(TL;DR Summary: I’m writing a novel that started out as a way to develop a roleplaying game setting. I haven’t let the NaNoWriMo pressure to write 50K in 30 days influence me, but I’ve already written more than 50K words of the novel anyway. I plan to keep writing until the whole story has been told.)
This is part of my RPG series of entries here at SOB. See the inaugural entry in the series for more details.
On average, I’ve been writing something in the neighborhood of 2,500 words a day this month. There have been days I basically wrote nothing (including the first couple days of the month, when I was still trying to find inspiration for a story), and days that I wrote around six or seven thousand words. I haven’t really been paying too much attention to my actual rate; I just occasionally divided the number of words in my story so far by the number of days that have passed, for the most part.
A friend of mine who I started out using as a sounding board for ideas has become something like my biggest fan. He’s the only person reading the story so far, and every single day that I see him online he nags me with some good-natured haranguing exhortations to write more story right now dammit. He keeps wanting to see what’s going to happen next.
Why I Don’t Care About Word Count
I didn’t really set out to write 50K words this year, per se. I’ve been working on fleshing out the details of a new campaign setting for Pathfinder RPG, and I decided to use NaNoWriMo as an excuse to help me find more inspiration toward that end. I had run into a bit of a roadblock in terms of figuring out what I wanted to put in some of the territory on the map, and decided that writing a story that takes place in this setting might help me figure out what will be there. It’s working pretty damned well.
Of course, my secondary goal is to have a complete, and (after another draft or two) hopefully good, story when I’m done. Between those two goals — developing the campaign setting and spinning a ripping yarn — there isn’t really a whole lot of room left to dedicate myself specifically to the task of hitting a specific minimum word count. I didn’t want the pressure to perform, to achieve 50K words (that’s about 150+ pages of a paperback novel), to compromise my primary and secondary goals at all, so I just decided that pressure to produce word count was not going to matter to me. To hell with that. It’s about what I produce, and not just too much. Velocity is the important factor, not just speed — because no matter how fast you go, if you’re headed in the wrong direction, you’ll never get to your goal.
As CS Lewis put it:
We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.
Of course, just refusing to head down the wrong road in the first place is probably the preferable option in that case.
Our NaNoWriMo region has an annual friendly competition with a neighboring region. We talk trash at each other in the forums and compete on the basis of both average word count and percentage of “winners” (that is, people who have crossed the 50K mark by the end of November). Participation in the competition is opt-in; one has to post one’s intent to be part of the team for one’s region by roughly two weeks into the month (or to withdraw by then, if one had been overly hasty in committing to it before realizing that, say, measles or a car crash or a surprise visit from the in-laws would take up too much time in November) in a sign-up thread in the forum. Through what I suppose one could call two “generations” of MLs — sort of a regional NaNoWriMo organizer and “leader” of sorts — in this town, I’ve participated in that competition every year, and have always finished above 50K and above my region’s average word count.
This year, so that I wouldn’t have the weight of responsibility to the regional team against the rival region’s team to produce great word counts, I decided early on that I wouldn’t throw my hat in the ring. That’s not the only reason, though.
This year is the first year for a woman who shall remain nameless in this SOB entry as a co-ML. A friend of mine is the other co-ML. Let’s just call the woman “Gemma”, as a code name for purposes of referring to her.
Last year, which I seem to recall was her first year ever trying to write 50K words in a single month as part of the NaNoWriMo event. She ran into some trouble keeping her word count up to par, apparently, so she started sticking song lyrics into her “story” (not really much of a story at that point, I think) to pad out the word count. Well . . . it’s sketchy. I tend to feel like that’s marginal behavior at best, and not really in the spirit of NaNoWriMo. A friend of mine who goes to write-ins in November and uses NaNoWriMo as an excuse to write software instead of a novel seems to be working far more within the spirit of the NaNoWriMo experience than someone who just gives up on writing 50K words of story in a month, instead filling it out with song lyrics just to have enough words in a file to pass the automated word count check for validation at the end of the month.
This year, in a position of responsibility as an ML and as our region’s primary organizer for the competition with the rival region, she’s violating the spirit of things even more. Whereas I just figure that putting song lyrics into a “story” to pad out the word count without actually adding meaningfully to the tale is only cheating yourself under normal circumstances, as the ML she should see that kind of behavior as cheating in the competition. It’s not just cheating yourself, but actively cheating in what’s supposed to be a friendly competition! It’s not winning that really matters, but motivating ourselves to write, and having a way to connect with our fellow writers in another region via a little friendly rivalry.
I said she’s violating the spirit of things even more than last year. Yeah. It gets worse. She actually brags about the song lyrics she sticks in her so-called “novel”, and also about World of Warcraft chat logs. Yes, really. Even worse, she’s telling other people in our region’s team in the comptetition about this at write-ins, and encouraging them to do the same thing, apparently. This does not sit well with me at all.
Rather than dirty my hands by association, I took this as yet more reason to ensure I absent myself from the competition with the neighboring region. I refuse to associate myself with what may end up being a hollow victory gained through cheating.
Despite all the reasons I have for not caring about any arbitrary word count goals, I hit 50K words before the 20th this month. I’ve made some reasonably impressive progress, and I would easily fall within the first ten people (out of 45) to hit 50K in my region’s team in the competition with the neighboring region — even ignoring one cheater. In fact, I think I’m the tenth person to hit 50K in the region overall — with 236 people who have it set as their “home region”.
We’re under a week and a half before the end of the month, so I expect that the rate of people hitting 50K will climb somewhat now. Only the most prolific writers will get there before the end of this weekend. It will be interesting to see how the word war between our region and the neighboring region plays out.
Regardless of that, though, I’m just going to keep writing. I think my story might be about half finished, at just over 50K words. It looks like I’ll hit at least 300 pages’ worth of prose in this first draft of my novel, and I probably won’t finish writing it until at least halfway through December. The beginning of the month of November marked the beginning of my efforts to write a story, but it seems neither crossing the 50K “finish line” nor the end of the month of November will mark the end of my work on this story, unless I suddenly find myself sprinting to the finish in a fit of manic inspiration before the end of the month.
Maybe, if I get it sufficiently polished up with a couple of major edits, I’ll even publicly post it online for the world to read (or not, as it sees fit). I don’t expect that to happen before next November, at the earliest — but maybe I’ll surprise myself, and find that I’m as productive a rewriter as I am a writer.
I’ll probably polish up and publicly share the campaign materials as a complete campaign setting, too, if that interests you.