Tuesday Toss-Up

Fattening Up Your Word Count for NaNoWriMo

Is it Cheating to Use Tricks to Get to 50K?

Scaredy Cat
I have to write how many words a day?!

50,000 words in 30ish days. That’s the NaNoWriMo goal and it breaks down to about 1667 words a day.

For some, word counts in the thousands a day is routine. For others (*cough cough* like me), this is no small feat.

Prior to NaNo, I averaged about 5-600 words a day. 750 was a pretty good day. And 100o was cause for a parade and statue erected in my honor (in my head, anyway).

Of course, I was also hand writing all those words. So that may have played a big part.

Coming up on November, the idea of hitting 1667 daily was nothing short of terrifying.

But then I remembered reading a post on padding your word count for NaNoWriMo and 750Words.com. At the time, I ignored the advice. Sounded like a good idea but I didn’t think I needed it.

And I didn’t need it for 750 words but for 1600-2K?


Right here, it might help to tell you a little about my writing style. I tend to write sparely and flesh out the work in revisions. Even then, I favor lean-ish writing (for my fiction, anyway) in the finished product and I hate to have to clip out a bunch of nonsense to get there.

Lean won’t cut it for NaNo.

Dancing Cat
I’m a m-model and you know what I mean…

My word count has got to get fat. Fast.

fat cat
Oh yeah, baby. There’s so much of me to love.

Except, how could I possibly use sneaky, dirty tricks for reaching 50K? That’s cheating, right?

Still, I was willing to give it a try. After all, NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality.

Quality is for rewrites.

I picked three tricks and settled into my first day. 2400+ words later, I was sold on word count tricks.

The idea that I had a little help with word count  eased my anxiety about writing.

Take that, inner critic.

And, it put a gag on my inner editor.  Putting in material I know I’ll cut out later actually made me feel free to just write whatever popped into my head. I can just cut it out later too, I told myself. It worked like magic. My inner editor was too busy gaping at all those ridiculous tricks to pay attention to the story experimentation.

Yet another unexpected benefit of all word count obesity was deep insight into my story. As I piled on the description, inner monologue and musings, I started to see connections between the characters that I hadn’t seen before. I found backstory that sizzled. I even discovered a couple of new characters who brought with them suitcases fully of subplot possibilities.

In short, those word count tricks which were just intended to soften the blow of 1667 words a day actually made me write completely non-tricked out words. And the more I write, the less heavily I’m relying on the tricks because the story’s starting to flow all by itself.

Here are my favorite word count tricks so far:

  • No contractions: Do not instead of don’t. She is instead of she’s. And so on. You get two words instead of one. This is likely to lead to relatively smaller gains but sometimes even one extra word makes a huge difference. I only use this one in narrative. When I tried it with dialogue (except for some of my more uptight characters), it came off sounding too stiff and killed the flow.  Word Count Calorie Rating: Fun Size Milky Way.
  • Always use full names, titles, etc: If your character’s name is Bucky Ball, make sure you always refer to him as Bucky Ball and not just Bucky. You can also add a title such as Bucky Ball, Ruler of the Known Universe and Prince of Underpants. Or you can go with a genealogy element: Bucky Ball, son of Basket and Base Ball. This can lead to substantial gains, depending on how often you mention characters by name. Again, I only use this in narrative as it feels way to heavy in dialogue. Word Count Calorie Rating: Hot Fudge Sundae.
  • Loads of description, inner monologues, musings, etc: Describe everything, from what people look like to what they’re wearing. Describe every detail of the location. Make the characters do a lot of thinking and soul-searching. Have them ramble to themselves and each other about the situation. Potentially massive gains plus the chance to realize new aspects of your story. I use more or less of this depending on how fast the scene is coming to me. Word Count Calorie Rating: Two Extra Large Doughnut Burger Combos with  Extra Cheese, Super Size Soft Drink and a Hot Fudge Sundae.
donut burger
Nom nom nom.

Here are more word count fattening ideas from around the web:

Do you pad your word count or is that cheating? What are your favorite tricks?

Image Attribution (In Order of Appearance):
Cat (05) – 20Jul10, Phaistos (Grece) by philippe leroyer, on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Dancepuss by brandoncripps, on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Fat Cat Moe by Dan Perry, on Flickr CC BY 2.0
Hostage by Scott Joseph, on Flickr  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Miami-Dade Fair 10 by Bob B. Brown, on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

16 thoughts on “Fattening Up Your Word Count for NaNoWriMo

  1. Just in time! I have too many contractions–I am sure of it. Seriously though, these are great ideas. When I’m writing fast I tend to leave off even the slightest of details–no one’s wearing clothes, no one’s standing in a specific spot, rooms are only detailed by dining room or bedroom etc.

    So, in a way, I need to slow down just a little bit to bulk up my word count!

  2. These are great ideas, but the main way I get extra words (and often leave them as they are) is to give Chapter titles, long and descriptive. For instance, the title of my first chapter is “You Never Think It is Going to Be You.” That’s nine extra words 🙂

  3. I LOVE this post and am going to relay it on my facebook page for my writer friends who are Nano-ing it to this month. I’m taking a pass this year, but good for you!

  4. Perfect timing on this post. I was just realizing that I was writing with almost no detail. (Yes, I think it’s because I’m writing fast.) I’ll be taking that 3rd tip to the keyboard.

    It’s weird how different this kind of writing feels, isn’t it?

  5. Good advice! My favourite is definitely inner monologues. Got a fair few of those popping up. I also write in long hand then type it up. I seem to be able to add an extra 500 words when the writing goes digital.

  6. A trick I used last year was the Unnecessarily Long Winded But Curiously Descriptive Placeholder Name For The Things And Places For Which I Couldn’t Immediately Think Of Names.

    Also, after that last picture, my main character is hungry and headed to a fast food joint. There’s a few hundred words in that doughnut burger, at least.

    1. LOL. I love that. I have a few place names that I couldn’t think of right off the bat. I’ll have to try out that technique. Yeah, that burger made me hungry too and my characters. Unfortunately, doughnut burgers are somewhat hard to come by in a zombie apocalypse. LOL

  7. Hi Sonia. First, let me say I like the design of your blog, before I get carried away :).

    Second, uhm, reading about the NaNoWriMo left me somehow wordless. Quantity wins? Even if it would be a bunch of nonsense? Okkk.

    I take in any case the No Contractions, because it’s proper writing after all. Except in dialogues and short communications, such as blogging, e-mails, etc. which are actually dialogues. Speaking is different from writing. However, I wouldn’t write a business letter or a formal e-mail with contractions.

    As for the other two, good ideas even though I am surprised about the whole NaNoWriMo thing. I had a different (probably wrong) impression of what it meant :).

    1. Weeeeelllll, I personally wouldn’t recommend padding with total nonsense. It would sorta defeat the purpose. Although, if it gets you unstuck so you can keep writing the novel, then it isn’t a bad idea either. So far, I think what word count “padding” does is really keep your momentum going or get it going when it’s flat lined. And lots of the extra stuff I’ve written so far has actually added to the story. I may not keep exactly what I wrote, but I ended up with great new scene possibilities for down the road and new characters.

      If the word count tricks really do their work properly, we should end up with more story than we would have written otherwise. And this may mostly be true for those of us that tend to write somewhat scrawny first drafts. 😀

      Thank you for the compliment!

  8. @Amy: LOL. That’s how I usually am.

    @Sandra: I love the idea of long chapter titles too. I bet they could potentially provide jumping off points for new ideas too.

    @Pam: Thanks! These little “tricks” are definitely helping me. At the very least, they’re helping me relax enough about word count to just write.

    @Renae: Sure does. And I never realized how much I could be missing, story wise, by skipping the description. I got two new characters out of it so far and a few possible subplots. 😀

  9. I’ve never padded my word count like you talk about here, on the other hand this year I’m a nano rebel in that I’m writing about whatever comes to mind rather than writing a novel.

    Even with rambling and writing posts, reviews, and other things, I am finding that I am still below my daily counts.I will keep in mind some of the suggestions you made here as I need all the help I can get.

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