For starters, 2000 words is not that much.
I often get to about 1000 words writing my travel posts and I think “OK, this is enough for today, wouldn’t want my readers to scroll through the post and think ‘Gosh, this is endless, I’m not devoting that much of my time to this girl!'” (And to those of you who do give me your time, a big thank you!)
But it’s not the same when you’re writing fiction (or non-fiction) but especially when it’s long form, let’s call it for short “a novel”. When writing a novel you need the word count in order to even be able to call it a novel. If you look into it, there are standards for the length of novels in different genres, too: Like these or these just for a “for instance”.
What NaNoWriMo is great for in this aspect is the word count. It’s a race to get 50K down and out of you in 30 days. It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It’s not a little, I’ll tell you that, because I’ve tried doing NaNo before, and I didn’t “win” (which is what they call it if you manage to get said word count within the month of November). What they do to motivate you, though, is break it down for you and convince you to take it just one day at a time. Broken down, those 50 thousand words are just 1667 words per day!
That might not sound so little either, but NaNoWriMo is not just a race, it’s a marathon; it’s meant to take you a long distance, not just out of your comfort zone for a day. And this is where my new-found knowledge started to take form.
I have read many a wise saying by many a famous author, and the one thing they all have in common is that if you really want to be a writer, you should be writing every day. From here on out the disagreements start – some say you should do a thousand words minimum every day, others say 400 is enough (just FYI, Hemingway was a 400-word kind o’ guy).
For me, writing every day became the goal I was working towards. Because you always read or hear about these people who can’t go a day without writing. They write on the train home, and on the can, while they’re breastfeeding or saving kittens from a burning building. And I’m thinking “Am I such a poor multitasker or am I just not cut out to be a writer?!” Which is, for many young writers, the point in time when panic starts to set in.
So NaNo has a two-fold function for me: 1. Facing my fear – do I really have a story in me, would it actually make sense once it’s out of my head? and 2. Sitting the fuck down and writing every goddamn day!
And guess what! I am now, some days, one of those people – I’m the one who writes in-between laundry loads; the one who fits in an hour of writing before training; the one who takes little surreptitious notes on her phone late at night, because her significant other has pinned her down and she can’t get to her computer or pen and paper at the moment. That is not to say that I can’t go a waking moment without it – I still take my time with my coffee in the morning and take TV breaks in the afternoon because…uuuh, I’m human and I’m flawed?! But now, after not even two weeks, writing every day is what I do. What I want to do.
Getting back to the 2000 words mentioned in the beginning (because that’s how I started, and I’m in a mode where I silence my inner editor, so what you’re reading here is basically a first draft with the typos fixed), it’s not a completely random number. See, I know I tend to flake out on goals that I have set for myself, so when they say: “You’ve got to write 1667 words a day on average” my mind goes: “Yeah, I’ll never make that if I’m going for it.”
Then my slight OCD kicks in and another voice in my head goes: “What kind of a fucked up game are you playing? Giving me a bloody prime number to aim for! Bastards!” So I round up like a third-grader – not to the next zero-zero number like 1700, but to 2000. Why 2000? Because even if I go back on myself and do about three-quarters of that, that’s still 1500 words. And at that point it’s just plain stupid not to put in another 200 words. This is my way of having my cake and eating it too – I slack off and don’t reach the target word count, but still I have done the necessary minimum. Ha-ha! 😀
But here comes the surprise: apart from the two days I spent getting wasted in the mountains with friends, there’s only been one day that I have not surpassed that 2000 words a day self-set target. Because 2000 words is not that much! Of course, at least a third of the 20-something thousand words I’ve written since the beginning of the month are going to be scratched off with disgust come Christmas time, and that’s positive thinking, but as all of those wise authors with the pearls of wisdom say: you can edit a shitty first draft, you can’t edit a blank page. If, at the end of the day – or the month – I can edit those 2000 shitty words down to 500 or even 200 great ones, I’ll be a happy writer.
And this takes me to the second crucial thing I have finally come to experience for myself: writing is a job like any other. I’ve heard about this, we all have. I was doing an interview with a writer many moons ago, and he was telling me how people keep having this romantic idea of the writer who sits by the window with a cup of steaming hot beverage, leering into the distance until his Muse finally comes by to smack him on the back of the head and get him to write his fucking masterpiece!
At that time, I was still doing my bachelor’s in journalism, and being a writer had not yet fully formed as a plan in my romantic green gourd. After all, not long before that, I was the girl who’d, in a fit, run out of the room in the middle of a class, clutching only a torn off notebook page and a pen and write tortured poems on some steps somewhere around the school. That is to say, at that time, I was still a defender of literature’s equivalent of Newton’s apple. And I was also waiting for it to hit me on the head.
But that’s not how it works. And if I wasn’t sure before, now I know that nothing happens until you put that pen to paper or you open that blank document and start typing. It’s not your muse, who has to come a-knocking for you to start writing. It is you who gives your muse a good shake in the morning – or nudges a glass of wine in its hands in the evening – to start writing. And once you do, you get to see that there’s so much more going on in that story than you thought – it’s amazing!
Writing is like reading a really good book – you think you know what’s going to happen, but the characters often surprise you 🙂
And the best part about being a writer? Forget the fact that you might have to work for free for a while, or the glorious feeling that is being able to work in your pajamas. The best thing is that whatever happens, whatever your social or professional situation, you can always, always write.
So if you have the yearning, go for it, write, you’ve already got 1/9 of what you need to write a novel 🙂