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On the Road…to writing 50,000 words

Jack Kerouac Reads On the Road

Jack Kerouac Reads On the Road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t think Jack Kerouac was actually the inspiration for National Novel Writing Month. But On the Road may be the first—or at least the best-known—NaNoWriMo-type success story.

It was Kerouac’s second novel, published in 1957. But by the time he began writing the book in 1951, he had already developed the habit of setting a daily word count for himself. He wrote the first draft of On the Road in three weeks (not in November, but in April).

The man was his own intellectual personal trainer, standing over himself with a shrill whistle as he ground out the paragraphs, pored through Dostoyevsky, analyzed ”Hamlet” line by line and typed up his novel’s 1,100 page manuscript. To quantify his progress in this last task, Kerouac devised a numerical ”batting average” that he recalculated as he went. ”Did 17 pages, batting .329….”

Walter Kirn, reviewing Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, in the New York Times 10/10/04

That could be viewed as either inspiring or intimidating to current NaNoWriMo novelists. But my own experience with NaNoWriMo was that standing over myself, metaphorically speaking, and relentlessly holding myself to a daily count of 1,667 words was what made me succeed at reaching the 50,000-word goal. I used an index card system to track my chapter word counts and my daily word counts. I confess to having done some light editing as I went, so I wrote my numbers in pencil and kept an eraser handy.

If you’ve put your writing self on the line by committing to write 50,000 words this year, congratulations: you’re a third of the way—and hopefully about 16,670 words—closer.

Just Do It!

Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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4 thoughts on “On the Road…to writing 50,000 words

  1. Take your own advice. Skin and Indian Sam are languishing!

  2. Make you a deal. You do what I think you need to be doing, and I’ll consider doing what you think I need to be doing. 🙂

  3. I’m only 1o days in to my first NaNoWriMo, but I have FORCED myself to hit at least 1,667 every day. Not giving myself permission to slack has been the key to succes, and at this point I am confident I will finish. Thanks for the encouraging post!

  4. Good for you! It’s great to hear you’re keeping your word count up. I felt terrific when I finished writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and it won’t be long before you get to feel it, too. Since I can’t do it this year, I appreciate you sharing your success. 🙂

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