It’s November, which means one thing for writers: National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. The goal for NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word novel from scratch in just thirty days. NaNoWriMo offers a slick, online tool for you to measure your progress, chat with fellow writers, and earn badges for progress. In other words, it perfectly sets you up for success. Sounds easy, huh?
If only. In reality, NaNoWriMo – like all writing projects – takes dedication, commitment, and discipline. So, realistically, how many words per day for NaNoWriMo do you need if you want to complete the challenge?
How many words per day?
At face value, in order to write 50,000 words in thirty days, you need to write 1,667 words a day, every day, on a continuous writing streak. Now, if you’re anything like me, and you have a life/know that creativity doesn’t just appear when summoned (as incredible as that would be), even writing 500 words a day might be a stretch. Heck, some days, nothing comes. Life gets in the way. Or maybe you are just exhausted. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. You’re human. Be kind to yourself. But the question remains: is it even possible to hit that 50,000 word goal? And how do you maintain the appropriate pace to keep you on track?
NaNoWriMo pits speed over quality
Don’t read back on what you’ve produced. Don’t edit. Just carry on. This is incredibly hard and takes a lot of discipline, but remember, this is – at least in the first instance – about quantity over quality. The goal of NaNoWriMo is not to produce something great, but just to produce. In other words: you are in shitty first draft territory.
Don’t plan it, just pants it
There are two types of writers: planners and pantsers (i.e. the fly-by-the-seat variety). If you are a planner, NaNoWriMo probably isn’t for you. If you must plan, try sketching out scenes before you write, and use a tool like Scrivener to help you organize your thoughts. If you are a pantser: rejoice! You don’t need a plan, or a plot. You just need to write, and see where the mood takes you.
Is 1,667 a lot of words?
According to Stephen King, it is not. He writes 2,000 every day. But then, Stephen King does not have a day job, aside from being a full-time author. And here at Aspiring Author, we know that is the dream! Word count can become tiresome and prescriptive. It can also become overwhelming, especially if you are trying to balance it with a full-time day job. Having a word count can inflict unnecessary pressure, and can actually restrict creativity in the long run. “Just write” is not the answer here: you should never write to an arbitrary target. What you should do is allow yourself time to get creative with your craft, and see what happens.
You made it to 50,000 words! Now what?
Don’t query literary agents. I repeat: DO NOT QUERY. Firstly, 50,000 words is a novella-length manuscript, so unless that is what you are going for, you need to pause and take stock of what you have. Secondly, editing takes time, care, and patience. NaNoWriMo is about generation of that shitty first draft; it is not about perfection. There are some rare instances NaNoWriMo projects that turned into novels: notably Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. However, these are the exception, rather than the rule. And these novels went through a LOT of revisions with literary agents and editors to get them up to publishable standards. NOBODY has written a perfect manuscript during NaNoWriMo. I repeat: NOBODY.
Be kind to yourself
If you reach November 30th and you’ve written 30,000 words instead of 50,000, do you know what you should do? Celebrate. You’ve just written 30,000 words! Ultimately, NaNoWriMo is a writing prompt with a beautiful online interface. If you can use it to your advantage? Great. If not? Don’t beat yourself up. You’re a human being, not a writing machine. Just keep writing, keep editing, and don’t get distracted by the word count. Books get published based on quality, not quantity.