The Sustainable 600K: A Writing Dare Courtesy of Alan Baxter

Last week my friend Alan Baxter posted his annual link to a post about why he thinks NaNoWriMo is a stupid idea for writers, and ‘cause I was fresh off a teaching gig and looking for distraction, I accidentally clicked through and read said post for the fourth year in a row.

I’m not quite the anti-NaNo grump that Alan is, although I do kind of dread this time of year as a natural by-product of working at a centre that exists to help new writers. NaNo usually results in a slight uptick in calls, activities, and other new-writer craziness that carries us through to the end of the December (I’ve also seen how useful it is when it comes to helping aspiring writers carve time out of their schedule, especially when they’re still at that early stage where no-one takes their writing ambition seriously, which is the same theory behind the weekly Writing Races we run via AWM).

So, by and large, I skimmed over the arguments and went straight to the comments where the interesting stuff happened. And what caught my eye this year, however, was a complaint Al made in the comments:

50k words in a short time is not unreasonable, but in 30 days it’s unrealistic to be sustainable. Once, sure, but on a regular basis? It’s unsustainable and unnecessary. 

When he first made this argument, back in 2011, I probably would have nodded and gone along agreeing with him. Even last year, when I was first settling down and getting back into a writing routine, I would have been like “well, yeah, for those of us who work, it’s pretty ambitious.”

But this year, well, I look at that and think 600,000 words in twelve months isn’t that hard, is it? I’ve been pretty crap at keeping track of my actual word-count this year, but I’ve been writing pretty fast for the last twelve months. 2,400 word days aren’t unusual anymore, even if they were unthinkable when I started writing again back in January.

And since Facebook is a place where I throw almost every half-formed idea that runs through my head, I put this up on Alan’s comment thread: Now I kinda want to go write 600,000 words between now and next November, just to test if its as unsustainable as you think it is.

His response was characteristically succinct: I fucking dare ya! 

And in that moment I was committed.

Between November 1st, 2014, and October 31st, 2015, I’m going to endeavor to write 600,000 words of fiction to test Al’s argument about sustainability of big monthly word counts. I’m not planning on posting daily word counts or anything, but I will be checking in on the project periodically and taking a look at what’s working for. I’m expecting there will be a level of hacking involved, since I’m basically aiming at “holy fuck,  how do you do that and work a part-time job” levels of productivity. And, ’cause I have a mortgage and a desire to eat, I’ll be doing my level best to make sure everything is a salable quality work rather than writing 50k a month for its own sake (my one concession to Al’s complaint against NaNo).

So that start tomorrow.

Today, however, I’m reading through my draft of Crusade (aka Flotsam novella) and filling in the final few scenes that need to be finished.

  7 comments for “The Sustainable 600K: A Writing Dare Courtesy of Alan Baxter

  1. 31/10/2014 at 11:01 AM

    I wish you all the best, Peter. I really hope you succeed!

    • petermball
      31/10/2014 at 11:28 AM

      Cheers. I'm oddly confident at this stage – I've pretty much hacked my writing process to the point where the standard NaNo daily word count feel like "cruising speed." It's just a matter of keeping it running without the deadlines to keep me focused 🙂

      • 31/10/2014 at 11:50 AM

        For sure, the average NaNo daily word count is not too hard. I normally double that at least on writing days. But averaging that much over a month, let alone a year, is pretty different. 20k a month, or 240k for a year is pretty doable. That’s probably roughly my area. But 600k in a year? Best of fucking luck. 🙂

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