Low Impact NaNoWriMo

If you haven’t heard of it, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November. I’ve been taking part since 2009 and only three times reached the 50K goal. I don’t mind. It’s the thought that counts.

This year I changed my approach to NaNoWriMo, hoping to remove any remaining stress and end with a proper collection of rough draft words.

Here’s what I did:

The Word Count Challenge

When I try writing to the 50K challenge ⁠— even when I don’t achieve it ⁠— I create a needless pile of rotting word salad that I mostly throw away. My answer was to become a NaNo Rebel. I set an informal 25,000 word goal. NaNo Rebels call this a half NaNo; I call it a NaNella, short for National Novella Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo is a laid back challenge. The organizers don’t look askance at NaNo Rebels; they even provide an official NaNo Rebel badge us rebels can use to declare our defiance.

Don’t Look Back, Don’t Edit

I understand the essence of this advice: don’t delete; keep every word you write; they all count toward the 50K goal no matter how bad they are, and yet, I hate it. I need to fix obvious spelling, grammar, and bad word choices as I write. If I don’t, I feel  . . . dirty. I’m leaving behind a glaring, unnecessary mess that I will need to clean up before getting to the fun of revising.

I found a solution. I write with Ulysses, a Mac/iOS application. Ulysses has an easy-to-use tool for creating customized themes1: collections of colors and font styles showing the status of text. Is it a heading? (black and bold) A comment? (green, why not?) Is it marked for deletion? (strikethrough text, duh) And so on. Ulysses also has a library of user created themes to peruse. I found a theme called Prose Writer. It wasn’t colorful: all black, white, and gray, but eureka! Text marked for deletion is a slightly darker off-white than the page background. I could mark text for deletion without actually deleting it, and it would almost disappear into the background.

Nice. It’s much easier to track relevant text even while the deletions remain in place. This can, however, leave isolated snippets of that relevant text sitting in a sea of almost white.

I solved this with Ulysses’s document preview. Ulysses can open a window with a dynamic, constantly updating preview of the working document2. This preview ignores text marked for deletion, thus showing a cleaned up view. Arranging the working and preview windows side-by-side gives me an easy-to-read version of the developing text.

This is an ePub preview
This is an ePub preview

There was one last issue: Ulysses’s own word count ignores text marked for deletion. The whole reason for this was to include deletions in the NaNo word count. One more simple solution remained.

At the end of each NaNo day I bulk copied all the NaNo text and pasted it into iA Writer, another well-designed text editor3. iA Writer doesn’t recognize the custom Ulysses deleted text markup and thus counts all the text, deletions included.

Did It Work?

Yes. I didn’t quite make my NaNella goal, ending just short of 20K words. Of those, about 7K were good, rough draft text. I didn’t have to go through all of November’s work to delete the dross; I used the preview to extract the relevant text from the deletions, and I’m good to continue where NaNella left off. No stress; no wasted time.

  1. I am sure Ulysses is not alone in this.
  2. Again, I expect this is not unique to Ulysses.
  3. The font I use for Ulysses is iA Writer’s Duospace.

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