Every year, thousands upon thousands of writers dedicate the month of November to writing a full novel… except me.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term NaNoWriMo and you don’t know why they gather, it’s because writer’s set the goal of writing 50,000 words for a fiction novel in one month, specifically November.
The organization that puts it together makes clear distinctions about what it means to really finish NaNoWriMo. For instance all of your 50,000 words have to be written in November. While they say you don’t have to start a fresh manuscript per se, you would have to write an additional 50,000 words then in November.
I don’t write fiction very often anymore, and I honestly don’t really think a 200 page word goal is necessary (In fact, I don’t keep word count goals for my books), so NaNoWriMo isn’t a good fit for me in it’s simplest form.
While the organization that started and promotes this event does have a “NaNoWriMo Rebels Forum” for everyone not writing fiction and therefore (likely) not trying to keep to a 50,000 word count, most people don’t know about that forum. Plus, you only really qualify if you are writing fiction, and you write all 50,000 words.
Now, let me say that there are a ton of writers out there that having a goal of writing an intense amount of pages in a limited amount of days works for them.
If so, my theoretical hat is off to you.
I’m not here to denigrate NaNoWriMo or to say “don’t do it! You’re not a real writer if you do NaNoWriMo!”
What I am here to do is let you know that if you can’t seem to write, on average, 1,667 words a day (for all 30 days), and overall, you find yourself hitting walls, and unable to keep up with such a stringent timeline… Well then I’m here to say that you are still a writer!
There are 3 very big reasons why I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo, and I want to encourage you to skip it or know that it’s ok to do poorly at it as well if anything in the previous sentence applied to you.
1. I write almost every day, all year round
If you skip writing two days day a week (because you’re human and you need a break) during NaNoWriMo, you’d have to write 2,272 words for the other 22 days to finish by the end of the month.
For those of you wondering about how long that is, it’s about 9 double spaced pages a day.
That’s a gigantic amount of content to cover.
For me, burnout sets in around the middle of the second week. I can keep up an overwhelming practice for a few days, but eventually I’m going to drop off, because I can’t reasonably sustain it.
To me, it’s better to have a year round writing practice, not just for one month of the year.
I encourage my book coaching clients to create a practice that feels accomplishable almost every day, all year round.
For some clients, that means writing 500 words during the week, and then spending a little more time on it on the weekends.
For others, they focus on writing two new poems each and every day. (Sometimes poems are 500 words, but sometimes they’re 50! Sometimes they’re 15!)
And for others still, there aren’t word limits or goals, because that doesn’t help motivate them. Some it’s accomplishing certain sections of their book each week.
And that leads us to point number two.
2. 50,000 words aren’t a perfect fit for every book.
When I was in grad school, I ended up completing 2 bodies of work.
One was a hybrid of poetry and non-fiction/ memoir documentary writing about pipeline explosions in my hometown and my family history with them.
The second was a collection of flash fiction stories titled Female Bro, all about a 20 year old woman thinking she’s finding herself through some pretty shitty guy friends.
The first is 68 pages and 6,057 words.
The second is 48 pages and 12,781 words.
First of all, you’ll notice that they are two radically different amounts of pages based on the amount of words in them.
Second, they are full bodies of work without having to be anywhere near 50,000 words.
Poetry books can be full books, and be as little as 60 pages.
Chapbooks are books that are anywhere from, usually, 15-50 pages.
In other words, each are publishable at their lengths, and they aren’t anywhere near 50,000 words.
And if you don’t believe that fiction can be published by a large publishing house at a smaller amount of pages or words, here are the pages and word counts for 3 of my favorite classic books:
Word count: Approximately 30,657 words
Of Mice and Men
Word count: Approximately 29,666 words
Word count: Approximately 38,130 words
These types of fiction books are called novellas, and they don’t qualify for NaNoWriMo because of their page and word count.
But I would guess that Orwell, Steinbeck, and Camus wouldn’t give a damn about that.
3. Writing is a tortoises’ journey, not the hare’s
Another piece of information that I took from being in grad school is that writing a book takes a freaking long time.
There were colleagues of mine in school who had been working on their books for a few years before they came to school, and still hadn’t completed them before they left.
There were fellow writers who came in not knowing what they would work on, and took the next two years to shape and mold their book.
In general, we were workshopping our writing as we were building our books.
We were building our voices as authors.
We were voicing our opinions on writing and how it shaped us, and how it could shape others.
And all of that took time.
And again, I’ve got some more famous examples of writers who took a while to get through their first book.
Ernest Hemingway took one year to write The Old Man and the Sea and it’s 128 pages, and it was one of the last books he wrote.
JK Rowling took six years to write Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone for those of us in the United States.)
Cheryl Strayed wrote Wild in two and a half years (How long did her first book, Torch, take to write? She says, “There are three answers to this question and they are all true: four years, seven years, and thirty-four years.”)
Why does it take so long to write a book?
Because there are a lot of factors involved that aren’t being accounted for when you try to push out all the pages in one month.
While a lot of that time was spent revising what they had written, a lot of it was also spent writing it.
It takes time to develop a writing style and voice that’s unique to you, to really get to know your characters (or yourself, if you’re writing memoir), and to honestly know what’s going on in your book.
Many authors have written three quarters of a book, only to get rid of over half of it, and then start from the remaining quarter.
But the important thing to remember is that they they did that and they still finished the book. It just took time.
Ok, now... breathe... and go write your book, however you want to.