Accountability to a diagonal line

Part of the attraction of the NaNoWriMo challenge is the vague sense of accountability it gives you. No one is looking over your shoulder to see what you have written, or slapping your hand with a ruler if you set aside your writing to check Facebook, but you still feel responsible (if only to a website) to get the work done.

You are encouraged to update your word count on the website every day to document your progress. The number is posted prominently on your page, along with stats like

  • How many words you should have written by now.
  • How far behind or (just imagine) ahead you are.
  • Your current daily word count average.
  • When you will finish at your current pace.
  • Number of words you need to write each day in order to finish in a month. 

But the biggest motivator for me was one of the simplest. The purple line.

The blue bars are your daily totals, and the purple line is where you need to be each day to reach 50,000 words in 30 days. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

As you can see on the graph, I put myself behind the 8-ball by writing absolutely nothing for the five days I was in Phoenix. At the worst, I was almost 8800 words, or five days behind. I had another non-productive day on the 17th, but over the next four days I was able to get in some extra work and reduced the deficit to around 5600 (or 3 days). I was still too far behind, but I was slowly clawing my way back.

Writing is definitely a rhythm thing for me, and motivation often follows momentum. But nothing focuses my energies like an approaching deadline. I found the simple, graphical representation of where I needed to be at all times more helpful than anything to keep me on track. It felt like I was almost physically reaching for the bar to pull myself back up.

Week three was somewhat of a mad scramble to get caught up, and the added pressure helped to muzzle the inner editor (a little). The words weren’t coming any easier, but it started to feel like the good to crappy ratio was getting a little better. Certain elements of the story were starting to come into focus, and there were moments when I would pick up and expand on something I wrote, seemingly at random, weeks earlier.

I still had a turning point and ending to work out, but chasing the purple line kept the story moving forward.

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