Monday, December 1, 2008


50,000 words.
That's all it takes. Every year, November is National Novel Writing Month, organized through the web site
You just missed it this year, but I can tell what it's all about.
The only thing is, you have to write at least 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. Yes, according to the rules it has to be novel, but since nobody is going to read it - you don't have to post it on the site for everyone to see - there are cheaters about. People who write the English word "a" dozens or even a hundred times, one after the other. It's possible to do that, but it's not a novel. Since the word counter on the site is just a machine, nobody will ever notice. Since the prize for writing 50,000 words at the end of the month, is just an Internet badge like the ones you see on this blog right now, it doesn't matter.
Or does it? If you've always wanted to write, of course you want to be writing something that's English - or any other language, because NaNoWriMo is no longer just an English-language obsession - coherent and readable. If you're already into writing, you know that 50,000 words are not enough. A manuscript you want to present to an agent or publisher, has to be 100,000 words long, if we're talking about a conventional novel.
You saw my badge, so you know I won.
My first NaNo was last year, and like nearly every beginner, I had no idea how far I would get. Would I be able to reach even 10,000 words in one month? 30,000? Or would it be really easy to reach 50,000?
In the end, my NaNo 2007 went all the way to 72,000 words. Like many other participants, I didn't just stop at 50,000, because I wanted my story to be complete. I went on until its natural ending. Was it easy? No. It's all about keeping on writing without looking back. "Switching off your inner editor," as writerly types describe it on forums. The average you need to write every day is 1,667 words, so I like to go way over that in the beginning, just to be on the safe side. Some people begin writing only around the middle of the month, and they still manage to reach the finish line in good shape.
NaNo 2008 was somewhat different for me. I wasn't even planning to take part. Because I now had a job - the major difference with 2007 - I thought I wouldn't have the time. But as November 1 approached, I got caught up in the enthusiasm thrilling the writers' forums. Even worse, I thought, if I managed 72,000 words last year, why couldn't I write 100,000 this time?
Instead of doing just one novel all the way from beginning to finish, I decided to do two 50,000-word stories. Technically, this meant I had to take on two identities on the NaNoWriMo site.
Then there was the question of writing strategy. I first thought about spending 90 minutes each day on one story, and then switching to the other for the remaining 90 minutes I had available. But then I thought, this mental switch might be too difficult, so I settled on writing one story one day and the other the next. Or so I thought.
Once I started writing the first story on November 1 - you're not allowed to start earlier, though you can do an outline so you know where your story is headed - things went so well that I decided to stick with one story all the way. So what happened, was that I wrote one story from November 1 to November 15, reaching 50,888 words. I wrote the second story from November 16, making it just past the 50,000-mark on the last day, November 30, reaching 50,581 words. By the way, the word count functions in Word and on the NaNo site are somewhat different, so don't think that by writing 50,001 words in Word you will make the grade.
In the end, what I have now are one piece of fanfiction which is unpublishable in the real world, but which I can post on one of several fanfiction sites, and one story or half-novel that I will be turning into a full 100,000-word novel over the next couple of months before sending it out to publishers. That's the wonder of NaNo: without it, I would still be plodding around. Now I have 50,000 words. Even if there are gaping plot holes and inconsistencies, I have the words out there and I can go out and fix them.
One other thing has changed: there is no doubt in my mind that I will be taking part in NaNo 2009!

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