I finished! I “won.” I wrote a novel in a month – 50,001 in 30 days – and boy are my arms tired. Again, for those of you who haven’t heard of this novel-ing monstrosity, National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) is when you pound your head against a keyboard until you hit the space bar enough times to reach 50,000 words in 30 days (November 1-30). It teaches you to turn off your inner editor and to use three words when you could have used one. 50,000 words averages out to 1,666 words per day, because that’s how the devil likes it. It’s free to participate, it’s on the honor system, and if you reach 50,000 words you win bragging rights (see image above) and the satisfaction of having written 50,000 words. So basically, it’s a lot like a marathon, because the reward is in doing it (and then telling people you did it…).
All month I’ve been wondering – which is harder, finishing NaNoWriMo or finishing a marathon? To help the none of you who are trying to decide between the two, I’m going to rank the difficulty of each using as many numbers and statistics as possible, while remaining completely unscientific and wholly biased.
NaNoWriMo vs Marathons – Which is More…
While there are many late nights and many bags of M&Ms consumed while writing, finishing a marathon requires covering at least 26.2 miles on your feet. I mean, c’mon.
Everyone says running a marathon is mostly mental. Those people are wrong. If you want to hate yourself and hate everything that has ever come out of your head and wonder how you can even function as a human being when you can’t even form a sentence that makes sense or sounds good, then do NaNoWriMo.
While running 26.2 miles only takes a few hours, (proper) marathon training goes on for months. NaNo, by definition, only lasts a month. NaNo seems like it takes a long time because there is almost no moment during that month that you don’t feel like you should be writing. Even if you’re writing, you feel like you’re not writing enough. While training for a marathon, you might feel like you’re slacking sometimes, but you never think you should maybe go for a run at 2 AM because you didn’t already do enough running that day. But still, training for and running a marathon ultimately takes more time, if only because it’s more spread out.
Winner: Marathon by a nose
Exhausting? (i.e., How quickly could you do one again?)
After my first marathon, I was tired, but I immediately wanted to sign up for another marathon (and I did). After I completed my first NaNo, I didn’t look at what I had written for 6 years. For literally 6 years I did not open that file again! And I didn’t make a serious effort to finish another NaNo until 9 years after my first.
Difficult to complete annually? (i.e., How many people finish it every year?)
In 2013, 541,000 people completed a marathon in just the United States (although one runner can count for more than one of the finishers, like me!). In 2013, about 310,095 people participated in NaNoWriMo worldwide, but only 42,221 finished it (a 14% completion rate). Also in 2013, 50,740 people started the NYC Marathon and 50,266 finished (a 99.06% completion rate). I couldn’t find a good average completion rate for marathons worldwide, but it’s safe to assume it is many, many times higher than NaNo’s completion rate.
Winner: NaNo by a landslide
Difficult to complete ever? (i.e., How many times might a person complete it?)
NaNo started in 1999 with 20 participants. In 2011 they added Camp NaNoWriMo in April & July, so there are now three time periods that are “official” NaNo months, but that’s still only 24 times the event has ever been “held.” Marathons made their modern debut in 1896 and there were over 1,100 marathons held in just the United States in just 2013. It’s numerically a lot easier to have done multiple marathons than to have done multiple NaNos. And of course, since the ultimate important factor is how many times I’ve done either, I’ve finished 14 marathons and only 2 NaNos. (It’s worth noting that you can “do” NaNo in any 30 day period you’d like, just like you can run 26.2 miles any time you like, but neither is nearly as satisfying as doing it during the prescribed time and/or place.)
Winner: NaNo by another landslide
NaNoWriMo is more difficult than a typical marathon. Thank god they don’t have an option to do one in every state.
Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Which would you rather have to do – run a marathon or write a novel in a month? Is there another tortuous endurance event you recommend? Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail perhaps? Share in the comments!