Friday, November 19, 2010

[NaNoWriMo] The Relative Values of Numbers

Sounds like the title of an Alexander McCall Smith book, doesn't it?

But no. It isn't a book about Isabel Dalhousie uncovering a massive banking fraud operation while musing on the ethics that go alongside her own personal wealth (MEMO to Alexander McCall Smith: I would totally read that). The relative values of numbers affect the lives of Nanowrimo participants in what Tony Blair might call a very real and meangingful way.

The scariest number of all, as every writer knows, is 0. When 0 appears on the word counter, that is a special kind of hell. You have nothing done. You have the advantage that you haven't messed anything up yet, but you know you will. You're a writer, and you know it's never as good on paper as it was in your head.

Once o is gone, Nanowrimo participants enter the most satisfying numerical period of the month. Sadly, it only lasts a week or so.

From 0 until about 5000, hundreds of words matter. You write 200 words, bring you from 600 to 800, and you are ecstatic. Hundreds really count, and 100 words doesn't take long at all. Every hundred is immeasurably satisfying. Tens have ceased to matter (there is no sense of achievement in getting from 230 to 280 compared to getting from 280 to 300) but it's OK, because you're racking up the hundreds and you are on fire.

Somewhere between 5000 and 10000, though, hell kicks in again. 100s start to look small and meaningless, just as tens did. Now it's all about the thousands. 12300 to 12800 is no achievement. That little 3, morphing into an 8, is dwarfed by the two numbers in front of it, which are stubbornly staying the same. 500 words (which, if you are aiming for 50k, is just under a third of your daily goal and is never to be sneezed at) suddenly looks like it is not worth doing.

Thousands are now where it's at. Less than 1000 is chicken-feed. You envy the writers who say 'I just did 300 words!' with joy in their voices. You will never write 300 words again. You will only write 30% of 1000.

Luckily, for most Wrimos, it stops there. With a daily target of 1667, you manage to jump three of the all-important digits in the thousand-column every two days. Most people recognise that for the awesome progress that it is, and grow used to that output. They keep plugging away and cross the finish line with a smile, usually a little early because they are calm.

Then there is me. I'm aiming for 75k and just broke 37k last night. I have just under half the book to go, and well under half the month.

And now only tens of thousands mean anything. Last night I was miffed that my daily total fell short of 40,000. Crossing from 36,999 to 37,000 - nothing. Even hitting the halfway point didn't help (partly because I'm behind schedule hitting it).

But the good news is, there is a cure for this form of number-fatigue. It is called Write Or Die.

Write or Die is most famous for playing an annoying noise at you if you stop typing for longer than a few seconds (so far I've had screeching cats, a car alarm and that 'ringringringringringringring BANANA PHONE!' ringtone from a couple of years ago. Not making this up). On 'Kamikaze' mode, it deletes what you've already written if you stop typing. Either way, it punishes you if you stop writing. But I don't think it's the punishment aspect that makes it great.

Before you start, it asks you to enter a target word count and duration. And suddenly, if you force yourself to do it a short enough timespan, 100 words becomes and achievement again! Last night I gave myself a deadline of one hour and a (very ambitious) target of 4,000 words, and did far less well than I usually do when I set myself three 20-minute challenges, or even two 30-minute challenges.

Lesson learned.

I'll close by suggesting a new slogan to Write or Die: Reclaim Your Relationship with Numbers!

Or perhaps not.

Part of the NaNoWriMo 2010 Blogchain


  1. What a numbers game it all is! And thanks for the link to Write or Die, it's just what I need.

  2. Hello Ellen. Thanks for the Write or Die link. All the best on your NaNo! I hope the number goes higher :)

  3. Write or Die sounds scary. It's probably exactly what I need!


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