The NaNoWriMo site got its annual reboot, so the new banners and icons are out, and they look awesome! This is going to be my eighth year participating in NaNo, and something about the turning of the weather gets my brain inspired and brings me back to the memory of my first horribly written 50,000-word “novel.” I will never forget how incredible it was to write something at that pace. To keep on keepin’ on even though I suspected that it was utter crap. To hold onto my zeal for the epic story idea that came to me six days before November 1. And so on.
But as great as NaNoWriMo is for beginners and those who need that spark of inspiration and the rush of a deadline to finish something, it can get writers in the habit of putting words to paper (or screen) very quickly, even when there is no deadline. It can lull writers into the false sense of satisfaction and completion that hits on November 30. Yeah, you’re done… but you’re only done with the first draft. So feel free to celebrate for now, but if you want your story to have a future, you have a lot of work ahead of you.
Successful writers always say that writing is really rewriting. That means taking it slow and putting in the hours that it takes to get the plot just right, to get to know the characters, and even to get to know yourself as a writer. With revisions (and especially with editing and fine-tuning), you really can’t expect to finish anything in 30 days. You can’t even expect to finish in a year if you’re like most people. So the moral of this post is… NaNoWriMo will get you through only about 5% of the writing process. So get that first draft done. Then take your time with everything else that follows. Enjoy the story. Don’t rush it.
This is one of my favorite quotes (attributed to Albert Einstein, but for all I know, it was originally said by some ancient Greek philosopher):
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.
Sometimes I feel that I am insane when it comes to writing. If something isn’t working, I rewrite the draft. Then I usually find that something else isn’t working, and I rewrite again. So I go through cycles of rewriting over and over, which leads me to believe that I am not making any progress. My fellow blogger Emily describes this feeling very well in her post here. You eventually hit a wall, then lie down exhausted because you keep hitting the same wall. I go through a phase basically every other week in which I feel as though I should give up writing completely and find a new hobby.
Then I have to think back to where the stories were before I rewrote them and rewrote them and rewrote them, and I try to turn my thoughts around. I remember that with each rewrite, the stories are getting better and closer to how I envisioned them. The first draft of STEPHEN that I wrote back in 2006/2007 is not at all the same story that I’m working on today. I know my characters, and I know where I’m going with the story with much more certainty. XIII is millions of times better than the stacks of handwritten notes that it used to be back in 2004 and thousands of times better than the dreadful chapters I used to post to FictionPress back in 2008/2009.
I also try to remember that writing is like every other element of life (relationships, work, etc.) in that there are naturally good and bad times. It’s not realistic to expect it to go well all the time. So it might not feel like I’m getting anywhere, especially when I imagine the whole scenario from the eyes of an outsider who might be wondering, “She’s still not published yet? She’s still wasting her time on that same story?”
Maybe being a writer is all about being insane. Makes sense, ’cause people have been calling me crazy since I was in elementary school, but of all the types of crazy there are in the world, I prefer my version. 🙂
Some people set goals by the month, and some people are like me in that they used to set goals by the month, then they realized that the plans made to reach those goals often fall flat because of random circumstances.
Because life is so frustratingly random, one must learn to be flexible, which I often cannot do well because every time I think life with cooperate with me, it throws me another curveball that throws off my plans: mostly the odd day when I have to work late because an unscheduled/rescheduled assignment arrives or times when I get a headache or some other bodily ailment that prevents me from concentrating on anything.
That’s when contingency plans become necessary.
A couple days ago, I finished the second draft of RAFAEL, which I started in early May, so the draft took roughly three months to complete. That’s not bad. I rewrote the story scene by scene based on a revised outline rather going by a word count (500 or 1,000 words a day) until I reached the end. (I used the word count method with the first draft, and it took about five months.)
Today I started the second (technically fifth or sixth [long story]) draft of STEPHEN, and I have decided to write 500 words a day on weekdays and 1,000 words a day on weekends rather than going scene by scene. But I have a contingency plan: I set a goal of reaching scene 24 by the end of the month (the scene number I would be at if I was writing scene by scene). This will hopefully allow me to go at a slower pace during the week (when unplanned events are most likely to arise) while allowing me to catch up on the weekends.
I haven’t done this type of thing before, so I’m hoping it works out, but if not… I’ll have to start all over again with my plans. As long as I make some kind of progress and don’t completely stall, I’ll be doing well. 🙂