In the Spirit of NaNoWrimo - My Personal Challenge Summary

In October, I mentioned that I was planning to take on a personal ‘off-the-books’ NaNoWriMo challenge during November 2018. Official participants attempt to write at least 50,000 words over thirty days.

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Less than 20% of participants finish the 50,000 words. Wanting to write is easy. Actual writing is hard.

For 2018, in concert with the NaNoWriMo calendar, I decided to commit to the same amount of hours it would require to reach 50,000 words if I were officially participating.

I’m editing/rewriting a manuscript at present and didn’t want to start a new project, so I thought a writing time goal would be a good substitute for using words produced.

I’ve successfully completed a couple of official NaNoWriMo challenges before, so I used past experience as a guide. So how did I set my personal target of hours at the keyboard?

Dictation significantly increases productivity. The main difference between my approach and the average participant’s is that I use dictation almost exclusively rather than typing. And I’m very experienced with it since I’ve been using the industry leader Dragon NaturallySpeaking software for more than ten years. It allows for many more words written per hour than typing at the keyboard. I can literally take a prepared scene sheet with the story beats laid out in reasonable detail and dictate a chapter in half the time it would take me to type it. I also find that dictation short circuits the negative critical voice that gets in the way of a first draft. Just looking at the scene sheet and riffing out the chapter without watching the screen is a great way to get ideas down quickly that you can then carve into something worthwhile. First drafts are just that.

A good typist who comes into NaNoWriMo with a well thought out and organized story concept (including a rough outline containing the major scene-by-scene beats) conceivably might average 40 words a minute (2,400 words per hour) of first draft material. At 40 words a minute, the 50,000 word goal would require only 20.8 hours of work. Using dictation, I can easily double or even triple the typist’s average rate. Assuming that I dictate at 100 words per minute, the 50,000 words would only take 8.3 hours!

Sounds easy, no?

No. Because even if you’re organized, you still have to think about what you’re writing as you go along and making the necessary tweaks. No one is going to consistently produce decent copy at anywhere near the speeds noted above. Assuming you actually want to create the beginnings of a decent novel (50,000 words is well under the length of most commercially successful novels so it represents just part of a completed manuscript), you’d be happy if you were able to consistently write 500 - 700 words an hour.

There aren’t any official figures available since the focus is on words and not hours, but I’d bet that most NaNoWrimo winners don’t average more than 700 words per hour which would require about 71 hours to complete the 50,000 words.

Arbitrarily, since I dictate and would be well organized, I assumed I could produce a target of 1,000 first draft quality words per hour requiring 50 hours over the course of the month. To reflect reality, I added an extra 10 hours for good measure. So my target for November was 60 hours at the keyboard. Research and brainstorming not included.

Summary of results:
1. Days (out of 30 possible) at the keyboard: 26 (four missed due to illness).
2. Hours actually at the keyboard: 68.3 total, 2.6 hours average per actual writing day.

Did I achieve my 60 hour target? Yes, even when I lost four full days. So I’d be a third time NaNoWriMo winner without doubt.

But let’s talk about the real world. My professional writing coach recommends writing four to six hours on average per day if you want to produce professional level product with new books coming out at a reasonable pace (one per year). Using that standard, I fell more than an hour a day behind.

So that begs the question. Can I average four hours a day on writing days?

Unknown. That will require experimentation to answer. But I want to ramp up gradually to that target which is what I’ll do during December and January. I’ll target three hours per day and see what happens. If I feel that’s relatively easy, I’ll push to three and a half on good days. I have some doctor visits that also suck up time, so I’ll be lucky to get even three on those days. If the three and half hours is doable, I’ll go to four. My guess is that will really be a stretch since for specific health reasons I need to do heavy duty exercise for an hour every day. And that has to be scheduled early in the day.

I don’t write every day. Unlike NaNoWriMo month, I need at least one day a week where I don’t feel I have to write. Writing optional days for December: the 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 30th and 31st. Sundays are brainstorming days, although I usually log an hour or two of writing. December is also a holiday month which will take at least three days off my writing schedule.

During January, I’ll assume the 1st and all Sundays thereafter will be writing optional.

I will report progress at end of January. My realistic prediction: I’ll probably log a little over three hours most days of the week.