NaNoWriMo Tip: Beat the Word Count Trap

This tip is a weird one, and it’s the result of a recent discovery. Not long ago I purchased an Alphasmart after seeing other writers rave about it online. I’d always wanted to try one, but it wasn’t until this year that I decided to give it a go. I found a cheap one on Amazon, and when it arrived two days later I immediately headed to a local coffee shop to give my new toy a spin.

And I was shocked at how efficient I was. I wrote almost 2000 words in less than 50 minutes! I thought it might be a fluke, but a few days later I wrote over a thousand words in a short writing stint before bed. It got me thinking about why I was suddenly able to write so fast. Not only that it felt easier. I liked the pure writing aspect of an Alphasmart, but I’m able to focus when I need to just as I’m able to procrastinate when I shouldn’t. The ability to remove distractions wasn’t really a factor for me. No, what I was interested in was the actual experience of writing.

Normally at this point in the month, I’m exhausted with the story, and I just focus on hitting my daily word count, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the process so much harder. Sometimes the writing feels like pulling teeth – it’s slow and a struggle, and some days it takes hours to hit that 1667 words. Without realizing it, writing becomes all about the numbers and not the words. You become overly focused on how many words you are writing, and how much closer you are to that word count goal. It’s a habit which can be helpful for the newbie writer, but it can also be a dangerous one.

I knew I’d fallen back into this trap with Crystallia. I mentioned it yesterday – that I was focused on hitting the word count and not actually caring about what I wrote. I bought the Alphasmart as a way to combat that, and it worked. And I think it’s because I couldn’t see what I was writing. It has a very small screen and you can only see a handful of lines at a time. It didn’t feel like I had written much because I couldn’t see what I had written, and that pushed me to keep going. And the inability to check my word count meant one thing: I just had to keep writing.

Now I’m not going to tell you all to hunt down an Alphasmart to help you reach your word count goal, but I have a few suggestions that might help recreate the experience.

Super Large Font

This is an idea inspired by ilys, an online writing website where all you see is a single letter at a time. Open up your document, and make your font big. Not necessarily one letter at a time (though if you want to, you do you), but just big enough so you see only a few lines or a few words. And then start writing.

Bluetooth Keyboard

The beauty of a wireless keyboard is that you can turn around in your chair, or sit across the room and still write. You can also turn off your monitor, but that makes me a little nervous just because you don’t want to lose your writing if a window pops up without you noticing. The idea is to completely eliminate any indication of how much you’ve written.

White on White

A classic trick in the NaNo community, which is also very effective for keeping away that inner editor. You simply change your font colour to white. White text on a white background is invisible, so it’s that much harder to see how much you’ve written. Of course, you might still have a scroll bar on the side. You can try going full screen or minimizing the image and dragging the window over so it’s covered up by the edge of the screen.

And if like me, the total absence causes you more stress than calm, opt for a light grey – so barely visible you can hardly see it, but apparent enough that it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

A scrivener file zoomed in at 800%

Zoom In

Much like the super-big fonts, but if you use a cheap travel netbook like I do, it’s probably not going to be very forgiving when a single chapter takes a hundred pages. An alternative for lower spec machines is to zoom in. In programs like Scrivener, you can control how zoomed in you are and thus can make your font looks super big without having to change a thing. Also really handy if you don’t want to go back to change the font size.

Cover it Up

A lot of word processors display your word count. Scrivener immediately comes to mind, but I know that Google Docs has the same functionality. Seeing a word count ticking up is just as detrimental as watching the words appear on the page – it’s a mark of your progress, and it becomes the thing you fixate on. Heck, you might even be more focused on those numbers at the bottom of the page than you are on the document itself. See how backwards that sounds? Hide that word count tracker. Disable it. Cover it with a post-it. Put it out of your field of view and just write.

I know it’s hard. The middle of the month is the most brutal part of NaNoWriMo. But don’t forget that writing is supposed to be an enjoyable process as well. You’re creating a story! It’s hard work, but NaNoWriMo makes it too easy to make it all about the numbers. Take a step back, hide your progress. Don’t think about the numbers. Just write. You can do it!

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