There is only one week left of NaNoWriMo. Are you one of the brave writers taking on the challenge? I don’t do well under pressure so although I’ve known about the annual writing contest held each November for a while, I haven’t thought to participate… until this year.
I started my first novel last June. I ‘d actually been kicking around the idea for a few years. Membership in my writer’s group helped immeasurably in giving me the confidence to tackle it. I was energized and organized but proceeding slowly so in October I brilliantly decided that I would take advantage of National Novel Writing Month to move the novel along. One of my biggest problems when writing is fine editing too early in the process. I’ll go back and rewrite the first paragraph three times before I complete a page. The result of this habit has been many unfinished pieces. I told myself that I wouldn’t hold strictly to the rules, that I just wanted to get as close to 50,000 words as possible without stress outside of my own standards of discipline. I figured if I concentrated on the word count I’d get down all the fabulous story ideas that have been sitting in my head (and outlined in my notes) without the impulse to perfect every word already on the page.
Do you want to know what happened? I hit a wall at 20,000 words, that’s what. All of a sudden I didn’t know what I was doing or what the story was about, no matter what my notes said. My characters stepped off the pages and said to me, “C’mon now, this is long but it isn’t good. We don’t believe what we’re saying because you’re not being real about what all of this means. Slow down, dig deep and tell the truth.” That really made me mad! I spent a whole week pouting (not writing) because my goal had been thwarted. But I also spent the time thinking. And I started examining two very important truths about myself. First, that my novel isn’t really fiction. Like many other authors, by telling this tale I’m trying to exorcise a pain born from my own life experience. Second, that I have a unique voice that doesn’t sound like Proust or Morrison but its distinctive tone makes me a good writer anyway. Then I had to review basics like character development and plot lines. It was an unhurried process that was both a relief and a revelation.
And what is the outcome of all of this? A MUCH better draft of the novel, that’s what. Yeah, I had to throw out thousands of words and allot extra time to sit and really listen to that voice in my head but it was worth it. It turns out that trying to get as much of the story down as possible prompted me up to the next level of writing. Now the words that flow aren’t forced or stilted. The lives of my characters will be as layered as they need to be and the themes that are so important to me will be natural and honest. I’m sure there are writers who will end this month with cohesive works made up of the requisite number of well-crafted words. I won’t be one of them. I should reach 50,000 words by next June and that’s fine by me.