A Word Count-Induced Mania

Every November it comes calling, taunting writers young and old with its challenge. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) strikes with merciless intent.

NaNoWriMo is meant to encourage writers all over the world to attempt to write at least a 50,000-word novel in the month November. This means that on average, a participant writes roughly 1,667 words a day, every day, for an entire month.

People start writing at the stroke of midnight on Nov. 1, and write until they fall asleep at their computers, desperate to sprint ahead and get a solid word count buffer zone. Everything becomes about that word count. How much description do I need? More? Yes, more words. Also, let’s add a line of dialogue here and there, that will add at least 50 words.

It’s a madness that infects its victims. NaNo becomes your life for that month. You can’t go out; you’re 500 words behind. Why are you still up at 3 a.m. for the third night in a row? You’ve had homework to do and need to get your word count in today.

You’re not supposed to edit as you go, and the knowledge of comma splices and sub-par dialogue needle at the back of the brain until you relent and fall into the editing trap that kills the word counts of many a good and ambitious writer.

Some people plan in advance (as long as you don’t write anything, it’s not cheating) with chalkboards nearly filled up with plot points or have notebooks filled with rough maps. Some people come in sparsely prepared; they feel good with the concept they thought of a week ago, a character list and a crude schematic of a spaceship.

That was the case for me last year. I saw a term for this on a website meant to encourage writers during this time that called the practice “pants-ing it,” because the writers are coming up with the plot as they go, on the seat of their pants.

And I fell victim to every trap and pitfall. I would sit and write with every second of free time. I would stay up later than I needed to get that word count in, and then fall behind anyway because I had no idea where I wanted the story to go. I started editing. This made the content a bit better, but ended up making the story shorter and cost me a whole day.

I ended up not finishing it. I did, however, write 19,365 words in under a month. That was the longest piece I had ever written, and it still is.

If there was one thing that was repeated to me from a variety of sources, it was that it’s really about writing something every day more than anything.

I had a lot of stressful, “I’m going insane” moments, but I had a lot of fun. I would try again in a heartbeat, but maybe next year. I think it’s something that every writer should try at least once, even if they don’t “win.”

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