NaNo Day 4 – A Mini Pep Talk

Word Count for 11/4: 1837
Total Word Count: 5816

Rather than giving you drawn-out details every day, I’m going to try to put up the word counts at the top of posts and mostly leave it be.  It can’t be fun to hear me prattle on about where I’m getting stuck or breaking through all the time, especially when I’m referring to things that I’m not letting anyone see yet. I will, however, try to talk about things that are relevant to writing, if you can forgive the part where I’m still very much learning the craft myself.

Let’s talk a little about something that happens to a lot of NaNoers at some point during the course of the month: falling behind. If you do the math up above, you’ll see that, at four days in, I’m about 850 words shy of where I ought to be, about half a day’s word count.

Day 4 (or, well, today’s actually Day 5, isn’t it?) is about the point in any NaNo year when your schedule’s likely to kick you off your stride.  In years when November 1st falls on a Friday, people can take the first three days (Friday night, Saturday and Sunday) to write their asses off and maybe get ahead a bit.  Which means, when Monday rolls around and your schedule goes back to being packed with classes or a 9-5 job or whatever fills your normal weekly schedule, you might very well realize that there’s not as much time in the day as you’d thought there was.

And yeah, not everyone has a 40 hour, Monday-Friday workweek, but I think you get my meaning — somewhere between Day 1 and Day 4 or 5, your normal schedule has kicked in.

So, this year, it started on Sunday.  Which, for me, meant just one day to get a jump start on things before reality reasserted itself.  I’ve seen a few other people hit by the Two-By-Four of Obligation as well: Marty started his week with his ass kicked by a cold; the Lovely Anna’s furiously knitting a pair of mittens for her mom, and her deadline’s this Saturday (check out the picture in her post. Those are going to be so cozy).

Having finally acquired a coffee pot that isn’t intimidating, this morning was supposed to kick off the whole “get up at 6:30 and write” thing for me. Only, sometime after Greg left for work, we must have lost power for a few minutes: I woke up at 7:00 to an alarm clock flashing that it was 12:26.

So much for getting some writing done before leaving the house.

The wonderful thing about writing 50,000 words in a month is being able to say “Hey, look!  I wrote 50,000 words in a month!”  And while even according to NaNo’s founder, Chris Baty, it’s okay for your character to, say, read aloud from the dictionary when she gets nervous to bulk up your word count, I know it’s something I can’t do, and I’m betting Anna and Marty would balk at it as well.

Right away, then, we’re making it a little harder on ourselves.  We’re trying to have 50,000 words that are useful to the novel by the end of the month.  For us, getting stuck on a scene can’t be remedied by the protagonist’s random recitation of the quality of mercy speech from The Merchant of Venice.  It’s not relevant to the plot, it’s out of character and it’s jarring and NO.

So you fall behind a bit.  Your word count is below your friends’ averages, or the people in your region, or the forum buddies you’ve made who are writing in the same genre.   Something to remember, when you see those little blue bars creeping ahead of yours and feel discouraged:  NaNo is a challenge, not a competition.

Getting to 50,000’s nice, in theory.  But understand something else, here: at 50,000 words, you don’t have a novel, not really.  You have a novella.  If you’re writing YA, a finished novel’s going to clock in at probably 70- to 80,000 words.  Adult?  You’re looking at somewhere between 85-90,000, maybe even 100,000.

NaNo, then, is a good start.

And what if you don’t finish?  What if, over the course of 30 days, you only churn out 40,000 words?  30?  25?  What if you write every day and only get to 10,000 words?

You have not lost. Understand that.  People “win” NaNo by uploading their piece into a program that will verify their word count.  You get a shiny badge and an offer from a POD service to print up a copy of your book as physical proof of your bragging rights (more on that in a future post.)

But what happens if you don’t finish?  Are you a failure as a writer?  Should you delete your document, burn your notebooks, never speak of this again?

I think you know the answer to that, don’t you?

Say it with me, then: fuck no.

If you stick with it all through the month, word count be damned, then you’ve been writing for thirty days, or the better part of them.

You’ve been writing.  This is the important part.  Is what you’ve written publishable?  I’m gonna go with “no” on that one.  But you’ve been writing.

And sure, maybe a good chunk of what you wrote is agood bit of floundering because you were going at a breakneck pace, striving for that shiny “NaNoWriMo 2009 WINNER” badge.  Accept that you’re going to go back later and fix it.  But don’t shove your work in a drawer until NaNo 2010 rolls around.  Don’t go declaring yourself a failure as a writer because you didn’t make it to 50K.

Let’s do some math to put this in perspective.

Say you write five days a week.  Go on, give yourself the weekends off.  That’s 260 days out of the year that you’re writing.  Assume that you write 500 words a day.  Not so bad, right?  It’s just a couple of pages.

At the end of the year, that’s 130,000 words you’ve written.  Your monthly output is 10,833 words.  NaNo is asking you to do the equivalent of almost five months worth of writing in 30 days.

Look at that again. Shit, print it up and tack it to your monitor or tape it into the notebook you’re writing in.  Whatever your output is at 11:59 pm on November 30th, you’ve been writing.

And come December 1st, you should keep writing.  Why be a writer for only one month out of the year?  That’s, uh, not how the people whose books you see on bookstore shelves work.  They write year-round.  And not just the guys up at the top of the bestseller list, either.  This author writes his books on the commuter ferry on his way to and from work.

“Winning” NaNo’s great.  But I’d argue that the people who make a habit out of writing and don’t just lay down their pens after NaNo ends are the ones who’ve really, truly gained something from the experience.

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