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On Determination: 6,000-word Days

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating for some context. I’m a 3-time NaNoWriMo winner (although last year’s probably deserves an asterisk, because I made up my own rules).

  • 2009: 51,242 words (spread across three books and a short story)
  • 2008: 60,080 words (Gods Tomorrow)
  • 2007: 121,958 words (Sleeping Kings: The Shepherd)

That’s quite a varied record. In my last article I talked about three different ways you can be behind in Week Two, and that list contains examples of all three.

In ’07 I started Week Two with 15k and ended it with 34k. That’s phenomenal, but I still felt like I was behind, because I was averaging 300 words a day less than I’d done in Week One.

In ’08 I started Week Two ahead of schedule and ended it several thousand words behind schedule, because I ran out of inspiration. It was heartbreaking.

Then in ’09 I was teaching my first college class and helping raise a new baby, and I had my worst first week ever. Week Two saw me struggling desperately just to get started.

Getting Caught Up

I’m not looking for sympathy. Hard to expect anything of the sort with my 2007 word count glowing up there. Instead, I’m trying to demonstrate a point that can be hard to accept: one way or another, everyone gets behind in Week Two.

So if you feel like you’re behind right now, if you’re wrestling with the thought of giving up, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re right where you’re supposed to be.

And now you’ve got a job to do:

Get caught up.

Every year I’ve felt behind in Week Two, and every year I’ve caught up. I always did it the same way, too, and when I read Chris Baty’s guide to NaNoWriMo just last summer, I discovered I was doing instinctively exactly what he recommends in his guide: 6k days.

Your 6k Day (Creative Writing Exercise)

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shopA 6k day is a day in which you write 6,000 words. Simple enough to grasp, and really not too hard to achieve. Chris points out that no matter where you are, one 6k day is going to move you a long way toward your goal.

Go check your current word count, whatever it is, and imagine how you’d feel if it were 6k higher. Nice, huh? It’s surprisingly attainable, too. Here’s how Chris recommends doing it:

  • Set aside several large blocks of time. Chris recommends using a Saturday, and giving yourself 3 hours between breakfast and lunch, 3 hours between lunch and dinner, and 3 hours after dinner.
  • Get away from all distractions, and just write. Maybe that means getting out of the house (or locking yourself in your office). It almost certainly means closing your web browser (or at least the non-Google Docs tabs). Turn off your phone for 3 hours at a time. The world can wait.
  • Write all-out for 40 minutes. If you catch yourself not-writing, make yourself write. Whether it’s helpful, whether it makes sense…doesn’t matter. Just type words that could possibly follow the last words on the page. Your goal is to spend every one of those 40 minutes writing.
  • Take a 20-minute break. Sit back. Look around. Stretch your arms and legs. Maybe even peek at the internet, but only for a few minutes. As soon as your 20 minutes are over, dive right back in with another 40 minute block.
  • Repeat three times, then break for lunch. When you come back, repeat the 3-hour set before dinner, and again afterward.

That gives you a total of two hours during each three-hour set that you’ll spend putting words on paper. If you can average 1,000 words per hour during that time (the writing time, not the breaks), you’re looking at a 6k day. That’s a pretty attainable goal for most writers, but if you find yourself going a little slower, you could extend those three-hour blocks to four, and add another two hours of real writing time to your day.

And even if you don’t quite manage 6k, a couple 5k days here and there are going to do wonders for your word count, too. It can be draining to dedicate a whole day to writing like this, and there aren’t going to be a lot of opportunities in any of our busy schedules, but do your best to make time — especially when you’re behind.

It’s an amazing way to get caught up, and you’ll be surprised how much you feel like a real writer when you finally crash at the end of one of these sprints.  In fact, be sure to brag a little. That’s exactly what Twitter’s for, right?

One Response to “On Determination: 6,000-word Days”

  1. John Soares says:

    Aaron, I admire you for tenacity with NaNoWriMo. I’ve only written a bit of fiction in my life, and it was a long, long time ago.

    Perhaps next year I’ll give this a go. One problem for me is that November is typically one of the busiest months for my freelance writing niche, and it’s hard to find even more time — and then want to spend it writing even more on the computer.