Month—2010 and 2011—I won. It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but I managed it.

The last two times I attempted NaNo were a different story. In both cases, I was in the middle of editing another manuscript while trying to work on my 50K. It was probably unrealistic of me to expect that I even had a chance when I wasn’t going to be able to devote myself more fully to writing. So why bother?

Because it’s not really about the 50K for me, it’s about the push.

Sure, I didn’t make my goal, but I still wrote 37,735 words! I accomplished that even though I only wrote on 20 of the available 30 days, which gives me an average of about 1887 words per day. For me, that's a really good average. If I’d done that every day, I would have hit 50K three days ahead of schedule.

The main thing is that I now have almost 38,000 words that I didn’t have on November first.

Score! If I got nothing else out of NaNo, that would be plenty. But I always get more out of it.

Michael-Jordan-Picture-QuoteI’ve reminded myself that I can keep writing even when I think I can’t. Those times when I thought I didn’t have any words left, but I still needed to squeeze out 200 more (or ten more minutes), I somehow found a way to keep writing. Several times I got on a roll and kept going for significantly longer.

In fact, some of my best work came after I pushed through a block.

My most productive day was 4.5 hours of writing that yielded almost 3200 words. It’s easy to forget that I have the ability to tune everything else out and do that, then repeat the feat again the next day. It’s a capability I have to keep in mind if I’m going to be as prolific as I’d like.

Participating in NaNo is the annual adjustment I need to remember what’s really important (the writing), and how to make sure I get it done (turn off and tune out distractions, keep putting my rear in the chair until I’ve met my daily goal, push through the hard times, write even when I don’t think I have nothing to say).

The more I write, the more the ideas flow. Somehow I always forget that. I tend to get stuck in a story and want to dwell on the fix for days by brainstorming, making outlines, reading other people’s books… 😉 But if I just sit and write—maybe even another scene or just random notes and ideas—the solution comes. Every time.

The few minutes after I awake each day are more productive than ever when I’m writing consistently. They produce very few ideas when I’m in “brainstorming mode.”

So for me, it’s not about the 50K so much as the rejuvenation of my writing mind and soul, the cultivation of the habits that help me get the work done, and the increased output that is still a huge leap for me, even if I don’t “win.”

For me, that is a win.

Image credits:
Aims, By Youth Hostel (Own work) (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons
Quote, by

Go big or go home

Just like with my last MS, Counting on You, Slow Burn has ended up at around 65,000 words. Just the right size to cut it down to a 60K category romance that I can submit to Silhouette Romantic Suspense. Except, that was never my goal. From the outset, this was intended to be a single title.

There's nothing at all wrong with writing category books. Many, many of my favorite romance authors cut their teeth in that world and some still write for Harlequin or Silhouette while also pumping out single title books. In general, the writing in category books is just as high quality (sometimes better) as single titles, despite popular opinion by those who don't read them.

What they are, is shorter reads. They're books you can sit down and finish in a few hours. The plots are necessarily less complicated, but the development of the story and the characters is still there.

For me, there are two problems with switching my goal to category length.

  1. If the book is a category, there's only one market these days: Harlequin/Silhouette. If they don't want it, the book is toast.
  2. I want to pitch this MS to an agent at the conference this summer (and submit a query to several more), but if I cut it down to fit the category guidelines, I can't pitch it as a single title anymore, and there's no point in meeting with an agent.

I don't want to create two versions of this MS, and I feel like I need to keep pushing until I figure out how to create something big enough to meet the single title qualifications. As I work on my plot revisions, I'm torn between adding more words and cutting them.

In the end, I think I've decided to finish the changes and see where I end up, but I'm really hoping I can get it up to at least 70K. That will give me something I can pitch this summer and start sending out queries on.

I'm not trying to skip a step by bypassing the proving ground of category novels, but I have to go with my heart, and right now it wants me to push for a single title length book.

If that makes the road harder, then so be it. I have to be true to myself and my own dreams.

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Tech Tuesday: Tracking progress in Scrivener

For the foreseeable future, I'm devoting Tuesdays to writing technology topics, usually related to Scrivener. Today's post shows you several ways to track your writing progress. If you have any requests relating to Scrivener, or other technical writing-related topics, let me know.

NOTE: Word counts in Scrivener are based on whatever you have selected in Compile Manuscript (under the File menu). So, if you've been printing synopses, you'll need to go back and select the Text checkbox, and make sure all files you want to count are selected.

My favorite tool for tracking my progress is the Project Targets box located under View, Statistics, Show Project Targets.

You can enter the overall target amount (in this case 80,000 words), and a target for each session. The session count is reset every time you close and reopen Scrivener, or when you press the reset button.

Until I found this, I was doing the math every day.

Another handy way to see how much you've written is the Project Statistics. This will show you total manuscript words, as well as the number of words in a selection of files. Use Shift+click to select a contiguous list of scenes or chapters (or Cmd+click for noncontiguous files), then click View, Statistics, Project Statistics.

What do I do with all of these numbers? Well, being the ANALyst that I am, I track my daily progress in a file called Productivity that I created under Resources section of the binder. It's just a text file where I include the date, final word count, net gain or loss, and any little notes to explain why I didn't hit 1000 words (revisions, etc). Maybe someday I'll even import it into Excel and make a pretty graph…

Happy tracking!

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

UPDATE 9/20/10: If you just want to count the words in a selection of text (say several paragraphs out of a whole file), right-click (or ctrl-click) on the selected text to see the word count at the bottom of the pop-up menu.

UPDATE 2/3/11: For updates to Project Targets in Scrivener 2.x, see Project Targets in Scrivener 2.x.

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