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Journal of a novel: Aug. 10, 2016. Word count

August 10, 2016

In a series of posts, I’ll share both Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel and what I learn from it, and I’ll show you what the writing life is like for me.

In his Feb. 15 Journal of a Novel entry, John Steinbeck has at last decided to commence writing his novel.

This is the last bounce on the board, the last look into the pool. The time has come for the dive.

Again, I’m impressed with the degree of drama that imbued Steinbeck’s perception of himself as a writer and the act of writing.

He muses about “word rate,” i.e. how much writing he’ll get done each work day. Ah, word count. Now here’s a subject with which I am familiar.

In 2010, I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month marathon. NaNoWriMo is an organized effort that challenges writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Fifty-thousand words isn’t quite commercial-novel length which is at least 65,000 words. Many novels are 75-85,000 words long and quite a few are 100,00 words long or more. However, if you’ve got 50,000 words invested in a work, you’ll probably go on to finish it at some point.

The Lost King I did. I “won” NaNoWriMo 2010, went on to write more, and The Lost King was the result. Every other book in The Bewildering Adventures of King Bewilliam epic fantasy series got its start as a NaNoWriMo project.

To “win” NaNoWriMo, you strive to write 1667 words—six to eight typed manuscript pages—every November day. Including Saturdays, Sundays, and Thanksgiving Day. If you fall behind, you simply have to catch up on some other day, making for some very long writing sessions.

Several NaNoWriMos later, I have learned that I’m not a fast writer. There have been days when it’s taken me about six hours to get those 1667 words done. And my work isn’t over because then I have to tackle my “day job.”

Steinbeck comments about being reluctant to start. For me, and for many other participants, that’s one of the values of NaNoWriMo. It’s that needed kick in the pants. There’s something about signing up for the marathon, making the pledge to do this, that cements one’s commitment to the project. Plus, if you tell people about it, you won’t want to risk the embarrassment of wimping out. I will brag on myself a little bit. While hundreds of thousands of people around the world start NaNoWriMo (and generate over a billion words in the course of a month), only about 20% reach the finish line. I have reached the 50K word count goal every time.

Will I do NaMoWriMo this year? You betcha. I have more than one project waving its chubby little hand, shouting “Pick me! Pick me!”

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