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Monday, October 1, 2012

Focused Writing

Book in a Week (BIAW). National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). What do they have in common? A dedicated, focused time to write. I’ve read references to the two events, heard people talking about them but never tried them. Do they work?

Is it possible to write a book in a week? 50,000 words in a month? From the popularity of these two events, the concept seems to attract a lot of people. I wonder if it’s the idea of setting a goal and attempting to reach it. Earlier this year, I blogged about goal setting. When I set a goal, write down my intentions, I’m often successful. One thing I never tried until recently was tracking how many words I write each day. That was a revelation. I can tell at a glance my good days. Obviously, I can tell the bad ones, too. Worse, I have a record of the days when I let life interfere and didn’t write at all. Does it help to be accountable for the number of words you’ve written each day? I know I do better when I have something to shoot for.

One of the instructions for BIAW is not to reread what you’ve written. Just keep going forward. For people like me who do circular writing—write, go back, revise/add/delete, write, go back, etc.—BIAW would be difficult. At the same time, it would force me to keep moving the story forward. Sometimes, I can actually do that. When I’m “in the zone”, the words flow. So as not to stop the flow, I’ll write notes to myself instead of going back and “fixing” something. I noticed that’s one of the instructions for BIAW.

When I taught journaling to elementary kids, I told them the pencil couldn’t come off the paper. Even if they couldn’t think of something, they had to keep writing even if it was nonsense like “I can’t think of anything to write” until something came to them. One of the suggestions from BIAW for when you get stuck is to skip to the next scene. Just keep writing. Some of us linear thinkers would have a hard time writing out of sequence. Maybe that’s what we need to get us out of ruts.

Another suggestion from BIAW is to warn the family that you are going to do this. In a perfect world, our families support us. They don’t interrupt our writing time. They handle their own problems without us. Pardon me while I laugh. Oh, they mean well, but apparently you’re the only one who knows where the peanut butter/favorite shirt/homework is. You’re the only one who knows how to cook/do laundry/drive to soccer practice. Our families don’t mean to, but they can sabotage our writing. But what if it was only for a week? Would they treat us differently if they see we’re very serious about reaching a goal? If they can do it for a week, it might be possible to keep their support going.

To succeed with BIAW or NaNoWriMo, I would think you’d need a plan—besides the goal of a book or 50,000 words. I can drive fast on expressways (okay, within speed limits). Just because I can drive 2,000 miles in three days it doesn’t necessarily mean I go anywhere. Because of the interconnectivity of expressways in my state, I could conceivably drive 2,000 miles in giant circles and never leave Michigan. I need a map, directions and the place I want to reach. To utilize the BIAW or NaNoWriMo effectively it makes sense to have a rough plot, some structure. Otherwise, at the end of the week or month, you could have a lot of words, not necessarily a novel.

If indeed you write 50,000 words in a month, you could have the “bones” of a novel. You’ll need to go back and flesh it out—layer in characterization, setting, dialogue, whatever. But you would have a framework, which is more than you had before you started.

So, I’m curious. Have you ever attempted either BIAW or NaNoWriMo? What was your experience?

Tomorrow, I’ll be over at Krystal Shannan’s blog http://krystalshannan.blogspot.com  Stop by and say hi.

On Thursday, Florida author Alexa Grace will be my guest here.


  1. I like to guide myself with hours of writing, not word count. Granted, that doesn't always happen, but writing is so much more than word count. Revisions and editing are just as much a part of writing. Best of luck to you, Diane!
    -R.T. Wolfe

    1. Thanks for you comment, R.T. I think you're right about revisions & editing.

  2. I love the idea of turning the editor off. But I also like your map analogy. I'd have to have my map handy, I think, or I'd be tempted to drive in circles.

    I'm kind of doing an unofficial book in a month, just because of my own self-imposed deadline to get my newest finished, sent to an editor, edited, revised and uploaded before Christmas. (which is coming waaaay too soon)

    1. Good luck with your deadline, Mar. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  3. I've participated in the GRRWG's Winter Nano the last three years. We do it in January/February because as women with families, most of us aren't able to devote the time to write 50K during November. Each year I've managed to come out with a skeleton of a manuscript. One of them became Aegean Intrigue. And yes, the hardest part is turning off my inner editor. Skipping from chapter to chapter or scene to scene is normal for me. When I get bogged down, I skip to something else that's in my plot outline and start writing again.

    1. That is so great that it worked for you, Patty. That darn internal editor gets us all. :) Thanks for your comments.

  4. I have to do word count. My uncommitted goal (as of right now) for October is 50K. And yet, I haven't written a word yet. Need to get off the computer and into the document. Plan and map and petal to the metal.

    Great blog Diane.

  5. I've done NaNoWriMo every year since 2006. Haven't always won, but I have several times. I love it for actually achieving a reasonable amount of words. Without a word count goal, I tend to slack of way too much.

    I often have an idea in my head of where I want the novel to go, but nothing solid, and nothing written down. That's they way I write though, some people plan and some don't.

    I don't skip ahead though. I might sketch a scene without much detail, or summarise, but I find if I skip bits I tend to not want to come back and finish them off later!

  6. Thanks for commenting, Rinelle. It's good to know that the writing events do work. Like you, without a word count goal I tend to slack off.


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