NaNo: Word Wars

Now that my brain is rested and I can think more clearly, I wanted to expand a bit on something I said last night.

This year I haven’t been doing particularly well in word wars from a stand point of number of words written. That is, of course, until yesterday when I managed to reach that magic 1000+ words in fifteen minutes, something which was a pretty common occurrence for me in past years. Instead, this year I have been spending more time thinking before I actually put my fingers to the keys. Which has worked out well with the new style of word wars that the MLs in my areas have been doing.

Instead of focusing on who is writing the most words in a 10 or 15 minute period, my MLs have decided to use the new NaNo poster as an actual game board. You make your own word goal and then roll a set of dice to see how far you move. And if you don’t make your word goal, you take two steps back. When you get to the end you get a prize (a sticker or some candy). This way it leaves it up to the writer to challenge themselves to write more if they want while still making them focus on actually writing for the full time period. It also makes it so those that are handwriting, or are young writers or just slower typers can feel good about what they’ve accomplished during those timed sessions without having to compare their numbers to people around them.

Growing up around computers (i.e. I was typing my own name before I could actually draw the letters) means I’m a pretty speedy typer, especially when I’m just transcribing something (It also means I don’t exactly type correctly either, because some habits are hard to break when you’ve been doing them for 20+ years). However, when it comes to writing something fresh out of my brain, it usually slows down my 80+ wpm. Yesterday I was managing just under 69 wpm in that 15 minute word war, whereas in most of the other word wars I’ve done I was more around the 50 wpm range.

Now, there are some definite drawbacks from writing as fast as I was yesterday, the first being that it tends to flow along the lines of the stream-of-consciousness style, which is not something I go for in my work. The second is that most of what I do end up writing when I go for that kind of speed isn’t good. The third is that rather than letting my character speak for themselves, the fourth wall has a tendency to get broken. While I may end up using the characters mouth, the thoughts coming out aren’t really something they would ever say or even do for that matter. The fourth is that there is a great deal of repetitiveness. Instead of writing several different ideas and thoughts, I find myself repeating the same concepts and ideas in different words. This, however, also has a good side. I end up exploring different ways of saying things and I can pick the one that I like the best or that gets the point across the clearest.

There are also other good things that come out of this style of speeding writing. Most notably, it completely shuts out my inner editor, I just write and the only time the backspace key gets hit is if I’m correcting a misspelled word. Things that I would never have thought about before just happen because I’m not evaluating or calculating the next step afterward. Even if it gets cut when I go back and edit, it can spawn ideas for future stories and it helps me work through problems in the current story.

Sometimes I also learn new things about my characters. Hidden motivations can come out, their thoughts and fears appear. Rather then thinking and over-thinking about my characters, they can grow and expand in a more natural way. Rather than forcing them into one shape or another, their true character reveals itself. Though, during the edit phase you do really need to sit down and ask yourself if it works, if it is consistent and if it fits with the story.

I really try not to make it a habit to write like this anymore, but it can be a useful exercise every once in a while, especially if I am stuck in my writing. It’s basically just a timed free write in which I attempt to stay in character. It can also be very draining if I do it a lot. So, while word wars can be tons of fun and increase your word count by leaps and bounds, you may want to ask yourself if you want to focus more on creating a viable story or just on getting words down before the timer starts. Don’t be afraid to mix it up either cause if you are wanting to write something that you’ll be able to reuse later you may find that bits and pieces you’ve written during both styles of word waring to be useful.

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