It’s NaNoWriMo time, and the forums and chat waves are rife with writers who plan to finish their masterpiece novel of American literature in thirty short days. I’ve done National Novel Writers Month myself and found it… generated mixed results for me.
The positive: I wrote a novel! Yeah me! I write my 50,000 word first draft of the Ben Templeton series. I wrote diligently almost every day and churned out the volume of words needed to finish the goal and earn my gold star. It helped me develop a culture of “write every day if you ever want to succeed”, both for the practice it gives me as well as the actual completion of works in progress, rather than a long list of “stuff that’s half written.”
The negative: it was truly a shitty first draft. Absolute dreck. It was horrible, badly written, pompous stuff with a ridiculous deus ex machina ending that made no sense at all in the greater scheme of the plot. The character – Ben Templeton – who started with such promise never developed beyond his stereotypical detective tropes, and the novel ended up being shelved for two more years before I undertook a re-write from a totally different character perspective, with new setting and 90% new story line. Instead of revisiting after a few months to re-write, I didn’t want to touch it, and it put me off writing anything that I really wanted to write for a long time. Instead, I wrote crappy smut books to pass the time, but I did gain valuable experience doing that as well and learned a lot about myself as a writer while improving my craft.
Being forced to cram a set amount of words into a day really didn’t work for me, nor did outlining prior to starting the writing. Instead, what worked for me on the re-draft and re-write was ditching daily word goals (I had a nebulous 1,000 word goal, but didn’t berate myself for not adhering to it and write as little as a few dozen words in a day if that’s all I could muster). The only outlining I did this time was to decide on the three act plotting formula, which allowed me to break the novel up into more manageable chunks. There are still weak points to the story that need some fixing perhaps, but overall its a vastly better read than the first attempt, and I’m reasonably proud of the effort.
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, I applaud you. I hope you get from it a solid experience. Just remember: the real writing comes in the re-write. What you’ll get from cramming a novel into your spare moments for the next thirty days is going to be rough and probably suck, but push through that, get it done, then ignore it for a few months. You’ll be ready to re-write it sometime next spring, when you can approach your hot mess with a fresh eye and an ability to realize that there is SOMETHING worth salvaging in there, even if it’s just a few scenes and a vague idea of what you really intended to write.
My goal this month: work on a couple of short stories, one of which is for a contest. So I’m not generating 1,200 words a day, more like a hundred or two. Then I’ll spend December editing those while waiting for final comments on the Mercy story.