Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Crazy 50000-Word Month

A month ago I started this crazy idea to write a 50000-word novel in one month (the same idea as the one behind the National Novel Writing Month). I'm proud to announce that I succeeded. It's not a great or even okay novel, that was never the point of this practice. The only point was to write a 50000 novel (or at least a 50000 word text of fiction) and I did it.

The story didn't go exactly as I had planned it in my mind. Most of the characters just emerged as I was writing. In the whole, I think it was a worthy practice. As I said in my previous post, I didn't use Persian, my native language, but English which is my second language. I am very confident with my command of English, but I found out that I know only so much. There were several occasions that I had trouble putting what I had in my mind into words. Sometimes I had even trouble wording what I wanted to say in Persian. I didn't do this very frequently though, as I believe that during every translation parts of the meaning are lost and so if I'm writing in English I think in English. The trouble is, I have a very visual imagination. I make pictures of what I'm thinking in my mind, I see them clearly but I have trouble putting them into words, describing them as I see them clearly. If there's one thing I learned from this exercise, it was that I need a lot of more practice describing events, things and especially people. This last one has always been troublesome for me. If someone asks me how someone else looks like, I'll be totally at a loss as to how to describe them. I see the other person clearly in my mind, but I just don't know how to describe the image.

I'm not going to despair though. Many great writers wrote their first great novels in their fifties or sixties. I still have time. Who knows I might be one of them one day.

And as I promised to myself, I am not going to let anyone see what I've written. It's just embarrassing. It can wait. Maybe I'll be later able to rewrite the story in a better shape, or recycle it in another work.

One of my major reasons to undertake this crazy adventure was to quantize my knowledge of English vocabulary. I used this simple Python program to count the words.
import sys

filename = sys.argv[1]
text = unicode("")

with open(filename, "r") as f:
text =

new = ""
for ch in text:
if ch in "abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz ":
new += ch
elif ch == '\n' or ch == '\x0c':
new += ' '

text = new

words = text.split()
u = set(words)
print sorted(u)
print len(u)
When I give my novel as input to this program, I get 4082 words. So how does that compare? Let's see how many words are there in some other works of fiction. To be fair, I take the first 268458 characters of these novels (that's the length of my own novel):

Lucky (my brilliant novel!): 4082

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J. K. Rowling): 4980
Poison Study (Maria V. Snyder): 5857
Magic Study (Maria V. Snyder): 5304
Fire Study (Maria V. Snyder): 5278
Twilight (Stephenie Meyer): 5433
New Moon (Stephenie Meyer): 5421
The Door into Summer (Robert A. Heinlein): 6011

So I know about as much as 82 percent of J. K. Rowling's vocabulary, 74 percent of Maria V. Snyders's, 75 percent of Stephenie Meyer's and 68 percent of Heinlein's. Impressive! (All right, I know that's probably a very weak measure, but it's a measure anyway, and I like numbers.)