I Wrote One Million Words in a Month. Here’s what happened, and what I learned.

For those who have come here to read Bakuman, well, sorry, first of all. That will resume shortly. I had to put it on pause for NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month), and, more specifically, my word goal.

One million words in 30 Days. The 10th Part of the rough draft of my novel series.

Yep. Yep. Cool. Yeah.

To put that in perspective: the average writing goal is 50,000 words for the month of November. Yeah….I am a mite overambitious.

But, as the title suggests, I was successful. Yay me. And I want to talk about it. Because along the way, aside from the obvious “Oh God why did I decide to make such a monstrous headache of a task for myself, I’m never doing this again ever ever ever Jesus I’m dumb” thoughts, I actually gained some valuable insights. And I learned so many valuable things that it behooves me to write a totally-not-masturbatory-celebration blog post on the topic.

Then, I’ll get to Bakuman. Sorry. Really really sorry.

But, as it turns out, you could learn a thing or two from my over-ambitious, borderline idiotic behavior. So let’s learn about it together!

But first….

WHY?!

Write Shit

The first, and most important question: Why would you do something like this?

Well, I have been working on a series of novels for the last 10 years and I want to write a rough draft of the whole series in one go. I’m almost there, only a few volumes left. And I hit one of the toughest parts of the series right around November. A Part (or Volume) that, in writing habits past, would have induced extreme writer’s block. We’re talking a major headache of plotting, character, story, technic: it was going to be difficult no matter what.

So I decided to shitfuck the words out as fast and dirty as possible and let the story be an absolute steaming pile of unreadable garbage. This was a …puke draft.

I swear, I’m eloquent sometimes.

And lately, I’ve realized the writing adage “Write Shit” is probably the single most important piece of writing advice I’ve ever gotten. In fact, it is transformative. Especially for perfectionists comme-moi. N’est pas?

The entire premise of “write shit” is embedded into the idea of National Novel Writing Month itself: Stop worrying about the quality and get words on the page. Finish it; then obsess. Because, as Ernest Hemingway so eloquently said:

The First Draft of Anything is Shit

-Ernest Hemingway, truth teller

Iteration is key.

And really, it makes sense. The first draft is the only point in writing where you are expected to write terribly. Plot holes, purple prose, characters flatter than that 2-liter bottle of coke you haven’t yet finished sitting in the fridge for three weeks. Everything is going to be a hot mess when it first makes contact with the page. That includes you, outliners.

Because you have no relativistic framing for it. No one is there to tell you that your ideas are bad, or stupid, or don’t make sense. That comes later with beta reading and revision. And even if you write a good first draft, you are still going to lean into your failings as a writer. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a part of the process. If you suck at dialogue your dialogue is likely to suck. If you write terrible romance, the romance will be terrible. Embrace it, lean into your worst impulses for that rough draft.

Then revise mercilessly; you’re going to no matter what.

So I’ve embraced the adage: write shit. And I’ve learned to embody it.

Cause when you have a month to write 1 Million words, you ain’t got no time to think about how good you’re writing is.

The Shonen Mindset

As I’ve frequently mentioned in my Bakuman read through – and more generally in day to day life – in both Shonen Manga and Anime the main characters pursue their goals in spite of impossible odds. Often the characters are fighting with their fists or magical superpowers to do something ridiculous like beat a mech the size of the universe. But sometimes they’re making comics, or cooking gourmet meals, or being wonderful propaganda for the scientific method.

And when I watched Gurren Lagann last year (as I’ve also mentioned a lot….I need more things to reference) it was transformative. It was the first show I watched where the idea of doing the impossible became not only aspirational but a prerogative. It was the first time anything had convinced me that I had no excuse to not live the life I wanted. I was told in unambiguous terms: you can do it. But you have to be willing to do it and fight the things that feel impossible.

And this goal felt sufficiently “Impossible”. That is to say, it felt like a task of such monumental difficulty that there was no way I could reasonably expect to complete it; but that, if I put forth the effort, and I was willing to hurt for it, I could do it. Which, *spoiler alert* is the real message of Shonen storytelling.

Pictured: Motivation

The Ground Rules

Because this task is ahem, 1/4th the length of The Wheel of Time…in a month (Jesus, me). I laid out some pretty straightforward ground rules:

  1. Every word counts
  2. Misspellings don’t matter
  3. Write everything that comes to mind
  4. A chapter a day (minimum)
  5. Don’t worry
  6. Failure is expected. Embrace it
  7. Have fun

This lead to some…” interesting” passages, to say the least, but these rules ended up being important in ways I could not anticipate. But we’ll get to that.

Also, if someone wants to call bullshit on misspellings and non-story as part of my word count feel free. But it was important to me that my writing be as unfettered in the mechanics as possible. Every word was a good one. And as we’ll discuss down the road, failure mattered.

Failure 100% Welcome

I made it a requirement that I do not beat myself up about failing, should I not hit my goal. The pursuit of the impossible can only occur if you recognize the possibility of failure and be ok with it. And the willingness to fail is ten times more important than even that.

When I was allowed to fail, it became easier to succeed, because I didn’t stress myself out about it.

With ground rules laid out, all there was to do was to wait until November 1–oh, right, I chose to do this a few days beforehand. Great.

The Materials

Pictured: My Month

I wrote the entirety of this Million words on my Freewrite Version 2 (not sponsored, by the by) which I have used borderline religiously since I purchased one in 2017. The device itself tracks words (essential) and has a dropbox but also, aside from the aesthetic and practical appeals of it, I have developed a habit of unloading my emotional self onto it. Which is kind of the point.

I did not use a laptop because I have ADHD and I am prone to distraction. With the Freewrite – and the Alphasmart 3000, which I used to use more but has since phased out of my workflow – I can just write because there is nothing but the text. And with the ethos of the device encouraging fast and dirty writing, I felt unencumbered.

Also, because my goal strained credulity from the first moment, I used the Freewrite’s Postbox feature to keep track of my words and post on Instagram to maintain personal accountability. This proved to be way more helpful than I ever anticipated.

My Schedule

With the material ready, I had to actively plan my writing in tandem with my major responsibilities: My job and my marketing internship (insert joke about late-stage capitalism to capture the woke demographic). I also spent Thanksgiving at home with my family, which, given my feelings towards flying, compounded my overall stress. This did not include my extra-curricular activities and socializing.

I was busy.

That is to say nothing of those small mundane habits that you don’t even realize are so essential until you have no time for them. Those were what ended up being thrown under the bus. I didn’t end up watching a lot of movies or television; nor did I read nearly as much as I planned. But I figured out that I would need to carve out about 5 hours a day, on average, to hit my goal, relative to my typing speed.

November 1st, 2019

So, day one comes and I decide to work from home to commemorate the day. I set a goal of 33,000 (the daily average) and I start writing and I think to myself, this isn’t so bad. 1k, 2k, 3k, just wracking up the thousands of words. 4k at lunch. By the end of the workday, I’m at a solid 10 thousand words.

After work, I go to my regular writing spot – the Prudential Center Barnes & Noble – and continue plugging away furiously. Great. great. everything is going fine. I have my second cup of coffee, my ass is only a little sore from sitting and I’m at 16,500.

And then I check the time: it’s almost 8 o’clock and I’m only

HALF DONE.

Immediately my heart palpitates. I type faster, trying to outrun the clock. I know that the train home is going to eat a solid chunk of my time. My brain goes into overdrive. I pick up my things and, to cut through the thicket of words, I write on the train, the train stop and at the bus stop in below-freezing weather. I am shaking and uncomfortable and my entire body is bathed in cold and soreness as I hit 21, 000 words right as the bus gets there.

And then it gets worse. When I get home I find the draft I had written has DISAPPEARED entirely. I freak out. fortunately, my Freewrite has synced to my postbox and it’s fine; but I am a hot mess and there are still 12, 000 words to write. But then I keep my mindset in mind. Calm down, eat and then get back into it.

I’m in tears and it’s almost midnight. I type furiously, the clack of the mechanical keyboard a torrent that approaches the quality of rainfall. I am crying in frustration as I switch from writing on my bed, to my desk to my other desk and repeat. But finally, I convince myself to stop and post my progress on Instagram. And then I sleep like a rock.

The Grind

From that day forward, every day is a variation on that theme. I either go to Barnes & Noble, or squeeze some writing time into my workday and write at the Harvard Coop Cafél; set a word count for the day, and then plug until I get through it. I do my daily deal, whatever that may be, and then write. Write. Write.

At first, the volume was stressful. Especially for the first ten days. There is a great deal of uncertainty when you have so much to write and do and I found myself constantly doing the math as to how much I had left to write. With the story coming in fits and starts, I was frequently frustrated. Compounding the initial fear, however, was the switch to Standard Time. I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and one of the downsides to seasonal depression is that it can make it hard to do much of, well, anything.

But, in spite of that, I plugged away. Some days I wrote fewer words, some days I wrote more. I even managed to get in one solid break day. But at all times, the words were on my mind. Listening to music, reading, it all subordinated to the word count.

And I got 100,000, 200,000, on November 9th I wrote a whopping 50,000 words.

And something interesting happened

Remember how I said every word was good? Well, I came to learn just how essential that was because I wrote down every. single. thing. I. thought.

Was the weather good? Was it shit? Am I tired? Am I hungry? Should I eat? Am I freaking out too much? Am I not freaking out enough. What is that nifty book cover over there? Man, I have a lot of feelings about Margaret Atwood’s new book. Swan’s discography is incredible.

And, then, boom. Story.

As I continued this process throughout the month, more thoughts fell from my brain or were forcibly ejected during crunch time. And as the thoughts were unstuck from the crevices and valleys of my grey matter the story itself became more, vivid. It became …experiential.

I became the story

Man. That sounds weird. Let me clarify.

All stories are, are your thoughts put together with knowledge of story craft. You are imagining things happening and then you put them down on paper and render them with sensory details to grab onto. So when I had nothing in my brain – No thoughts to speak of, but a deadline, a lot of words, and the will to write – I would feel the story. I would be like Paul Atreides and have some prescience of where it was headed. Plot holes and poor writing encouraged and welcome, I allowed the story to twist and turn at its own pace, and whim.

And I was almost physically with my characters. As I looked like some crazy shaman hacking away at my keyboard like some Byronic hero from an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, I was smelling what the characters smelled, seeing what they saw and feeling what they felt. I had become a character myself.

It was exhilarating. and gave me a more emotional connection to the story. It also gave me a sense of genuine excitement at what I was writing. The fear and terror of action sequences, and the thrill of pushing forward without any rules. I would explore imaginary vistas just for the fun of it that had nothing to do with the story. Conjured islands of imagination and creatures that I felt like were almost there in my borderline fugue.

But it was not all sunshine and roses

The Physical

I should also note though, that this process was exhausting and costly. I increased my caffeine intake a lot and had to cut back on a number of healthy habits in the meantime. Three Venticups of Starbucks Pike Brew a day is not what I would call healthy. To allow for more writing, I ate out regularly. I cut back on working out because I was physically exhausted.

And, I got sick and emotionally exhausted.

The sickness was multivariant. I had made some poor choices during a cold snap and got a very powerful cold. I wrote in spite of it…ugh. It wasn’t caused by the writing, but it was exacerbated by it. And then, halfway through the process of writing, I hit 500,000 words.

And wrote 73k in a single day. A full-length adult novel in 16 hours.

The Emotional

The experiential nature of the writing proved a double-edged sword. While I was vividly experiencing the story, riding on the backs of dragons and exploring mysterious lands to epic soundtracks (including the Gurren Lagann OST), I was also completely emotionally bared to the world. The aperture of my heart was pulled all the way open.

So I was way more susceptible to negativity than I usually am. In particular, I got more argumentative and grumpy while my head was a block of snot. But I kept pushing dutifully forward. I even took a break for Friendsgiving and got even sicker than I was before.

And this is why I cannot, in good faith, recommend that you write a million words in a month, my friend. I knew my limits and I did my best to respect them. Even so, I was still thoroughly exhausted and almost drifted into the realm of harm. And I cannot recommend anything that is potentially harmful.

But we’ll discuss that more soon.

Emotional Baggage

The Battle

As I wrote and wrote and wrote, I found my writing to get more general and more chaotic. But I also dug deeper emotionally. Towards the middle, I held myself on trial for all the failings that still haunt me, minor or major. Grave or light. Everything came out. It was like an emotional ex-lax. And as more of my buried deep darkness came out, I felt worse and worse. It was as if the world conspired to make me feel as terrible as possible.

But what kept me going were the protagonists of fantasy, shonen, and genre fiction at large. I imagined how those characters feel when they are in epic climactic battles against huge monstrous foes. They feel exhausted, in pain, and pushed to the edge. The characters whom I admired most wouldn’t be happy or thrilled about all this pain, but they would push through it. They would see the light at the end of the tunnel, and run to it with a smile, in spite of all the suffering.

And so did I. I treated myself and my labor as a character in those epic stories despite being distinctly un-epic. This was a battle of wills and I resolved to win. And so I pushed and held myself on trial and looked at all those failings and hurt and suffered through them vividly.

May not be mechs, but it was a battle.

And then I did something I didn’t expect happened.

I let go of that pain. I forgave myself. And then, I felt better.

Just like those fictional characters, this precipice of impossibility pushed me to overcome the emotional blocks that have held me back for years. Despite the challenge, I am glad I did it. It made me forgive myself. It gave me no room to linger or overthink. Everything fell out onto that page, good, bad, lecherous, virtuous, compassionate, hateful. In so doing rendered me unable to challenge the better angels of my nature. And I forgave myself.

And after that, I relaxed.

The Climax and Thanksgiving

In the final week of November, I went home to Silver Spring Maryland, a place with a lot of baggage for a lot of reasons. I came to it borderline purified, and, because my parents knew about my goals, I was able to write in relative peace.

Having exorcised that darkness, I was able to just be there, and relax and enjoy myself. Something I’ve never really been able to do when I’m home. It felt really nice.

And as I wrote the final, 100,000-word, chapter I allowed myself to just chill and move at a healthy pace. And I noticed something.

Writing felt easy

I wrote anywhere I could

What used to be such a struggle – 100, 200, even a 1,000 words – felt like nothing at all. I felt like Goku with the weighted vest coming off. Or Rock Lee if you swing that way. I felt unencumbered by the writing itself and it flowed naturally.

And then, I did it.

One Million Words Done

Victory

In the final lap I managed to accept myself and I did it, I wrote one million words in thirty days. It was almost midday, in my childhood bedroom, and pajama bottoms on my queen-sized childhood bed. The day was grey outside, and the leaves had fallen off the trees. I felt the satisfaction of finishing not only the novel but having done the “impossible”. It felt pretty damn good.

The Itch

And after that, it was easy to relax. I made a promise not to write for a week (to recover) and so I didn’t. But here’s the weird thing: I still wanted to write, desperately.

The series I have been writing is incomplete, but also I found that absent the vomiting of words onto a page, I was more anxious and more irritable. I found that my mental space got clouded up again. That I was feeling all those things I expected to feel during November but didn’t.

And I felt that thing that everyone dreads after finishing a massive undertaking: Tristesse. Not post-coital necessarily.

I had the sadness of finishing all over me. And it felt pretty crappy. That emptiness when you come to a vacuum of activity is always tough. Especially one that monopolizes your time. But this one was unexpectedly hard. Especially because of how physically and emotionally exhausting the task had proven to be.

So, what did I learn?

This experience was a revelation, and I gained a lot from it. The biggest lessons were the most…generic, if I may.

Those are:

1.if you believe you can do something – even impossible things – you are more likely to do them.
2. Accountability makes it a lot harder to say no (thank you, instagram)
3. Perfection is not, and should not be a consideration when starting out.
4. A little bit of stress that you anticipate goes a long way
5. Patience, planning, and persevering can make all the difference
6. The impossible doesn’t have to be impossible.
7. How you choose to view something affects how it goes
8. Pain is not a bad thing; harm is, though.
9. Writing is powerful

But those could be gleaned from anything. What I truly valued in this experience was the emotional expulsion that took place. And this was the thing I didn’t anticipate affecting me.

Thoughts & Words

I am an overthinker. My verbosity is well-known and well-demonstrated in this post. But I am also shy, and quiet more often than not. In large social gatherings, I tend to seize up. I’m regularly very tired. I used to think that that tiredness precluded my ability to do something so large scale, and had nothing to do with the volume of my thoughts.

But this showed me that that is wrong. I am tired because I have so many thoughts, and nowhere to let them out.

And this is the bigger point. One that I cannot stress enough.

When there are no censors for your writing, there are no censors for your mind. You become free.

Self-doubt and perfectionism are a reflexive loop. They feed off and sustain each other. With this process, the writing I produced was almost certainly unreadable. Parts of it are absolutely emotionally terrifying for me. And The story flits in and out randomly.

But also, because nothing was off-limits. because I had a space to write in which I felt utterly safe to express myself, I was also extremely creative. New ideas sprung up and I latched onto them. At times, it felt like the story knew where it was going, and I was along for the ride. The more I wrote, the less I worried. And the less I worried, the more the story came out naturally and beautifully and genuinely.

What this means for you

I said I cannot recommend writing a million words in a month. Not knowing you, dear parasocially related reader, I cannot guarantee that you are in the same emotional, physical, or mental state I was to do so. I cannot recommend that you endanger yourself because there is a risk of harm.

But what should you do? Find that thing that scares you and that feels impossible, and pursue it doggedly. Whatever that may be for you. Everyone has that thing. That doesn’t have to be writing.

It means that if you have a bajillion racing thoughts, find a safe space to churn them out freely and without limit until you feel like they are really out.

What that means is that if you embrace failure, imperfection, and persistence – if you allow yourself to be uncomfortable and uncertain and you push forward in spite of it, you will be able to achieve your goal.

But mostly, for my writer friends: don’t be afraid to write terrible stuff and fail. Do not critique that work. Write freely. Write experientially. Find a way to make the writing a part of you.

And, who knows, maybe you will hit a million words in a month. Or something even greater.

That would be thrilling for me.

Until I finish this draft,
Eric

P.S. If you liked this and want to read more of my comment, support this blog by liking my facebook page and following me on twitter

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

2 thoughts on “I Wrote One Million Words in a Month. Here’s what happened, and what I learned.”