March 3, 2011 § 15 Comments
I know it’s March, and emphatically not November. But regardless, some of us are WriMoing March away (and maybe April too). It’s a tall order to write several tens of thousands of words in a single 30-day period. It’s something of an endurance challenge, especially after the halfway mark. But it’s really beneficial.
Many people talk of writing a novel. Most people never actually do it. Why? Well, I’m a recent university graduate, and I know that the prospect of writing a five-thousand-word dissertation essay was enough to strike fear into the hearts of most of us (me included). How about a hundred-thousand-word piece of fiction, then? One hundred and fifty thousand words? The prospect of climbing a mountain that steep is daunting, to say the least.
And other than the horrifying workload involved, there’s also…
Or fear of failure. This is what keeps you plotting and thinking and planning week after week, trying to refine your story ideas into a state of utter, beautiful perfection before you presume to write anything. Researching background info for the novel. Experimenting with characters. And so on. All of this stuff is important, but not if you do it forever. You can easily over-plan to the point where you never feel confident enough in the story to actually begin.
And if you manage to force your way past this point, there’s the nagging doubt you feel over everything you’ve written so far. Instead of focusing on the scenes to come, you spend too much time thinking about what you’ve already written. Doubting everything you decided upon, horribly conscious of the poor prose, the inconsistencies, etc. The worst happens when you weaken to the point that you go back and start editing. Seriously bad news.
Eventually you painfully grind out a few chapters and lose heart. And there it lies forever: reduced to nothing but evidence of your inability to write a novel.
Quite a tale of woe. Anyway, having gone through much this process with my first attempt at a novel, I decided to apply the general policy of NaNoWriMo to my second attempt, and that is: simply to write. It doesn’t matter how good it is: no first draft is perfect. It can be fixed later. I managed 35k in two months. Huzzah!
Now it’s time to turn up the pressure and impose a time limit. First goal: 30k in March. That works out to about 1000 words per day. If all goes well, I’ll keep it up through April and maybe up the target to 40k. We’ll see.
Company always helps, so I’m happy to be doing this alongside Andy from Sfad and Sara from Sara D vs. Reality. If anyone else is looking for a bit of encouragement, help and general motivation while you chase your writegoal, feel free to join in!
Here are the two immutable laws of NaNoWriMo from my experience so far.
It’s okay to be crap.
No, really. I know it’s hard to accept. Your first draft will be riddled with flaws: it’s inevitable. Even if you have a meticulous, perfectly constructed plan, there’ll be things you’ll run into as you write that don’t work out as you expected. So throw it to the winds and just get the words down. If you’ve got even a vague idea for the next scene, don’t obsess over it: write it. A flawed but complete first draft is infinitely more valuable and useful to you than three perfect chapters.
DO NOT go back and read your work – not until you reach THE END of your draft.
Because while Rule One is absolutely true, it’s very hard to stand by it when you’re actually face to face with your own rubbish prose. You can lose heart very easily, and there goes your motivation to keep going. Don’t touch a word of it until you’ve got everything down! Then you can edit as much as you like. If you think of something you want or need to change, don’t go back and fix it immediately – leave yourself a note in the text to remind you later on.
If you’ve never yet written a complete novel (like me), then the most important thing to do first is to prove that you are capable of doing it. And we can, we just need to stop sabotaging ourselves with anxiety. Nor is it problem-free when you come to the second, or third long, long piece of work. Motivation’s an elusive beast and it needs coaxing, feeding with cookies and, if it comes to it, beating with a wet fish until it does as required (and that’s NaNoWriMo).
So: onward! Good luck to my fellow WriMoers: I look forward to hearing about your progress and to
lamenting celebrating my own in due course.
Here is a cookie to get you started.