How to Pace Yourself to Avoid “Word Count Burnout” | NaNo Talk 2015


When you’re just starting a new story, emotions and creativity are basically a colorful explosion of glitter and rainbows inside your head (sorry, it’s Monday, I had to reference something sparkly). You just want to write ALL THE WORDS TODAY RIGHT NOW LEGGOOOO!

I know. I’ve been there. Going on eight times now. NaNoWriMo does that to you. Run with your creativity while it’s fresh – do it! But also do what you can to avoid something I like to call “word count burnout” – that empty feeling you get when you accidentally write too many words in one sitting and can’t recover fast enough to keep up your momentum.

Here are a few tips.

First, just get to your daily word count goal.

Generally this is 1,667 words per day (NaNo even gives you a “words you must write today to finish on time” schedule). Whether you write 500 words at a time or are brave (or motivated) enough to crank it all out in one sitting, this should be your focus. The only one you’re racing against is yourself, unless you have a sprint partner, but that’s another story (hahaha novel puns). You choose whether writing is the first or last part of your day, or maybe for you it falls somewhere in-between.

When you hit that goal and you get to a point where you can stop, stand up and take a short break. Get a snack or go for a walk or something. Then come back and reevaluate.

Decide whether or not you want to keep going.

Especially the first few days of NaNo, you might feel really good about your new story. Like, really good. So good you write 2500 words in the first day (not that I know what that’s like or anything). Keep in mind, however, that this won’t be the case for 30 straight days. There’s the 30,000-word slump, which I’m convinced is absolutely a real thing. There’s Thanksgiving, for all my USA readers. There’s that day or two you just won’t feel like doing anything, especially writing. So do you give yourself a buffer, just in case, or try not to go overboard in the beginning?

Honestly, I always go overboard, but that’s not to say a small buffer, such as writing 2,000 words per day instead of 1,667, isn’t a good idea. I’d recommend it. I wouldn’t recommend writing too much in the beginning though. Yesterday I could have kept writing long past 2,500, but I stopped. Why? Because I woke up this morning SO PUMPED to keep writing, and I’m looking forward to it, and that’s the kind of feeling, especially in the beginning, you want to hold onto as long as you can.

A little burnout will happen to everyone, so don’t get discouraged.

There are a lot of things you can do to avoid frying the creative part of your brain, but you’re still going to feel the effects every once in awhile as you move through your story. Writing almost 2,000 words a day is a lot. It’s the same as writing four short blog posts a day or a short report for a class 30 days in a row. It’s a bit more creative and you can do whatever you want with it, but your brain can only handle so much. It will need a little rest here and there.

If there’s a day you’ve written only 300 words and just can’t go any further – stop. Let your brain have its rest. Everybody has their off day (or two, or seven). You will catch up, especially if you give yourself a break now. The closer it gets to the end, the more motivated you might be to write more. I wrote 8,000 words the day I finished my most recent book. Do I recommend that? Uh, no. But I gave myself a deadline on purpose, because I knew, no matter what, I was getting that thing done and putting it to bed.

So go hit your daily goal! I will too, after I write a paper for my marketing class. I’m debating whether or not to have my character write it, but she’s in high school, so having her write a graduate-level paper might not work out so well.

We’ll see.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and health. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist, Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

What Is the Ideal Length of a Novel?


Word count, while not the most pressing issue on a writer’s list of things to worry about, still matters. When you get to the revisions stage of novel-ing, it becomes less about “getting it done” and more about “getting it published.”

But how long is too long—or how short is too short? Is your word count off the charts (in a bad way) or exactly where it needs to be?

We turned to Writer’s Digest for answers to some of the questions you haven’t asked (but probably wanted to) about novel length. If you’re worried about running too long or not long enough, this might help.

What makes a novel a novel, length-wise? 

Short stories are less than 20,000 words, and novellas are between 20,000 and 50,000. Therefore, a novel is considered anything over 50,000 words, which is why National Novel Writing Month participants use 50K as their minimum word count goal during wrimos. 

So is it better to “pitch” a shorter or longer novel? 

The answer is actually much simpler than you probably thought. Think of it this way: the less you have to work with, the more work it will be to add more later. It’s much easier to trim than it is to extend—so in short (pun intended?), it’s better to write more and cut back on word count later.

On the business side of things, publishers are more likely to take a chance on a shorter novel compared to a longer one. You know, printing costs and all that.

Where do publishers draw the line? 

It depends on your genre. All you sci-fi and fantasy writers get a little bit more leeway when it comes to length. 100,000 words is safe here. Young adult authors should shoot for around 70,000, and adult fiction-ers can go far with anything between 80,000 and 100,000.

So basically, anything below 70,000 is usually pretty iffy.

Is it okay to focus so much on word count? 

In the revisions stage … maybe. Of course, the story is always going to be your main priority: an 80,000-word book won’t get you very far if it’s not a well-written one.

There are a lot of things you’ll have to discuss with your agent, or yourself, if you’re not going the traditional publishing route, and ways to make your book more sell-able will come up. Word count might be one of them, but remember, it’s much easier to downsize than it is to, well, the opposite.

For now, especially if you’re still in the writing stage, try not to worry too much. Focus on writing the best story you can write. The rest will all fall into place when the time comes.

To learn more about book length in general, click here.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

My First Day of Camp [NaNoWriMo] (Midweek Novel Update #7)


322 words.

That’s what stands between me and a successful first day of Camp NaNo, otherwise known as the month I, and many others, dare to write fearlessly. And continuously. Probably a bit recklessly.

Since the demise of July Novel Writing Month (RIP), I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if trying a different summer WriMo would be worth it. Some “experienced” writers apparently don’t see the value of cranking out a certain number of words in a fixed amount of time.

They’re entitled to their opinions. I have a close relationship and deep respect for WriMos (“writing months”). I first joined the NaNoWriMo community my sophomore year of high school. This November will be my eighth consecutive participation year, and hopefully my eighth win.

This month is technically my second round of Camp NaNo—if you were following me back in April, you know I hit a 10,000-word goal and had a pretty rough time doing so. But most of the completed works I can vouch for have come from WriMos. There’s something about the numbers game for me. It makes me pay more attention to my story and characters. It makes my brain feel, well, alive.

322 words. That’s all I need to write every day this month to hit my goal of 10,000 words. That’s not so bad. Fairly manageable, right?

A significantly lower mark than usual for me, though. Considering that one summer I wrote an 130,000-word novel in 14 days. According to my TimeHop this morning, I was passing 8,000 words already today, four years ago.

How did I do that?

Well, I was just an English major back then. I was home for the summer with no job or internship or classes. They yanked my wisdom teeth out. I was growing apart from my high school friends (as most post-freshmen do). I had a lot—a lot—of down time. And the words just kept coming.

It won’t be like that ever again, and honestly, that’s fine with me. This is the same book I’m still thinking about sending queries out for, by the way, which isn’t the worst idea—I wrote it fast, but my mind was on over-creative drive or something. I’ve gone back and read a few pages. It’s not terrible.

But I have other things to do now, besides write, which is why I picked up a second major and internships galore in the first place. I love writing, but not all day long. Besides, how can I help you figure out how to balance time, relationships, work, school, etc., and writing, if I don’t practice myself?

I’d love to crank out 50,000 words (or more) this month. But it’s just not necessary.

I’m looking forward to getting to know my cabin mates, something I didn’t take advantage of this past April (it was my first time “camping”—I don’t think I knew what cabins were). I’m looking forward to getting better at writing a little every day, and more than just a paragraph or two. It tends to be all-or-nothing for me. I want to work on that. I like having multiple goals.

I also want to continue posting here every day (June was successful, mainly because I haven’t had a job … it’s fine) and focus more on mainstream content rather than the plethora of blog posts you’ve been getting lately. It’s taken a little bit for my brain to recover from exam mode. I have a lot of ideas for posts in my notes app. As always, you’re welcome to suggest ideas, if there’s something about your writing process you want to improve this month (or any time).

Oh, I’m also participating in Problogger’s 31 Days of Building a Better Blog. If you’ve read our About page, you’ve probably noticed we know what we’re doing, but have yet to nail down a decent elevator pitch. Thanks to yesterday’s podcast, I’ll be updating that page shortly so you don’t have to sift through the fluff to figure out why we exist.


It’s going to be a good month. I have a goal of hitting 100 followers here, too, so if you like what we do and know someone else who might benefit, pass our posts along. I love writing, but even more than that, I love helping other people write better. Ideas aren’t hard to come by, but getting them on paper, well, is.

That’s not the elevator pitch. It’s being—ha—revised.

322 words. On top of everything else on my ever-growing to-do list. I can do that.

But first, let me publish a blog post.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Why Words Are Good For You … In Moderation


If you pay any attention to nutrition-related advice—and these days, who doesn’t?—the one phrase you’ve probably heard more than a dozen times is that anything is good in moderation. There are exceptions, of course; you should never eat paper, for example, even in moderation.

This often over-extended concept—which I’m allowed to weave into this blog post because (a) I majored in dietetics in college and (b) it’s my website and I can do whatever I want (within reason)—can easily be applied to any non-health-related subject you want. In this case, I’m going to apply it to writing, or more specifically, word count.

The Pros of Counting Words

Meaning, of course, the benefits, not word-counting experts, though if you consider yourself one, I’d love to have a nice quantity vs. quality chat over virtual coffee. Word counting is an excellent motivator, and in some instances can help you move past a creativity block.

The major benefit of word counting I like to highlight is that it helps writers practice trimming down their own work. I write for an online magazine; my editor gave me a challenge this semester to keep my word count on standard articles below 600 words. Was it hard at first? Absolutely. Did it teach me to be more critical of my work, constructively, and to take a few pages of writing full of adjectives and phrases I thought I needed but really didn’t? Absolutely.

In many cases, such as Wrimos, it’s healthy to crank out a lot of words, for the sole purpose of going back and editing later. But as you might guess, this can lead to problems.

Word Counting Cons 

Referring to the disadvantages, not one of many other meanings of the word: a noun meaning “something used deceptively to gain another’s confidence” (Merriam-Webster). Spending all your time counting words instead of tracking plot points, for example, is a con that derails many writers from projects they love, setting them back from deadlines and leaving them feeling grossly unfulfilled.

During NaNo, I skim the discussion boards and glance at participants’ word counts under their avatars. I’m always skeptical of high word counts (i.e., over 25,000 words) within the first week of November. Granted, the whole point is to race to the finish line, all based off your word count. I only hope writers understand that once November ends, it’s going to be a long, tedious editing marathon.

While it can be “fun” to sprint—in the world of “speed writing,” sprinting refers to cranking out a large amount of words in a specific, often short, amount of time—keep in mind you’re very rarely, if ever, going to write 1,000 words in less than 30 minutes that’s ready for the rest of the world to read. Rapid-fire writing will always lead to more editing time, which can be discouraging and even discrediting.

Finding Balance In the Math

It’s no secret that math and I do not get along. Numbers tend to freak me out, until I start using them to track my writing progress. For some, self-monitoring your work by making note of how much you’re writing is just the motivation needed to keep a schedule. Still, it’s easy to get carried away, and (here we go again) as with a healthy lifestyle, finding balance between quantity and quality is essential to any writer’s success.

When working on smaller projects, write the piece without worrying about word count. Many times you’ll start off thinking you won’t be able to meet a minimum, only to look down in the middle of your conclusion and realize you’re several hundred words over the limit. Writing without focusing on quantity helped you get your ideas out on the page. Now you can focus on quantity in a different way, cutting words you don’t need for the sake of quality.

Of course it’s healthy to write often, and there’s nothing wrong with using word count as a jump-starter when you’re desperate for a self-induced creative push. Always keep in the back of your mind that moderation is the ingredient to success in any form. As a writer, too many words really can hurt you. Balance word count with other means of tracking progress, which I’ll (hopefully) get to writing about soon, to keep yourself on track.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

Why You Should Never Give Up On Your Ideas (No Matter How Small)


This week we learned another Dr. Seuss book is on the way. Thank goodness he wrote it down, or the idea behind “What Pet Should I Get?” would have been lost forever.

Do you know what Dr. Seuss is most notorious for? Writing brilliant stories, with exceptional depth and purpose, using very few words.

In the very small writing community with which I am affiliated, I am notorious for writing large quantities of words, quickly and frequently, whenever I take on a new project. My likely-never-to-be-published novel, Queen Bee, is made up of about 130,000 words written across a time span of 14 consecutive days.

There may or may not have been a wisdom teeth extraction, and accompanying pain medication, to blame for this otherwise impossible feat. But you get the general idea.

If I’m normally so inclined to plow through a project at warp speed – not while taking prescription-only pain meds, mind you – why am I averaging about 100 words per day this month as I pour over a story only half-finished even in my own head? And why am I OKAY with this?

A lot of reasons, actually. The first being that it is February, and for the first time in a very long time, I’m in no rush to finish what I’ve started. Continue reading “Why You Should Never Give Up On Your Ideas (No Matter How Small)”

Tales of a Highly Caffeinated JulNoWriMo Enthusiast – Day 18

I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this tired. I also can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this free.

I’m not done with all of my classes yet (two more weeks – it will go by quick), but two of them are completely done and over with. This means I can focus more time on my internship, reading books for fun, and – of course – writing.

I’m extremely behind as far as word count goes, but I plan to spend a good portion of this weekend catching up. I love my characters and my story – I’ve just been swamped with a thousand other things. Like accounting. Which, if you really think about it, isn’t that hard. If you’re an organization enthusiast like myself, that is.

I think between running, school, sleep and anything else I can squeeze in-between, there’s only one thing that always seems to keep me going: possibilities. Where can my writing lead me in the future? What can it help me to achieve? I’m 20 years old and have no idea what I want to do with my life, but there are 50+ year-olds who don’t know what they want to do with their lives. I’m not worried. I’ve come to realize that the only thing you really can do if you have a dream is practice your passions, toss them out into the open, and wait for things to fall into place.


arrowWriting is something that energizes me. It helps me focus on something other than that homework assignment over there, or that test next week, or that tuition I have to hope my parents will continue to pay for (isn’t education fun?). Of all the things I do, it often seems to be the only thing I can sit down and do without stressing over it.

I’m not stressed about my low word count. I know I’ll get there.

I always have a good enough reason to try, anyway.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Tales of a Highly Caffeinated JulNoWriMo Enthusiast – Day 11

Have you ever thought about how much education kills trees? Take this afternoon, for example. I probably printed out over fifty pages of PowerPoints to bring to class with me so I can take notes during lecture without falling asleep (not because it’s boring, but because it’s been a long week and no amount of coffee could possibly fix this exhaustion).

Is it possible to have a “green” education? Yes. It’s called laptops and iPads.

Do I have an iPad? Not yet (but I will in a little over a month, thanks to the music department). And my Macbook Pro is a 17-inch, so lugging it all the way to class and back just isn’t ideal. I recycle bags full of paper left over from each semester I endure. It’s a sad fact, really.

3d recycle

The good thing about writing is, it’s not practical to do it on paper (for me, anyway). This mostly goes for full-length novels, of course – there’s nothing wrong with scribbling a poem on the back of a napkin, necessarily. I haven’t written out my stories since high school, and even then it was a pain to write it all out and then type it all up later (and I wonder why my GPA was so humiliatingly low).

If you’re keeping track of word count, Word and other programs are basically a necessity. Did they care about word count before computers? I don’t know. But I’m a much faster typer than I am hand-writer. And even though my micro professor just complimented me on my handwriting the other day (apocalypse is imminent), it’s not readable. It’s just not.

Writing is green – environmentally. I suppose you could make your font green, if you really wanted to – but why would you want to?

If there’s any literary significance, you win a prize.

Love&hugs, Meg<3