How a Book Is Born, Part 7

In which the plan is made.

Now, 50,000 words in a month is a lot of words, especially when you’re working them in around the day job and the kid and the etc. So it’s important to have a way to measure progress. You can write 50,000 words in a month. What you can’t do is write 50,000 words in a day. So you have to be making daily progress toward the goal.

But writing a book isn’t just accumulating words on a page, which is my one quarrel with NANOWRIMO. Getting the words on the paper isn’t the goal; getting the right words on the page is. If you write 50,000 words of pure crap, there’s nothing you can do with them at the end of the day except scrap ’em and try again. If you spend a month going down the wrong road in service of getting 50,000 words on the page, you’re not doing yourself any favor. The goal isn’t just to have written something (at least for me that’s not the goal). The goal is to write a good book.

So the key is to recognize that benchmarks are useful tools, but that’s all they are. Tools. There’s no point in writing 5000 words today if you know they’re the wrong 5000 words but you’re trying to meet your goal. Much better to write 200 words today and spend the rest of the time solving the plot problem that has come up. Then tomorrow when you’re faced with 10,000 words to write, at least you don’t have a plot problem screwing you up.

The thing about writing a novel, I have often said, is that it’s like facing a dragon. A huge, scaly, fire-breathing dragon. No wonder you’d rather go play Angry Birds. Much easier to break the dragon into lizards and deal with a bunch of little lizards. Annoying, yes. But not nearly as intimidating or scary.

So, having a plan is a way of turning the dragon into a bunch of lizards, but the plan is just a tool to get you where you need to go, which is to say, where I need to go, which is a completed, polished 50,000 word novel by December 3, or die trying.

So, at the beginning of this endeavor, I looked at the calendar, subtracted out a week for polishing and for the inevitable “Oh, crap, I forgot Thanksgiving is in November” delays, and saw that I had three weeks to write the book. Or 16,700 words a week.

A lot, but by no means undoable. If we suppose I’ll be working on the book five days a week (because I have a job, a kid, etc.) then that’s 3,340 words a day. Again, a lot, but by no means undoable.

What you need, and by that I mean what I need, is a big Don’t Panic sign.