Every November is National Novel Writing Month – an effort to help budding writers and aspiring authors get in the habit of writing daily. To that end, the NaNoWriMo organization provides a handy website that offers resources, word counting tools, and motivation to its participants. Participants can also input their location, and NaNoWriMo can inform writers of nearby ‘write-ins’ at coffee shops and other events to socialize and meet people.

The goal is to guide novelists to 50,000 words in one month. 50,000 actual, written words - excluding outlining and any brainstorms.

Non-writers are often confused by reference to word counts instead of page counts. Authors, publishers, and editors use word counts instead to normalize over font sizes, layout preferences, and other changes that can influence page counts. To give a frame of reference, here are the word counts for the seven Harry Potter novels:

Sorcerer’s Stone: 76,944 words.

Chamber of Secrets: 85,141 words.

Prisoner of Azkaban: 107,253 words.

Goblet of Fire: 190,637 words.

Order of the Phoenix: 257,045 words.

Half-Blood Prince: 168,923 words.

Deathly Hallows: 198,227 words.

Taken from WordCounter.io

Here is a larger chart featuring the most common genres of books and their respective word counts, taken from The Write Life.

50,000 words compared to this is quite lacking, of course. But the point is to get participants in the habit of writing daily and to show how quickly a novel can really be put together. This past month, I can happily say I finally wrote my 50,000 words - in just two weeks, actually. I ended the month with 126,000 words!

There is, of course, far more to publishing a book than simply writing it. Participating in NaNoWriMo this month itself took almost a month of planning and outlining. I went through numerous character sketches to identify the most likely archetypes to work, and even still this is a very rough draft that needs quite a bit of polish.

But the most important thing I realized was how much spare time I really have. I didn’t compromise on anything this month - I still went to work, went to the gym every day, and if anything, I had less time because I took a week to travel to New York and Philadelphia. Yet despite all of that, I wrote more this month than I had in almost the entire year leading up to it.

One of the most helpful apps was Bear - it seems silly, but having a beautiful and easy writing interface made an enormous difference to me. The app is wonderfully defined and words just seemed to flow whenever I opened it. I quickly made a habit of funneling all my spare time into Bear - in the bathroom, when I was in between meetings, or just standing around. The odd five and ten minutes add up very quickly to meaningful word counts.

The other important lesson was to learn to silence my critic. There is a time and a place for criticism, of course, but the writing process is not that time. Worrying about the quality of words is the best way to not write anything at all - after all, the only perfect page is a blank one. And there really wasn’t any time at all if I was going to write 50,000 words in a month.

So I silenced my inner critic and just wrote.

Of course, my critic will surface once more when it’s time to edit, but I viewed the entire novel as a very long blog post. I don’t filter myself or edit very much when it comes to my blog posts - only to fix the bare minimum typos and sometimes not even taht. :) Which is why writing is so enjoyable and easy. Of course it’s important to come back and do the editing and critical analysis to see whether the character or plots are working together, but that process needs to be separate from the writing, especially when one is an amateur writer who isn’t used to writing daily.

Overall this month was very enjoyable and I look forward to someday publishing my novel!

P.S. The final lesson I learned was that there really is not any substitute for Microsoft Word, and if at all possible, use a Windows machine. Word for Windows is night and day compared to the Mac version. My novel + outline + random scenes + notes to myself is 350 pages right now. Google Docs just crashes, Scrivener slows to a crawl, and don’t even get me started on Pages for Mac. Just. Use. Word.