My 500 To 700

A writer – I won’t say who – I follow on Twitter tweeted the other day that there is some sort of another #Nanowrimoblahblah this month. I clicked over and had a look. Yes, it seems there is:

I thought that was in November? Having a further poke around I see this is not as “intense” as November; but in any case, I’ll say the same thing here I always say about this sort of thing. If you seriously want to write, my advice is to keep your distance from this type of exercise. For as #Nanowrimo tells us:

Our experiences since 1999 show that 50,000 words is a challenging but achievable goal, even for people with full-time jobs and children. This is about the length of The Great Gatsby.

And I don’t know where to begin with that sort of a misleading commentary offered right off the top. Seeing something like that in the very first FAQ leads me to doubt anything else that they would assert afterwards without my ever clicking another link. I’m immediately seriously underwhelmed.

First of all, F. Scott Fitzgerald did NOT write the bulk of Gatsby in a month. Amidst false starts for a year or two, and other distractions, it took him an often difficult about six months – from April to October 1924 – really to write it. Second, although he did have a young child, he did NOT have a “9-5 job.” He and his family’s financial situation was often precarious.

I adamantly disagree with the premise of intensively writing a novel by throwing tons of spaghetti against the wall in a month to see what sticks. Especially if you have never written one before, chances are you will be overwhelmed by the effort to write “50,000 words” in such a rush. Probably you’ll also even become discouraged and perhaps even a bit “depressed” when you see others giddily tweeting: “Yippee! Guys, I just wrote 10,000 words in four days…”

Yeh, right. I’d like to read those “10,000” words written in just four days. I’d bet most of it isn’t very good.

Don’t confuse doing that with “brainstorming,” which are bursts of fragmented ideas you subsequently build upon. This is a challenge essentially to produce the bulk of a rough draft. Simple math tells us 50,000 words for 30 days is… 1,666 words a day. While that doesn’t sound like all that much, trying to churn that out every single day for a month?

[Tomorrow The Grace, front and back print covers. R. J. Nello, 2018.]

You don’t learn to mountain climb by starting with Everest. If you do have an actual non-fiction life: a job, children, school activities, cooking, parents, spouse/partner, friends, and interests/hobbies besides being hunched over in front of a PC for hours on end, I suspect you will have a VERY difficult time writing even anywhere near that in a month. That’s a lot of writing. Remember, even Fitzgerald couldn’t.

Indeed pursuing interests outside of writing is also necessary to be a decent writer anyway. I’ve learned that travel, socializing, and more will not only relax you and prevent “writer’s block,” but also provide you with story material. (Fitzgerald knew that.) Without the stimulation of such activities, you’ll stagnate; our imaginations thrive on living.

To put this into practical writing terms, my explaining the background as to what went into creating this scene from my Tomorrow The Grace manuscript in progress may be helpful:

[Sneak peek from Tomorrow The Grace. Click to expand.]

I condensed that to single spacing for here (as I often do). That excerpt is all of 528 words. It is not the entire scene either: I just ran a word count on the rest of it and thus far it totals 917 words.

I also tend to write as one fills in a “coloring book.” I bounce around. For a few hours, I may be planning on working near the beginning of the story, but then I shift towards maybe the middle as my mind takes me there…

I wasn’t keeping systematic track of my doings as I wrote it either. My guess is that amidst living and writing other fragments those nearly 1,000 words took me probably about two days. I started from an idea based on my outline, a blank page, and just started tapping away, re-wrote, then added, and I got annoyed for a bit at someone using a drill or something not far away which wasn’t following even any set rhythm; and then I deleted and changed still more; and I sat back and pondered my pending insanity and why are we all here; and I turned up the music on my iPhone’s bluetooth speaker to try to drown out the drill and now Frank Sinatra was yelling at me that “the best is yet to come…”; and then I re-read a bit of Conventions to make sure I had not made any silly continuity mistakes; and suddenly I thought of my own real-life widower father and my dead mother and felt sad for a few moments; and the doorbell then rang and I rushed downstairs as Amazon was delivering a package for the Mrs; and afterwards I put on the kettle to make another coffee; and I saw we’re gonna need more milk and decided I’ll have to go to the shop after lunch; then in the dining room I noticed the mini-rose bush is now in bloom again…

[Photo by me, 2018.]

…and then I went back upstairs to the office, but before I went at the keyboard I sipped the coffee; and I thought, “It’s all coming along, a little at a time, but what a pain…” and then I paused to scroll Instagram and at one photo I stopped and thought, “Hey, that’s ‘Amelia’!” Then I went back to typing… and, [Ping! Ping!] messages from a friend pop up on my phone about our August trip to America… uh, and where was I?…

And I’m still not fully happy with what you see there. It’s sketchy and requires more of everything. Then this hit me: “Of course! I have to write this! There has to be a post-ceremony mixer!”:

[Sneak peek from Tomorrow The Grace. Click to expand.]

That latter “moment of inspiration” took me the better part of another couple of hours to get into shape to the point I would ever put it up here on the blog. There is more of it I won’t show you here; doing so is too much of a “story giveaway.”

Of course if you feel you do need a daily “word count” target to motivate yourself, that’s fine. Learn what works FOR YOU. I never outright count words, but based on my experience I would say a good start is just give yourself a recurring and rational goal you feel you can reach: “I’ll get a decent page done daily.” That’s mine. If I do more, great; because some days I do less; and some days nothing really; and unless I’m hit with “a moment of inspiration,” I don’t usually write on weekends.

That’s how I frame progress in my mind. That “page a day,” which is about 500 to 700 words (at 1 and 1/2 spacing between lines, and at a 9 font, in Word), could lead to a full manuscript in about a year. A “350 page novel” every other year or so is MORE THAN A REASONABLE target for any writer.

[Photo by me, 2018.]

Writing fiction requires a long-term commitment and is an endeavor often marked by ups and downs and extremes. One minute you may think nothing can stop you, and a few hours later you are sure you are the worst writer ever and it would all just be easier if you were dead. It may be emotionally wearying as you write now and then – I’ve written at times with tears in my eyes. Yet there are those other times it may also be great fun. Fundamentally it’s about cultivating a fragile plant in order eventually to see its flowers bloom.

Join in if you feel you must. Just don’t fall for any #Nanowrimoblahblah online hype. Writing “350 pages” of fiction is not impulsively throwing together complicated self-assembly furniture as quickly as you can and then going back at the end to read the instructions and try to wade through it all and fix the initially hurriedly constructed mess.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. 🙂

5 thoughts on “My 500 To 700

    1. Hello. 🙂 I here like simply now and then to share what I do and/or have learned since 2012. I had heard a lot of things and observed bits and pieces – especially, years before, of my uncle, who wrote crime novels. Yet there are quite a few things I would back then have wished someone who’d written had told me about what they do.

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      1. Writing crime novels would be so fascinating, too – thinking about which clues and which crimes to have happen at different points in the book. How interesting!

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  1. NaNo isn’t for everyone. But for some it’s just the push they need to get their idea down on paper. No one ever said that the first draft was going to be epic. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to finish, to meet a deadline with a solid goal. AJ will be the first one in line to say that without her first actual win at NaNo she’d probably have given up. It’s not about the story, it’s about getting it done, writing and having something to show for it. AJ plans out her novels before hand. It’s not a fly by night and the seat of her pants thing. Fuck if it were I’d probably be dead by now cause I’d have done something stupid. Everyone has their process. NaNo doesn’t work for you, but it does work for some, and it could work for others. AJ thanks you for sharing your process, it is always enlightening to see how other’s do it. We particularly agree with this line: “Writing fiction requires a long-term commitment and is an endeavor often marked by ups and downs and extremes.” But you gotta start somewhere – sometimes winning a nano is all the spurring you need to keep going. and a failure is well next month I’ll do better. AJ does NaNo every chance she gets, not because there is hype, it’s three times out of the year she sets a deadline. Three times a year she’s held accountable. Three times to say ‘yay I won’ or crap that sucked. But it’s motivation to spur the next three months of writing. The next outline, the next scene, the next bit.

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    1. Thanks for that. You make excellent points on structure and goals. As I note, I have my own approaches to both. In the end, writing is an intensely personal activity that every writer must approach their own way.

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