It’s been my habit to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). NaNoWriMo is a challenge where masochistic writers scramble to produce at least 50,000 words toward a novel during the 30 days of November. Since I participate every other year, 2016 meant it was time to jump on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon again, and churn out at least 1,667 words a day, ignoring housework, animals, and tons of Thanksgiving prep.
Oh, no! Not NaNoWriMo!
However, this year I am a NaNoWriMo failure. I didn’t do my October homework, which entails research, outlining, plotting, and producing character sketches so I can dive right into the story on November 1. Needless to say, without any preparation, I looked at the blank sheet of paper and sighed. I’m a planner, not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of writer. So instead of putting words on paper, I slunk off to waste time looking up random topics on the internet.
Since word counts were on my mind, I found a few articles about what some famous authors stick to when writing. Their answers surprised me. On a chart detailing the word count of thirty-nine famous writers, two were up at the top of the list. Michael Crichton and R.F. Delderfield each claim to write 10,000 words a day. At that pace, a person would produce 300,000 words during NaNoWriMo. A very, very, very long novel.
On the other end of the spectrum were writers like Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Michael Robotham, and Shelby Foote. They each claimed a goal of 500 words a day. Greene is said to have kept so strictly to this number that when he met his quota, he stopped writing…even if word number 501 came in the middle of a sentence. At 500 words a day, these folks would only reach 15,000 words during NaNoWriMo. Not even enough for a novella.
Stephen King, a truly prolific writer, puts in 2,000 words every day. As a matter of fact, most writers on the list admitted to writing between 1,000 and 2,000 words per day. When you come to the keyboard prepared, that’s not a terribly overwhelming goal, is it?
Graham Greene, one of the world’s most methodical writers. (Wikipedia photo)
If you’d like to peruse the entire chart (and I recommend it), click here.
Of course, there were some writers whose names you won’t find on this chart. When I searched for the writer who has written more books than anyone else, someone I didn’t recognize came up.
Corin Tellado, a Spanish romance novelist, is credited with penning more than 4,000 novels over her sixty-three year writing career. She sold more than 400 million of her books. Born in 1927, Ms. Tellado clearly had more story ideas than there are stars in the heavens. And just in case you’re wondering, not one of them got much more than a PG rating as a result of Spain’s strict censorship.
I couldn’t find anything on how many words a day Ms Tellado wrote, but I’m betting she typed her fingers to nubs from the time she got up until the time she turned out the lights. Now THAT’S prolific.
The prolific and demure author, Corin Tellado. (Photo from Corin Tellado website)
Reading about the practice of these writers made one thing very clear to me.
It isn’t necessarily how many words a day you write. It’s the fact that you sit down and do it. Whether five hundred words or ten thousand, what matters is adopting the habit and routine of daily writing.
The concept makes sense whether your goal is to become a musician, paint a picture, be a master mechanic, or write a novel. You must make the commitment to work at your craft.
As a result, I’ve decided to forget about NaNoWriMo’s frantic deadlines. My new goal is to sit at my computer and write every single day. I won’t worry about whether I produce 500 words or 1,667. Each morning, when my brain is rested and fresh, I’ll be at my keyboard regardless of day or month.
After all, even the tiniest steps will get you where you want to go…eventually.