This was a reply to a forum post discussing the possibility of finishing NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 words in 12 hours. Since I finished it in 24 hours last year and plan on trying again this year, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, and as a result my reply got quite long.
I finished 50,000 words in the first 24 hours last year (23 hours 53 minutes if you want to be picky). It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some hard things. Teach middle school, for one. 😛
Here’s the stats spreadsheet, if you’re curious. [Added note: I forgot this thing existed until 7am, hence why my stats don’t start until then.]
I plan to attempt repeating this on Thursday. A few things:
This really did take the full 24 hours. I lost my max writing speed the first three hours thanks to an in-person kickoff party and for a few hours in the afternoon thanks to tutoring a student. The latter will occur again this year. If I didn’t write about 800 words on Dropbox on the bus that afternoon I wouldn’t have finished.
The hard part is, as people have pointed out, writing nonstop. It’s exhausting, both physically and mentally. It’s a bit emotionally exhausting as well, but that didn’t kick in until the second for me. If I really push myself and write nonstop, I can write 4k an hour–but then I need a break at the end of that hour to relax my body and mind. Now imagine doing that for 24 hours straight. Imagine doing that with little to no sleep (did I mention I slept half an hour–two fifteen-minute naps–during the whole first day?). You’re probably going to be drinking a lot of caffeine as well if you partake. You’ll need to stop for food unless you’re really good at suppressing your stomach growling. You’ll need to get up to go to the bathroom. You may have to get up to take of other incidental things–or if you’re like me and you schedule small things on the first day, you’ll have to take care of those.
All that said, your consistent writing pace is going to be significantly lower than what’s needed to write 50k in 12 hours–4167 words/hour if you’re curious, meaning I could theoretically do it if the nonstop issue weren’t a factor. I can consistently write 3k-3500 words per full writing hour if going for something ridiculous like 50k in a day. (There’s an excerpt of last year’s 50k day novel on my profile under last year’s novel if you’re curious of what such a thing looks like for me.) The 4k hours are usually one-offs. And 5k hours are rare even outside 50k day/weekend attempts.
So that brings up the big question: Why do this in the first place? Everyone’s reasons are different, but I look at it this way: why do some folks climb Mount Everest or hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one go? The answer is often “Because it’s there”. There’s a certain thrill that comes out of these things as well, opening one’s mind to new adventures. There’s a saying some of us who go far beyond the traditional 50k go by: Once you overachieve, you don’t go back. There’s a thrill that comes out of the deadline and creating more and more story more and more quickly that makes the writing and community even more enjoyable. Some of us desire that thrill and seize the feeling that comes out of creating lots of story quickly, which drives us to write more.
But if that’s not what makes NaNo enjoyable for you, figure out what does, and hold on to that feeling. And most of all, keep on writing.