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Nanowrimo, or how I learned to stop word-counting and love the bomb

Hello writers and readers. As this is written, it is the end of November. While most people know November as that month where basically nothing happens, other than American Thanksgiving, some of you know it as Nanowrimo! (For those not in the know, that’s National Novel Writing Month)

This is the month where all around the world, hopeful writers sit down at a keyboard, crack their fingers, sign up at nanowrimo.org, and try to write a novel. The rules are simple. In the month of November, you start with a word count of zero on November 1st, the goal being that you will have a complete novel of 50,000 words on November 30th.

Now, there are people who both staunchly support this event, and those who think it’s a terrible misunderstanding of what it means to write a novel.

Those who believe in the month, tend to do so as a form of motivation. Everybody works better under pressure, and keeping to a deadline, and trying to make that word count can make a person write every day, and can convince people who would never otherwise have finished, to write their own novel, often their first novel.

Those who are against Nanowrimo, tend to be worried about quantity drowning out quality that people will simply churn out words to make the quota, without any of the thought or soul that so many writers pour into their work.

Another objection I’ve seen raised, is that to write an entire 50k word novel in 30 days, is simply an unreasonable goal, that many can’t accomplish, and that failure to meet this standard will discourage some from trying again.

Both of these sides are legitimate. When the event was first explained to me, I could only react with a kind of obtuse shock. I didn’t think it was a reasonable thing. I thought it was ridiculous, and if I’m honest, the tiniest, most immature part of me was annoyed that something that took me a long time to reach had been made into a game.

But that was a long time ago. I’ve grown up a bit. Now, I think Nanowrimo is a great idea. I’ve participated for the last two years. I have never achieved the desired goal, but I’ve cheerfully plodded along at my own pace, happy to have others to talk to, happy to be able to track my own progress.

Here’s why I’ve grown to dismiss the major objection to Nanowrimo. When you sit down at a keyboard, and you write a novel for the very first time, it will be terrible. I’m sorry, but it’s true. When I think about the very first draft of my first book, I wince and then giggle.

But writing, like anything else in the universe, takes practice. The more you write, the better you write. So the idea of something that forces people to write a lot? Amazing. Writing is a skill, one that is difficult to hone, because for many it’s difficult to start. So yes! Go and sign up, write with abandon. It probably won’t be a masterpiece, but who cares? It’s about getting better. And I promise, you’ll be a far better writer at the end of November than if you hadn’t participated at all

If someone wants to sit down and vomit out a 50k word long idea, it doesn’t have to end there, you can take it and remake it and refine it all you like. To my understanding, the Nanowrimo organization also runs workshops and camps the rest of the year, to help incumbent authors along their way.

As for the word count well… I’m going to let you in on a secret, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. When I was writing my first book, I would glance at my word count obsessively. Is this going to be enough? I’d ask myself, is this going to be a real book?

Well, yes. But that had very little to do with my word count. I was writing a book, so it was a book. It took a long time for me to move past that little box of numbers, and come to understand that the word count means almost nothing to whether or not what I’ve done is something to be proud of.

Let me give you a few examples of books that (in my opinion at least), are great novels.

Catch-22, the famous novel of insanity and contradiction by Joseph Heller, is 174,269 words long.

Slaughterhouse-Five (or The Children’s Crusade), by Kurt Vonnegut, is 49,459 words long.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is 46,118 words long

The Adventures of Huck Finn, by many considered to be The great American novel, is 109,571 words

Now I could have picked different examples, and in truth, I’ve heard it said that the average novel written is about 75/80k. But these four help to illustrate the point I’m trying to make. It doesn’t matter if you reach 50k in one month. Here are two famous and wonderful books that wouldn’t even win Nanowrimo, and two more that are twice its size!

So, if I’m trying to say anything at all, it’s this: If you want to write, write. Do it often, and do as much of it as you are capable. Sign up for Nanowrimo every year, because it’s great and it’s motivation to make you do what you otherwise might not have done.

But don’t worry about making 50k a month. Simply write as much as you can, and have fun doing it. I have reached a point now, where I tend to glance down at my word count itself only once a month. I am no longer afraid or intimidated by my word count. You shouldn’t be either!

See you all again November 2016!

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