Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

NaNo, Uh-Oh!

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 NaNo!

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)

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)

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.



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  1. Pat–I’m already way behind, but I love your outlook. I figure, even if I don’t make 50,000 words by November 30, I will have gotten more down than if I hadn’t done NaNo.

    You and me–both losers when it comes to NaNoWriMo but we’re both winners… because we’re writing.

  2. I had thought about joining this year but then life happened. Someday I will finally get to write my book – may need to wait for retirement!

    Keep writing!

    • Pat Wahler

      November 6, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      Hi Hailey and Zaphod’s Lady!

      Just chip away at your book. You’ll be surprised at how quickly all the words will add up to a novel!

  3. Linda O'Connell

    November 6, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Well, I’m in it to win it, but can’t imagine writing from scratch. I am revising an 84,000 word novel, and am making myself work on it every day. Making slow progress. But I am encouraged. Goo d luck to you and all other participants.

    • Pat Wahler

      November 6, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      Hi Linda!

      Anything that motivates us to sit down and write is a good thing. That’s probably the best part of NaNoWriMo–lighting the fire.

  4. You know, there’s nothing magic about the month of November. I think the important thing is to have goals. Mine is generally 1000 -2000 words per day (depending on the project) when I’m drafting. When I’m revising I’m more likely to set goals based on scenes or chapters. Also time. I often set a timer and make myself sit at the computer writing for that amount of time before getting up to do whatever else it is I’ve decided should grab my attention.

  5. That is a very good goal Pat. I have been ‘meaning’ to do a lot of artwork over the past couple of months and have only produced about half a dozen things. I could blame a naughty puppy, but is really me who is too lazy to have sit down and done it and put it off until tomorrow…
    Lynne x

    • Pat Wahler

      November 7, 2016 at 8:58 am

      Hi Lynne!

      There are so many things that compete for our attention. If we could only carve out a piece of time each day and devote it to writing or art or any other goal, I’ll bet a lot would get done. Of course, it’s a bit easier to say this than to put into practice.

  6. Encouraging words! Thank you. Not participating this year, but maybe next year!

    • Pat Wahler

      November 8, 2016 at 7:45 pm

      Hi Mary!

      My participation is only in an academic sense, since I’m not pushing myself to make 50,000 words by November 30.

  7. I need to do that too. I need to write every single day, and not even worry about the word count–just for goodness sake–work on a project other than my blog and write. 🙂

    • Pat Wahler

      November 8, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      Hi Margo!

      Yes, I agree. It’s definitely a commitment to write every day. I liked Sarah’s idea of using a timer. That might be more effective than worrying about word count.

  8. Excellent advice, Pat! And I admit that I’m not one for strict word counts whenever I sign up for writing challenges, too. But writing every day–even if you’re not doing a challenge–is really important, to keep the story stuff going. Doesn’t have to be tons of words, just enough to keep the story going.

    The story will get there, sooner or later, as long as you stay the course. Now staying the course…that’s a whole ‘nother challenge. 🙂

    • Pat Wahler

      November 19, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      Hi Cathy!

      You got that right. Staying the course when it’s so easy to get pulled away is a true challenge.

  9. Lynn Obermoeller

    November 11, 2016 at 4:17 pm

    I’m behind too with my NaNo word count, but I’m not sweating it. It has gotten me to at least write on some days… you’re doing great and what an interesting article! Thanks of sharing.

    • Pat Wahler

      November 19, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      Hi Lynn!

      Yes, let go of the guilt. I won’t come near to 50,000 words by November 30, but at least I’ve got the beginning to a new novel. And that’s definitely worth something.

  10. Great post, Pat. I’m going back to look at that chart. There was a famous author (it might have been Ray Bradbury, but I’m really not certain) who said to write just a single page a day if that was all you could do. Just a single page—and by the end of the year, you’d have a 365 page book!

  11. Sounds like a good goal, don’t berate yourself!

    • Pat Wahler

      November 19, 2016 at 3:36 pm

      Hi Sandy!

      You’re right. At least I will have accomplished something in November that I wouldn’t have ordinarily done.

  12. Amazing number of works/words put out by those authors. I have given fiction a rest this year as I’ve been working on my book on frugal living. But next year I’ll start back on fiction. My goal is a lowly one book a year!

  13. That’s a good plan! Just putting something down is the only way to write.

    Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

    • Pat Wahler

      November 21, 2016 at 8:33 am

      Hi Holly!

      Amen to that. Now if I can only keep myself to the goal of putting something on paper every day.

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