Finish the job #amwriting

This year’s NaNoWriMo saw a large increase in the number of writers who managed to cross the 50,000-word line. This is probably due to the pandemic—we’re all locked up at home with nothing else to do. People who have been dabbling in writing for several years at last committed to the challenge. After all, why not write that space opera or elvish romance that has been rolling around in the back of their mind? It’s not like they had anywhere to go.

In our region, we had 235 participants sign up. Of those, 27 didn’t understand how to use the website, so their data didn’t get counted. Of the 208 participants who did manage to sign up correctly, 33 created their profiles but chose not to participate.

On November 1, 175 writers began updating their word count. To me, the most interesting statistics are found in the lower word counts, the places where people stopped writing.

# of Writers:     Ending Word Count:

15 between 10,000 and 14,999
17 between 5,000 and 9,999
12 between 2,500 and 4,999
19 Between 1,000 and 2,499
11 Between 1 and 999


One statistic I won’t see (but would love to) is how many of this year’s NaNo novels, winner or not, actually get finished. And of those that are completed, how many will be published? Far fewer authors publish than I would wish.

Many people in my region admit that they quit writing the day after NaNoWriMo ended, even those with their books nearly complete. I suspect that if that is true in my pocket of the universe, it is true everywhere.

Will they rediscover their passion and continue on? I hope so, but odds are, they won’t.

235 people in our region signed up. 33 people created projects but didn’t participate. 175 participants signed up correctly and updated their wordcount at least once. Out of those participants, 74 logged in and updated their word count daily, and wrote 50,000 or more words.

The reality sets in within the first week. A strange, coincidental statistic is this: We had 74 winners, but we also had 74 writers in our region who never got more than 15,000 words written.

This is an example of what I think of  as “First Line Syndrome.” Sometimes, the first lines are all an author has.

I have a dear friend who began writing a novel they are exceedingly passionate about several years ago. But the first lines, introducing the characters, and the first few chapters are all that has ever been written.

Yet the author of those few chapters speaks of their barely-begun book with enthusiasm as if they could pick it up and finish it any moment. When they talk about this book, it sounds so interesting; something I would love to read.

Truthfully, I fear that talk about this novel is all that will ever materialize. A writer must dedicate a short amount of time each day to writing, or their book will never be completed. An hour, thirty minutes–all it takes is a little pocket of time that is only for writing.

Why do prospective books languish unwritten?

These writers are passionate about the idea of writing, but not the real work of it. They aren’t obsessive enough about their vision to ignore the drama that keeps them too busy to write.

Once in a great while, when they’re bored and can’t find a book they want to read, they will open that old file and read what they wrote. They will talk about how they’re going to sit down and finish it someday.

But that won’t happen unless they become obsessed, sit their backside in front of the keyboard, and do it.

We all have drama in our lives. For me, writing keeps the drama at arm’s length, makes it manageable. Things crop up, health issues, family emergencies, needs that I can help fill. I wrote much of Forbidden Road and The Wayward Son while sitting in various hospitals. As my son recovered from a variety of life-threatening injuries incurred because of his seizure disorder, my laptop and my work kept me grounded when everything else was out of control.

I wrote a novel during the year I had my mother living with me. She was dying, and we knew it, but we made daily trips to Olympia for chemo, a fifty mile round trip every day. Still, she was failing and we knew it.

When it became clear that nothing was working, we acquired all the things that come with hospice, turning our home into a place where we could care for her more easily. Oxygen tanks, hospital bed, you name it, we had it as part of our décor. A nurse came for an hour every day to help me with bathing Mama and to see that she wasn’t suffering any pain, but I was the primary care giver.

During that time, I also worked part-time as a bookkeeper for a landscape company, dealt with health problems of my own, and had a daughter and son with health issues.

Mama passed away in 2009, but other challenges have arisen to fill that vacuum. Life still affects us.

Writing keeps me sane. Other people discover that writing is too stressful, but reading keeps them sane.

Participating in NaNoWriMo encourages discipline. When you must write 1,667 new words every day, you force yourself to write the entire book before you begin editing.

Once you have the novel’s arc written from beginning to end, you won’t be left wondering where to go next, writing and rewriting the same first chapter.

You can’t edit a book that hasn’t been written, but you can rewrite the same opening lines over and over, until they mean nothing to you.

I encourage writers to read for pleasure. How else will you learn the tricks, the many ways professional authors begin and complete their work?

If you want to write a novel, you must read what is already published in your genre. There is no other way to understand what readers of that kind of book expect and want to see.

But, to become an educated reader/author, you should look outside your favorite genre. You will find books that surprise you, challenge your biased perceptions. Even if you don’t like the book, something will stick with you.

War and Peace, ninth draft, Leo Tolstoy 1864

Published authors, whether Indie or traditionally published, have finished their work.

Maybe they didn’t do as great a job as some people think they could have done, but they did finish writing the book.

Grand ideas about what you intend to write mean nothing if you don’t finish it.

If all you have ever written is the first chapter… over… and over… and over…, perhaps you need to set that idea aside. Perhaps at this point in your life, writing isn’t your passion, but reading is.

If writing isn’t your obsession, keep reading. Don’t stop searching for the one book to end all books.

And it is here that we come to a fundamental truth, one for which I am profoundly grateful.

Without readers, there would be no need for authors.

Credits and Attributions:

Image: Power of Words by Antonio Litterio |Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Power of Words by Antonio Litterio.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed December 12, 2020).

Лев Николаевич Толстой, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Filed under writing

6 responses to “Finish the job #amwriting

  1. Stephen

    I have started 4 projects with NaNo and to date finished only 1 of them. As you say, the passion is needed to keep on after NaNo ends. My completed project was finished 5 years after its NaNo effort.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Probably one of your best blogs. Lots to mull over.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Maybe it’s good that some readers discover, by trying NaNo or some other way, that they aren’t cut out to be writers. When you think about it, we need more readers, especially now that people are reading less than used to be the case, and more (I suspect) are writing and publishing.
    And yes, this is a thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 2 people