Sometimes when Novice Wordsmith and I write, we try and beat a wordcount bar; whether it’s the 50K of NaNoWriMo or some other arbitrary number, it’s a goalpost to shoot for.
I’ve had years where I’ve done really well, pushing 100K words, and other times where I barely made it over the bar.
But like the climbers that just finished a 19-day free climb of El Capitan, the reasons for doing it are to have a direction to climb. What we find sometimes is that a story can’t be quantified by ‘X words’ — it demands more. A short story becomes a novella; a novel becomes a trilogy, because ones words just can’t be contained by a wordcount _limit_.
Similarly, at times the words just don’t come. They’re lodged in our unconscious writers’ block of iced out ideas, and we just stare at the blinking cursor or blank page and nothing happens. We start stressing because time is ticking, and our wordcount average is falling behind.
And yet we’re capable of superhuman authoring bursts of thousands of words in a single day — when the story demands it. When the time is short. The ‘right’ way to win NaNo is to meet or beat your daily average, since there is a defined ‘stop’ time at the end of the month, but for me, once November is over, I used to stop writing no matter where I was in the month.
Fifty thousand, sixty thousand, fifty four thousand two hundred and one — it didn’t matter. I’d stop cold, and say, “I’m taking a break from this.”
The mountain of words was too high.
But the thing is, not everyone can reach the summit of a novel. Sometimes the avalanche of words comes crashing down and you think your novel is a confused mess of words without resemblance to the perfect climbing path, with waypoints and scene interludes just _gone_, and you don’t know what to do next.
Other times, the way is clear, the steps to get from point A to point B are crystal clear in your head and make it onto the page — or you discover an even better route to the top of the peak — that ability to place that ‘Finished/The End’ flag there with triumph, and you can look back down at the beginning of the novel and go, ‘wow. I wrote all that?’
But really, don’t see your novel and your writing as one mountain. There are several large mountains in the world that people attempt to climb every day; there are also small hills, rocky outcroppings, and the tricky climbing wall of haiku or a screenplay to tackle. Every person’s writing ascent is different, done for their own rationale and reasons (or lack thereof) and finding what challenges you to keep writing — and your wordcount climbing — is something you find within, rather than without.
Moreover, whether you’re at the top or at the bottom, you should always be looking to the horizon, to see what the next mountain in your path might be.