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If I Were A NaNoWriMoer

November 30, 2011

I did not sign up for NaNoWriMo this year.  I didn’t participate not because I don’t like NaNoWriMo, but because I knew that I wouldn’t win, and there was no point in pretending that I could.  Participating wouldn’t have provided any additional motivation to write than I already possessed of my own volition.  Wanting to write fifty thousand words wouldn’t magically permit me to rearrange my life and affairs to allow for the possibility of succeeding.  There’s still the day job, and there’s still the family, and there’s still the attendant obligations of house and home.  Writing is very important to me – but those things come first, before writing.

Still… as we close out the month of November, I thought it would be an interesting excercise to look back at the month, just as a hypothetical, and see what it would have looked like if I had signed up to NaNoWriMo.

The goal in NaNoWriMo, as you are no doubt aware, is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  Technically speaking, you “win” by starting with word-one on day-one – no picking up a previously-started project and continuing with it into November – and reaching “The End” fifty-thousand-and-some-change words later, on or before November 30th.  No self-editing; just plow on with the story you’ve got from start to finish.  Some people nevertheless participate while bending the rules a little: putting down fifty-thousand-more words on a pre-existing project, or starting at the beginning but not saying “The End” after achieving the fifty thousand words, and continuing the work into December.  Since NaNoWriMo is really more about the spirit of writing regularly and sticking to the story and reaching the end, these little betrayals of the rules are easily forgiven.

What does it take to write 50,000 words in 30 days?  On average, that’s 1,667 words per day, over the course of the month: an ambitious daily target.  If you miss a day, of course, you have to do even more to make up for lost ground.

So… how did I fare?

My total wordcount for November-to-date: 7,732 words.  Hmm.  Not impressive.  That’s roughly 15% of the total goal for a successful NaNo.  In days-spent-writing-terms, it’s as if I spent just over 4 Average-NaNo-Days writing, out of the 30 in the month.  Well…. out of 29 days, actually, since today isn’t done and I haven’t had my writing time, yet, but that doesn’t change the math much.  (I expect I might get in around or a little over 800 words this evening, which would make that about 17%, or roughly 5 days. )

The actual number of days this month on which I spent time writing was 13, or about 45% of the available days in the month.  That means that on average, when I sat down to write, I produced about 595 words, which is pretty far short of the expected daily average you’d need to maintain to succeed at NaNo.  At that rate, even if I had written every day in November, I’d still only have 17,843 words, which is a mere 36% of the total goal.  (If I perform as expected today, that will be 14 days out of 30, or 47%, with an expected average of 609 words per writing day, which translates to 18,282 or 37% of a total NaNo goal.)

No matter how I slice it, I wouldn’t have succeeded at NaNoWriMo.  To win, I would have to have written on substantially more days in the month, and written substantially more words each time I sat down to write. 

One of these days, I hope to participate in NaNoWriMo – although in all honesty I expect that if and when I do, I’ll be one of the rule-benders, seeing as how I can’t conceive of writing a mere-fifty-thousand-word novel (in my mind, novels should be substantially longer), and seeing as how I’m a heavy-duty planner/outliner/architect who needs a metric tonne of background material before commencing with the actual first draft.  But it won’t be a realistic goal until such a time as I am actually able to rearrange my life affairs to make substantial room for such an ambitious project.  One of these days.  But it was not to be this year.  Forecasts for next year look fairly dim as well.

How about you?  Did you NaNo?  Did you win?  Do you hope to particpate next year?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. dorothyanneb permalink
    November 30, 2011 10:11 am

    Great (if depressing) analysis! I am one of the rule-benders, using the forced march of Nanowrimo to work on several projects, opting to use it as a reason to force myself to write every day. If I look back, I probably have written every day, even if it’s only a little bit. But I didn’t quite reach my goal. Sigh. Life getting in the way…
    Why not try the 3 day novel contest? Much easier to get the time away – and you end up with an outline of a novel you can flesh out with your metric tonnes afterwards? It’s loads of fun (and caffeine).

    • November 30, 2011 3:40 pm

      I think that’s a fine way to use NaNo, personally. While technically NaNo has its “rules”, the spirit of NaNo is really all about developing the discipline to write regularly. At least, that’s what I’ve picked up by following lots of people who’ve done NaNos. I’m not overly familiar with the 3-Day Novel contest… but that sounds insanely difficult. In NaNo terms – if we considered a finished novel to be 50K words – that would be over 16,000 words per day! Eegad! Although the 3-Day Novel site doesn’t specify the length of the finished work…. But a 3-day marathon has a certain appeal, even if I can’t possible expect to have a finished work after only 3 days…

  2. November 30, 2011 11:47 am

    I’ve wondered before about the word count thing. When I was a youngster, novels were supposed to be at least 80,000 words. When did that change? Was it changed by NaNo, or did it happen before? Who decides these things?

    I persist in calling A Sane Woman (45,000 words) a novel, but if somebody insists it’s a novella, that’s fine with me. I prefer to think it’s just really concise. 🙂

    I did not participate in NaNo this year, and I doubt if I ever will. Time is a factor, but the main factor is that it doesn’t seem to be designed for me. Which is fine — it certainly does work for a lot of other people.

    • November 30, 2011 3:51 pm

      I don’t know that there’s a single “who” that decides these things… I suspect it’s more like a general consensus that develops over time. For instance, a 45K manuscript is kind of on the margins between a Novella and a Novel (the SFWA definition, which as a Spec Fic writer myself would be the definition most relevant to me, has the upper bound of Novella at 40K, but that’s not a universally-agreed-upon metric), but the difference between a long Novella and a Novel, with respect to their publication, is possibly immaterial (Novellas get published as individual volume books all the time, at least in the past they have). And I agree that NaNo is not for everyone (or every writer): as I can attest by my own inability to participate.

  3. November 30, 2011 12:07 pm

    Every month is Nano for me 😉 Well ok, I don’t do 50k a month, but when I’ve worked out a pretty good consistent pace (30-40k a month) for a first draft. Which is why I haven’t felt a need to participate yet. I can see one of the upsides is that other people to cheer you on. But also, Anthony makes a good point, 50k would really only be half a fantasy novel, so completion doesn’t actually = done.

    • November 30, 2011 3:53 pm

      30-40K a month is a pretty good rate. I’m insanely envious of that productivity level. And yes, in the traditional Fantasy format, 50K would be exceedingly short for a novel. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I imagine that would make the book as hard to sell to agents/publishers as a novel that was too long…

  4. November 30, 2011 3:12 pm

    I’m all for mega-long books that require that many words to tell, but I get the sense that some novels are longer than they need to be, given how much actual story is getting told.
    (Just a min, I think I read a blog post somewhere recently that talks about this… Yes! Here: )

    I think of my ~30K works as novels. Then again, I think of my work as generally geared toward a young-ish audience, and word-count expectations will vary between age ranges. In a responsibility/distraction-free world, I could knock out a novel a month all year long. In real life, a draft every two or three months (with a few short stories and perchance the odd novella tossed in there, for kicks) is more what I’ve come to reasonably expect of myself.

    • November 30, 2011 4:24 pm

      When I say I can’t conceive of writing a “mere” 50k-book, that’s because when I read a book that’s not what I read. In my reading experience, a 100K book is a relatively short, breezy read. (Well, for certain values of “short/breezy” in my time-strapped days.) I do read and enjoy shorter works (mostly of the YA genre), but that’s not what I write. Even my short stories seem inevitably to turn into novelettes. I’ll agree though, that any work that has more words than story is too long… but that can be said whether a story is 10,000 words long or 400,000 words long. To me, being a large work is not automatically a sign that it’s too long for the story it contains.

  5. November 30, 2011 4:49 pm

    Leave it to Mr. Watkins to overanalyze a situation where other people would’ve said, “By hook or by crook…no way, José.” He he. 🙂

  6. December 1, 2011 2:49 am

    I haven’t yet participated in the actual NaNoWriMo, but I followed the rules to make this past March my own personal novel writing month. The first draft that resulted from that endeavor is on Google Docs for all the world to see. (Link can be followed from my own blog.)

    Next year I may actually do it in November.

    I think one of the keys to completing a 50K-word story in a month is to not schedule everything esle around it. I could never have done it if I didn’t have enough other things going on to provide some structure to my life.

    • December 1, 2011 1:51 pm

      That’s an interesting perspective on what it takes to win NaNo; for me, those are the very things that make it impossible for me to win, i.e. I have so much structure and things going on in other aspects of my life that I don’t seriously have enough left over to give a NaNo the attention it would demand if I wanted to make a legitimate attempt to win it. Which is fine – I’m not complaining – but I guess I’m just pointing out the other side of that coin. Structure is well and good; but at the end of the day participating in NaNoWriMo means having time to write, and you can’t escape that. Anyway, I’m glad the format has worked out for you. I really envy the ability to write a novel – or a substantial portion of a novel – in a single month, regardless of whatever month that takes place in.

      • December 2, 2011 6:40 pm

        I really envy the ability to write consistently rather than just in spurts, even if it’s at a slower pace. That’s kind of self-discipline I’m trying to develop.

        If you do decide to give the single-month novel a shot, you might want to find a copy of ‘No Plot, No Problem’. I found it helpful at the time.

      • December 5, 2011 9:04 am

        Truth-be-told, I envy it, too – I only really write one two or three days out of the week, so what I do isn’t particularly consistent. Plus it’s a very slow pace, so there isn’t much that’s good about my writing habits. But at least I get some time to write, and I relish and appreciate what I get.

  7. December 2, 2011 11:31 pm

    I’ve thought about the challenge (and did push myself to hit 50,000 in one month this year), but November is not usually a good writing month. Between Australia, Tasmania, and Thanksgiving, I’ve accumulated the fewest words written in 2 1/2 years. (Last year it was a trip to Sweden, I’m just not home much in November.)

    • December 5, 2011 9:08 am

      I’d been wondering what came of you. What’s the story with November and travel for you? It seems to be work-related, but I’m not making the connection between Sweden and Australia… Only curious; of course that may not be something you can answer, which I understand.

      • December 5, 2011 11:51 am

        I’m the principal liaison between our US office and our Swedish office and therefore make 3-4 trips a year. Due to most swedes taking 3-5 weeks of vacation between early July and late August, I tend to visit late August and then end up over there again in November.

        Australia just ended up being coincidence. My sambo’s brother-in-law was getting his Master’s in Sydney and he graduated in November, so we needed to visit before we lost the excuse to travel to Australia.

        Because I knew about the trip planned to Australia, I visited Sweden in October and not in August this year, which of course has exacerbated my being away.

        In general, I usually spend 5-6 days over Thanksgiving at my Sambo’s parent’s house as well and therefore, November is a month with more distractions than usual. Of course, this latter is probably part of the emphasis of Nanowrimo, getting you to prepare and balance with the unusual interruptions.

      • December 5, 2011 12:22 pm

        Yeah, I know how Thanksgiving goes. It must be an interesting job to liaise with a foreign office like that.


  1. As NaNoWriMo comes to a close…take a break! | Chazz Writes

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