NaNo What Now?

Finding your editing process, revising your NaNoWriMo book and building a writing career through publishing and beyond

Building a Writing Life

start a writing habit, find time to write, discover your process and commit to your writing dreams Non-Fiction

…in which Hillary makes her writing goals for the year even more complex than is necessary. And learns math.

by Feb 3, 2010My Writing, On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Word Count Updates and Writing Goals, Works in Progress2 comments

I start every sentence in this blog with “So.” I’m really trying to break myself of this habit. I tell you this because I desperately wanted to write “So” just then.

I kinda want to write “so” here as well. Gah! Understand that every sentence below that does not start with the word “so” took massive effort on my part. Also, apparently Peter Gabriel has an album called “so.” He and I are now in a feud.

A few days ago, I created this writing challenge for myself. Just about every writing book recommends writing at least 500 words a day so I took 365 days in a year and multiplied it by that 500 and realized that if you were to truly write 500 words a day every day all year, you would need to write 182,500 words total. Except that my math was totally wrong and NONE of you called me on it. (I’m looking at you, Katie.) I said it was 178K a year which is 356 times 500 instead of 365.

Damn you, constant habit of switching digits around!

So the internet thinks I cannot do basic multiplication. It’s fine.

(Damn it, I said “so”!!! It was going so well up until that point.)

182,500 is a large and scary number. But for some reason I work much better when I have a number based goal so I am embracing it. I like the idea of spreading it out over an entire year. This way, if I miss my 500 one day, I can always make it up. This is how I do NaNoWriMo so it’s like NaNo’s big brother. Yes, I know the point of the 500 words a day is to write every single day but, look, you live your life, I’ll live mine, OK?

Also, it gives me a chance to make another spreadsheet. I like making spreadsheets. You probably noticed this.

But this is a strange year for me because I have at least 3 revision projects to do this year (so far). I’ve been spending several hours a day these past two weeks rewriting which I said I wasn’t going to count. Even if I were to count rewriting, net word count after a series of edits is almost always negative as I trim things down so it wouldn’t help anyway. (I deleted that “so” seconds after I wrote it so it doesn’t count. The “so” in the middle doesn’t count either, it’s just at the start of sentences we are worried about.) The side effect of this is that I am working on writing a ton but my count hasn’t moved.

I reached the following conclusion. The point of this exercise/challenge thing is to give me a way to make sure I’m making writing a big enough part of my life so it’s counter-intuitive to “punish” editing and rewriting by not counting it in any way. If anything, revision is a more difficult form of writing and should count worth more. Not counting revisions makes me feel like I should neglect editing my work to focus on generating new content only and that isn’t helpful. (I only typed the “s” instead of the whole word before I caught myself. This shows growth!) I have, therefore, devised a system to include revisions in this self-challenge.

After much testing, I have determined that I can write 500 words in an average of 15 minutes (You: It only takes you 15 minutes and you’re belly aching. You can’t find 15 minutes a day to write every day, you lazy sot? Me: Leave me alone.) Assuming painfully slow going and writer’s block, let’s round that up to 30 minutes.

Editing and revising your work can’t be measured by word count but it can be measured by time. Let’s say you should edit for at least an hour a day. If you should write 500 words a day and should edit for an hour a day, then 1 hour of editing = 500, for the sake of argument, let’s call them points. Each hour of editing is 500 points. Each word you write (add to your word count) is 1 point.

Therefore, editing is basically twice as much work for half the credit. Fair in terms of work? No. But it reflects the amount of new writing going on in a revision, I think, since half is already there.

I like this system. It lets me “count” the work I do towards revision and editing on my own writing as well as the new writing I add. My only rule is that I can’t let it go more than 50/50, there always has to be more points from word count than anything else. This way I can be sure to add a bunch of new writing this year no matter what.

For now, I’m leaving the 182,500 goal intact because I have no idea how this is going to work and I am, naturally, making an elaborate spreadsheet that will calculate this stuff even if I only do 15 minutes of revision so I can get credit proportionally. So the goal is to do as much as possible and if that original goal seems silly, we’ll up it. But we will not down it, damn it, because that is not what we do! We take on ridiculous challenges and we leave them ridiculous!

Yes, I am a bit insane. Yes, I am making this more complicated than it needs to be. But I like having a goal that I can picture and numbers make it easier for me so, heck, I’m doing it, darn it. This idea makes sense to me so whether it makes sense to you or not is not my concern. 😉

So I will now be posting “counts” that are either just word count or are a combo of revision and word count which I will call Writing Mojo. So this whole post was basically to help you understand the difference when I update my progress.

I totally did another “so” up there, didn’t I?

My current word count is at 5,797 for the year but my writing mojo count is at 9,672! Either way, it’s progress!

5% is more like it! Now this system feels a little more logical, if you will.


  1. Katie B.

    Haha — I didn't catch the math error!

    I wish you the best of luck with your writing goal! The last 3 years I was in grad school, I made a rule to write for 15 minutes each day. Of course my writing was non-fiction and often ended up involving crazy/random musings and thoughts that eventually would either turn into a new project idea or end up as nothing but crazy scientist ideas. Sometimes it even ended up being rants to myself about grad school or the craziness of the dissertation process. If I was lucky it ended up being usable paragraphs for publications or my dissertation. But in any case, it was a great habit and truthfully I would like to get back into doing that again, even if just for a journaling-type goal.

  2. Hillary

    I write every day between all the fool blogs I write for, but I told myself I can't count any of that, otherwise the 500 wouldn't be so bad.

    If nothing else, realizing it really only takes 10 minutes to write 500 words makes me want to push myself a bit more.



  1. Hillary » Looking back on past writing goals and tweaking them for the future - [...] That’s why I started the word count goal last year. I started last year with the goal of writing…
  2. Hillary » Looking back on past writing goals and tweaking them for the future - [...] That’s why I started the word count goal last year. I started last year with the goal of writing…

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Hillary DePiano is a playwright, fiction and non-fiction writer who loves writing of all kinds except for writing bios like this.


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