Welcome to December’s first round of Life List Friday! Today, I’m thrilled to be hosting Gary Gauthier. The “slow but steady” writing approach that Gary discusses below is definitely appealing to me, as I’m sure it will be to other busy writers!
Gary and I were both inspired by classic stories this time around, although he looked to a fable while I went to a fairy tale. After you’ve checked out Gary’s approach to winning the race, please hop on over to Marcia Richards’ place and kiss a few frogs with me – then just keep on hopping through our Life List blogrolls.
Now, on to Gary!
Congratulations to all my friends who participated in NaNoWriMo. For those who didn’t make the finish line, take heart. It’s not every time we get to accomplish what we set out to do. Sometimes, life gets in the way. I was excited about participating for my first time in the annual novel-writing marathon. I prepared for it by making a decent outline of what I wanted to write but didn’t get to use it. Other commitments got in the way. A few days before November 1st came around, I decided I wasn’t going to participate this year. The dedication of time required was too much for me. NaNo will have to wait for next year.
So what did I do with all the free time this past month? As it turns out, there was very little free time because I was immersed in another project that I gave a higher priority.
500, Sure and Steady, Is a Winning Strategy. Many of us have had the experience of repeatedly running into the thing that is upper-most in our mind. You want a cashmere sweater and all of a sudden there are ads for cashmere sweaters all over the place, and then your best friend shows up wearing a cashmere sweater. You plan on leasing a particular car and every time you’re on the road you keep seeing the same make and model. It must have been a similar synchronicity that made me run into an article about the writing routines of famous novelists. The one that works for me is the simple goal of writing 500 words a day.
At first, I wanted to verify whether this system was a benign rumor, a myth or an urban legend. After some search-engine research, I came up with the names of two authors (according to unnamed sources) that wrote 500 words a day: Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway. In their own way, each one is an accomplished novelist. I hear there may be others who wrote in a similar fashion. Whether their use of this system is myth or fiction doesn’t really matter if you can use it to stay focused and motivated.
The second question that came to mind was: how long would it take to write a novel using this system? Most novels written for adults are between 75 and 100 thousand words in length. At this point, I had to resort to a calculator. 100,000 words divided by 500 per day gives you 200 days. At this same rate, you can complete a 75,000-word novel in five months. (150 days x 500 words = 75,000) After doing these calculations, it occurred to me that writing a novel is a much more manageable undertaking than the vague notions I had previously entertained.
The Goal Is a Finished Product. After implementing the system and sticking to approximately 500 words a day, I find myself spending extra time crafting my prose to my liking. In the end, the completed manuscript will be a much better first draft than if I try to write as much as possible during individual sittings. How you define the “finished product” is up to you, but a decent first draft is a tremendous milestone and, in itself, a notable accomplishment.
The Race Doesn’t Necessarily Belong to the Swift. If you consider that the vast majority of great novelists did not have the benefit of laptops with word-processors, (not to mention specialized software for organizing manuscripts) it’s easier to accept the supposition that these authors limited their writing to a few hundred words a day. It’s quite a job to manipulate large amounts of hand-written or type-written text. Every student who has written a five-page paper is acquainted with what’s involved. If sometimes you get overwhelmed by the enormity of your project and seem to be drifting without direction, remember: 500, sure and steady, is a winning strategy.
So there you have it, I didn’t start NaNo, let alone finish. I don’t feel bad because, during the month otherwise dedicated to the event, I was engaged and productive. I also verified, to my satisfaction, a simple pacing strategy that reinforces the moral of one of Aesop’s fables.
Did you participate in NaNoWrimo this year? What was your experience like?
Illustration: Milo Winter (1888 – 1956)
Gary is working on his first novel, a crime thriller set in New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. His blog, Literary Snippets, gives him an opportunity to express and share his appreciation for art and literature. He occasionally posts articles as well. Some of his favorite writers are Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. But this changes from time to time. Stay tuned! Follow him on Twitter and Google Plus.