November is National Novel Writing Month, and writers all over the country dedicate themselves to the daunting task of completing a novel draft in 30 days. I’ve heard about this challenge as long as I’ve been a writer, and I’ve never felt even remotely interested in participating.
Earlier in my career, when I was just starting out and trying to get a feel for my writing routine and the situations/deadlines/constraints that I needed to put on my writing in order to be productive, many of my writing friends and critique group members encouraged me to do NaNoWriMo at least once, to experiment with the technique of writing as rapidly as possible and turning off the notorious internal editor that stalls out many writers.
“It’s not my process,” I exclaim silently with the most disdainful mental tone I can muster. Yes, we artistic temperaments are famous for saying things like this. But here’s the thing: sometimes it takes several years of writing to figure out what exactly your process is. And therein lies the intrinsic value of NaNoWriMo, even for much more deliberate, if organic writers such as myself.
Experimentation is a good thing, particularly early in your career, when you are still developing and honing your artistic voice and vision. Learning what doesn’t work for you is just as important as learning what does. If you jump into the challenge saying that you’re going to give it your best for thirty days, then decide if anything you wrote during that time period is worth keeping, it might just be the best thirty days you invest into your future writing career.
If you give yourself permission to say, this method of writing a draft failed miserably for me, then you will still be ahead of those wishy-washy writers who write in fits and starts, slow and fast, and never find their voice, their process, or their message throughout their entire careers because they never had enough discipline to stick with a method and see it through long enough to find out if it suited them.
For me, NaNoWriMo is sort of an amped-up, well-organized support group’s boot camp version of the “You Must Write Every Day” political party agenda. I used to be opposed to the philosophy that good writing could only be cultivated through the act of daily writing, and I know plenty of fantastic writers who do not write every day and their craft does not seem to suffer at all from the lapses between days at the computer.
At present, I’m sort of a middle-of-the-road kind of gal when it comes to encouraging young writers to write every day. I find when I’m working on a lengthy project like a novel that the writing does seem more cohesive when I put in at least a couple of hours every week day and allow myself weekends off to work out more difficult problems that need some pondering.
However, because I always have secondary hobbies and business-related work, there are some weeks I don’t do any creative writing at all. And admittedly, it is very difficult to get that big stone moving once you let it come to a stop. Emotional momentum in any lengthy project cannot be underestimated. If you give yourself too much time between writing sessions, this allows the natural mechanism of self-doubt to creep into the picture.
Call it a more irrational version of your internal editor. Because when you’re in the middle of writing a first draft, you can’t really know what you’re going to keep and what you’ll throw out. To second-guess at that stage is counter-productive. Potential red herrings can turn into creative gold, but you won’t know it unless you see it through.
Allowing your emotional momentum to grind to a halt can be deadly, because the longer you avoid your draft because you think it might suck, the more you’ve already reinforced in your mind that it does suck.
Trust me, I’ve been there and I’ve let some manuscripts almost begin to rot before I mustered up enough courage to face the specter of my own writing. And it’s never as bad as you think.
For an organic writer like me, draft-writing is messy, imprecise, and terribly inefficient. But it is a thing that must be done in order to get to the goods. This month, if you can, consider doing at least a few days of NaNoWriMo style draft-writing. You might just end up loving it.
And perhaps I’ll join you. I do need to start my next novel…