50k words in a month is easy

I participated in National Novel Writing Month and wrote slightly more than fifty thousand words of fiction during November.

Even though the screen shot above is of my story, I find the picture a little intimidating. It makes my-still-unnamed-tale look as if it is a massive project. It never felt like that while I was writing it perhaps because I used Scrivener (which is an amazing program for working with long documents) rather than Word.

Regardless, after having completed the challenge, my primary impression of it is this: it is easy. If you can meet the following two requirements, you too can write fifty thousand words of fiction in a month.

The first thing you need is a vague story idea.
The second is time. But it’s not a lot of time, just about 90 minutes almost every day. I’ll even go so far as to say that if you devoted two hours to writing—take note: not to editing and not to thinking about writing, but to actually writing—every day, you would be hard-pressed not to reach that magical number of fifty thousand in a month. It’s just that easy.

And that leads me to one of NaNo’s less thrilling aspects. The challenge has absolutely nothing to do with quality and everything to do with word count. NaNo is fundamentally not about producing something matters, being thoughtful, or even just rethinking parts of one’s story so that it’s better. Any writing challenge that does nothing to address, not so much quality, but revision is a bit wtf. Revision is an essential part of writing and it’s hard; writing something with substance is likewise hard. But, again, NaNo doesn’t care about those important things. It’s only about how many words one can vomit out of her head. That’s a huge problem, but everyone has to start somewhere and for those who have trouble with simply writing habitually, NaNo does help with that.

At any rate, a couple weeks ago, I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. It was much better than I thought it would be, but I had low expectations. I like it because it was easy to read, extraordinarily interesting, and not at all misogynistic. I wish that they’d stuck with the original title in English, Men Who Hate Women, but … Anyway, along with the story, I found the author’s experiences and motivations for writing the trilogy interesting. As a teenager he witnessed a violent sexual crime and did nothing to stop it.

I read five books in November and I’m looking for another to read fairly soon. I may finish Larsson’s trilogy or go for another from the short list I created in May. I love suggestions and am always open to them—it will probably just take me a while to get around to what’s suggested.

At this moment, I’m strongly considering picking one or maybe even some the following:

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  • Reply Clem December 2, 2012 at 2:28 am

    I think the word count is an arbitrary thing they slap on because people need an actual number to motivate them. It’s all in your attitude, though. If you write it just to get to 50,000 words, you’re writing crap – adding things you know you’ll delete just to “win”, etc. But you totally can win while writing good words. I read along with Aisy’s WIP this year and she definitely didn’t sacrifice quality for quantity. This year I got about halfway through before realizing I wasn’t writing anything good, but I was too proud to quit… I’m going to have to reevaluate next year, though, because this year I had a bad attitude about it and I don’t want to do that again next year. I sort of lost sight of what it’s about for me, which I’m unhappy about.

    I’m glad you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo! I was also pleasantly surprised by it. I’d say the trilogy is worth finishing. imo it gets a bit convoluted, especially the last one, but I enjoyed it overall.

    • Reply chantelle December 2, 2012 at 2:44 am

      I didn’t mean to imply that people who participated only wrote crap, but that there’s not any quality checking going on because, for better or worse, quality is irrelevant to completing the challenge. The main thing for me, though, is that no room in NaNo is given to revision. My hugest problem is definitely with that. Quality is subjective and hard to deal with conceptually, but all participants can revise, think critically about what they’ve written, and improve upon it.

      I want to read the rest of the trilogy, but I don’t know if I’ll feel compelled to read others instead.

      • Reply Clem December 2, 2012 at 4:25 am

        I know what you mean! Originally I think it was meant as a personal challenge for a small group of people, sort of like “Let’s see if we can do this”, but it ended up growing quite large and they never managed to restructure it for a wider audience. There are those people who write their 50k and think they have a novel ready for publication, or who have no idea how to go about revision or even that they should revise.

        So, yeah, I agree with you. I don’t know if it would be possible to build that kind of thing into it, but it would be good.

  • Reply Manda December 2, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Congrats on winning NaNo!

    I LOVED Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Like Clem said, it does get a bit convoluted as you go along, but it’s an awesome trilogy IMO. Lisbeth is BALLER.

    If you read The Poisonwood Bible, let me know how it is. I’ve always had that on my to-read list!

  • Reply Stephanie December 2, 2012 at 5:20 am

    I’m sure that many of the novels that come right out of NaNoWriMo are terrible. And if I’m right, last time I read the NaNoWriMo site, which was years ago, the site made it clear that the contest was all about the word count and that quality didn’t matter at all. It is about one aspect of writing that a lot of people, like me, need to work on.

    Of the books you listed, the only one I’ve read is Tales of the South Pacific, and I can say that it’s a very enjoyable light 1950s style read and probably worlds different from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I enjoyed it as a story, even though I am one of the last females on this planet who would survive in the 1950s. I also recommend anything written by James Michener in general. His thousand-page epic novels are fantastic.

  • Reply cantaloupe December 3, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Congratulations on completing Nano! And they do have an editing month in March, where you’re supposed to edit your crap into brilliance, haha, so maybe that can be your quality control. I personally still think the challenge is hard because I don’t have the drive to keep writing the same piece. I get bored of it the second that I realize that it is crap, and then I give up. It’s a terrible habit. But Nano is the time to force through my self-doubt and just keep writing. Which often means I come up with enough good bits to sacrifice the crap and overall it’s a win. Sometimes.

    I read Poisonwood Bible and it’s quite interesting. I also suggest anything by Jonathan Franzen because I find him entertaining.

    • Reply chantelle December 3, 2012 at 11:43 pm

      Thanks for the congrats and for telling me about NaNoEdMo–I had no idea about it. Before I started writing my novel for NaNoWriMo, I made sure that my premise was solid. I wasn’t willing to start something I thought I’d grow to dislike. Building upon anything with a shaky foundation is hard, so I didn’t bother.

  • Reply Carrie December 11, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Congratulations! Holy moly! 50,000 words!? I couldn’t imagine myself writing 50,000 words at all! I barely even meet the 2 page requirement for my management class. I’m horrible at writing on topics that don’t interest me and for some reason it always seems that I run out of words to say. Maybe I should start outlining things I want to discuss and hopefully that’ll help me extend my word count.

  • Reply Jessica December 14, 2012 at 4:38 am

    Oh, wow! I am definitely impressed by everyone that managed to complete NaNoWriMo. I guess that you aren’t really aware of how much 50,000 words actually is until it is right in front of you. Best of luck with the next step! :)

    As for reading the rest of the trilogy, you definitely should. I will go check out the list you wrote back in May, but I would definitely recommend The Road. It is great. :)

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