Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Not Very Reliably Annual But Still Hopefully Useful Pre-NaNo Pep Talk

I try to do this every year, but sometimes I forget. This year, I did not.

So it's Halloween. For the general population, it's time for costumes and candy. And it is for a lot of the rest of us too, but for plenty of writers -- aspiring and otherwise -- it's The Night Before.

It's....NaNoWriMo Eve.

It's also time for the naysayers to come out and tell you why NaNo is a waste of time and energy, or why you're just going to produce a steaming pile of unsalvageable crap, or whatever. And for some, that may be true. If writing under pressure doesn't work for you, then NaNo is not for you. If competitiveness adds pressure that's counterproductive to your writing? By all means, don't do it. If even thinking about word counts throws you out of your groove, don't do NaNo.  And if you fall into any of those categories, or you just plain don't want to do NaNo? That's okay!! Every writer is different.

But for many of us, NaNo is amazing. NaNoWriMo 2008 was a massive turning point for me. I finished my book with time to spare, kept that momentum going into the next book, and five years later, I haven't stopped. NaNo taught me that yes, I could write at speed. Yes, I could maintain a pace of a few thousand words a day (I eventually settled into 5,000 as my daily output). I could finish a book.  And you know what? After doing it once, I didn't have an excuse to stop. So I kept going. Five years and over fifty books later, I haven't stopped. What started out as a fun way to kick myself in the butt became the catalyst for what is now my full-time job.

And folks, just because the purpose of NaNo is quantity, that does not mean quality is out the window. If you find that the speed is causing your quality to slip, then take a step back and evaluate things. Are you getting lazy? Is the pressure screwing with your concentration? Are you obsessing about the quota to the point that the words on the page are just numbers to be counted rather than the building blocks of a coherent story?

If you find that you simply can't focus on writing well while writing fast, then you hereby have my permission to bow out of NaNo. For some people, it doesn't work. And that's okay.

But if you find that you're just getting lazy? Blowing through scenes by vomiting crap because hey, it's NaNo, and who cares? I'm currently giving you the look my mom gives me when I try to bullshit her. Yeah, that look. Pull up your big kid britches, focus on your blank document, and write. Write well. It's only 1,667 words a day. You can totally do it. This blog post is around 1,000 words and it took me 45 minutes to write. You can do it.

That doesn't mean it has to be perfect. Every book is going to need some tweaking and revising afterward. How much it needs depends on you as a writer. Some people produce near-perfect drafts the first time around, some people need to completely rewrite it two or three times. But don't deliberately produce crap just to make your quotas. All you're doing is making the revisions harder on yourself, not to mention contributing to the persistent fallacy that "writing fast = writing crap."

At the end of the day (or the month of November, as it were), you're in this to tell a story. Otherwise, you could just sit at your desk and write "All work and no play..." until it added up to 50,000. Concentrate on quality as well as quantity. Focus on your story, just push yourself to write more of that story every day than you normally would. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, but not to vomit words. Give yourself permission to leave out a few details of that battle scene, promising you'll fill them in during revisions, but don't have your main character randomly start quoting Dr Seuss just to fill in some space. Remind yourself you can always fix problems when you revise, but don't turn off your internal editor the point you're just flinging words at the screen with no style or direction.

(Also, every time you write a sex scene as filler just to beef up -- so to speak -- your word count, an erotica writer spills their wine on their keyboard.)

NaNoWriMo is a fun opportunity for a little good-natured competitiveness in the name of disciplining yourself to put your butt in a chair and your fingers on a keyboard. You already have the desire to write, or you wouldn't even be considering NaNo. Now is your chance to push yourself and to train yourself to sit down and write.

This is where the rubber meets the road, folks. One of those moments where "I'm going to write a book" divides into "forget it, this is too hard" and "holy Ned! I can really do this!" This is why I encourage every one of you to give NaNo -- and your book -- everything you have. Pour yourself into it. Obsess over it. Encourage each other and encourage yourself to make those little numeric milestones while also telling a story. Write fast, write hard, and write well.

If you have to bail on NaNo for any number of reasons, you are not a failure. NaNo is not for everyone. But don't bail on your book. You are a writer. That's why you're here. Being unable to write 50,000 words in 30 days does not make you a failed writer. The successful writer is the one who finishes, whether it takes 30 days or a year. And whether you write that book in 30 days or a year, make every word count. Tell your story. You are a writer. Therefore...write.

So tomorrow, I hope every one of you participating in NaNo launches yourself into it with "story first, word count second", but still power through those word counts. It's only 1,667 words a day. Give those words and that book everything you have, and stick to it until it's finished.

It begins tomorrow. Go forth and NaNo like it could change your life. NaNoWriMo literally changed my life and kick-started my career.

Put your fingers on the keyboard.

Write the first sentence.

And don't stop until you write the last one.

Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. I have no idea what NaNo is but I have a story. I have been writing it in my head for almost 4 years. I have never thought I could write it down on paper. Maybe I can.
    Cathye C.