The other day my writer friend Ellie–who lays her thoughts on her blog, quotidiandose–asked me a question about NaNoWriMo. Actually, she was doing a post, and she wanted to know what my thoughts were on NaNo, why I would or wouldn’t do it, what sort of benefits did I see from trying to write fifty thousand words in thirty days, what changes I might make, or not make, this year.
At the time I was knee-deep in crap that wasn’t going away, so I said, “Let me think on it,” because, really, I did have to think about it–and a dragon had me by the ass. So I didn’t have an answer then.
I think I have one now, but only because I’ve been awake since 4 AM with my brain on fire.
Two years ago I was ask if I was going to do NaNo. At the time I was getting back into writing, I was finding my voice again, and I was thinking of doing a short story. But a novel, in thirty days? Not a chance. I told one friend there was no way I was ready to tackle the insanity that came with writing something like that. I’d already tried writing a novel: it got away from me, and turned into an unruly monster that I only recently tamed.
But last year, I’d written and self-published my first story, Kuntilanak, and was working on another. There was another friend who asked me if I was going to give NaNo a shot, and this time I was ready. I knew it would be a difficult undertaking, but I knew I could write this time.
Why would I do it, or recommend it to anyone who writes? It’s not just the challenge, but the discipline the challenge places upon one. If you want to “win”, you need to do 1,666 words a day. Now, that doesn’t sound as bad as it might look, but it’s probably two to three hours of writing for most people. That means you need a schedule, and that means you have to stick to it once you set it up–disasters at home being allowed, of course. This creates the discipline needed to keep writing, not just through November, but beyond.
Anyone who’s gotten into the NaNo Vibe knows that one of the biggest pieces of advice being laid at your feet is, “It doesn’t have to be perfect; this is only a first draft.” No truer words have been spoken. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that “First Draft” equals “I Don’t Need to Do Much to This Before I Publish!”, and understanding the meaning of “editing” is what separates the crack heads with delusions of grandeur from the writers.
Over the last few months I’ve had ample opportunity to look at manuscripts from other writers. Some are pretty good: some need to burn forever in the Seventh Circle of Hell. Some manuscripts look as though the writer thought they were going to be charged a dollar for ever comma used, and decided to save money. Some stories were well thought out, and some were slightly better than opium fantasies, of which I’ve had some experience.
Editing is a chore, and no one enjoys the task, but those edits are what make your story. My only NaNo Novel went through two revisions, was submitted and rejected, and I put it through a final edit before submitting it again. And during that last edit, I still found things that were wrong, so please, don’t say you wrote a hundred thousand word NaNo novel in four days, but you don’t need to edit it because, “I’m really good,” because you aren’t Philip K. Dick cranking out sixty-three pages a day while cloaked in an amphetamine haze, so I’m going to crawl way out on a limb and say your manuscript probably needs editing before you send it off to a publisher, where your story goes out of its way to embarrass the rest of us.
If there is any other advice I would give, it’s “Be prepared.” Now, that doesn’t mean, “Plot your story out to the last detail.” Just because I plot out things, get names ready, and have a good idea of location where my story is occurring, that doesn’t mean I’m going to say you’re wrong by sitting down and going where the story takes you. Everyone has their own style, and if you’re the sort who says, “If you don’t know everything before you write Word One, your story will suck,” or “People who plot are sell-outs formulaic hacks, and I’ll never be that!”, then I wish you well with your hobby, my friend.
There is no right or wrong way to create a story. Read up on your favorite authors, and you’ll find that each of them has their own style. Some lock themselves in a room and write ten pages a day; some re-edit their whole novel each day before writing anything new; one writer from the 1960’s and 70’s used to write standing up, saying it was the only way he could think.
When I say, “Be prepared,” I mean, know what you’re getting into. You’re going to start out eager and full of energy, but somewhere around twenty thousand words, your mind will start bitching, “Hey, this isn’t going as fast as I thought it would,” then about the thirty thousand word mark, your mind is screaming, “This is bullshit! Why are we doing this?”
Keep in mind, this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. You have your pace, so stick to it. You need to know some information, so have it ready. I would advise having a list of names for people, places, and items, at hand, so you aren’t one of those people who jump onto Facebook saying, “I need a name! A name for a dog! With brown hair! Who lives in a small town in South Carolina!” But if you like to fly by the seat of your pants when writing, go for it.
Would I do anything different this year? I did. I’m more prepared than last year, but that’s because I was writing pure fantasy/science fiction, and this year the local of my story is in a real place. And since that place isn’t in this country, I’ve needed to have a few facts and figures at hand. And I’m only doing that because I don’t want to deal with “facts” when I’m editing. I want to edit sixty thousand words, not rewrite the damn thing from scratch. If this is your first time writing a novel, try to limit yourself to a full re-write, because that can be even more insane . . .
NaNo is suppose to be fun. Fun, like time, is relative. Last year I had good times and bad. I had moments when I felt like I was the greatest thing since sliced break, and others when I was ready to douse my computer in lighter fluid and set it aflame. But there was a moment when I felt fantastic: that was with three chapters to go. I was already over fifty thousand words, and the end was near.
It’s like being in a long race, and seeing the finish line ahead.
Go for it, people; there’s plenty of room on The Crazy Train. Just remember to go to the end of the line–
Otherwise, you miss all the fun.