November is a time when many people participate in a group activity to write a novel (or other long work) organized as NaNoWriMo — the National Novel Writing Month.  Those who sign up (free) can give a name, brief description, cover thumbnail image, and report on their progress to write a rough draft of 50,000 words.

That sounds like a daunting task, especially when one considers Thanksgiving and all of the other obligations of life.  However, writing a book is a commitment and it is better to finish a draft of any quality done than a partial work that might be finished someday.

Mildred A. Wirt Benson

But why write about this on a Stratemeyer Syndicate history blog?  The ghostwriters who worked from the Syndicate outlines produced works that were between 40,000 and 75,000 words in about four weeks.  Often they did this as “moonlighting” work on the evenings and weekends in addition to writing-heavy occupations such as working as a newspaper reporter.  This was the most common “day job” for a Stratemeyer Syndicate ghostwriter and some of the best-known people were in this category including Howard R. Garis, Leslie McFarlane, and Mildred Wirt Benson.

But can an ordinary person write 50,000 words in 30 days for NaNoWriMo?  Thousands do every year.  The first thing that helps is to put the number into some perspective.  Let’s make the arithmetic simpler and say that the goal can be achieved if 2,000 words were written each day for 25 of the 30 days in November.

For those who have had a traditional typing class, it may be remembered that conventional double-spaced typed page with one-inch margins contains an average of 250 words.  Thus, eight of these pages is equivalent to the 2,000-word goal.  In fact, to the end of this sentence, this post contains 285 words.

The second part of this series (Wednesday Nov. 9) will reveal examples of the length and basic features of the Stratemeyer Syndicate outlines produced and used from 1905 through 1985, including how they evolved over time.   It also includes the Syndicate’s prescription on main plot to subplot content

The third part (Wednesday Nov. 16) digs into the details of the Syndicate’s “Formula for Outlines,” including the types of cliffhanger chapter endings and the taboo topics for stories.

Sample progress chart for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)
 An example of the word count chart on In this case, from user Nancy_Drew, who happens to be my wife, Kim