06 December 2007
2007 was my second attempt at NaNoWriMo and the first time that I completed the 50,000 words. You have all heard of a dirty draft. Well, mine is filthy. But it is 50,000 words that I didn’t have on 31st October.
I received some great advice from the NaNoWriMo people and also from Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No problem which is worth putting out there for discussion.
‘No-one writes a brilliant first draft’. ‘In a first draft nothing is permanent and everything is fixable.’ NaNoWriMo is all about quantity not quality and it gives you permission to write badly but to get hold of your story and stay in touch with it.
One of the things that I discovered about my own writing is that I try to write at the standard that I can put out to my critique group all of the time. This means that my internal editor is heavily engaged as soon as I sit down to the keyboard. This approach doesn’t work for NaNoWriMo because you can’t get the words out quickly enough when you are trying to accommodate writing in an already busy life. I found that permission to write rubbish freed me up to write lots of words.
Another piece of advice was, 'even on days when you can’t get much done, write 100 words and stay in touch with your story'. During November I had to travel interstate for four days and knew that I would have almost no time on my own, so no large daily word achievements. I took pen and paper, no computer, and just wrote ~100 words in long hand each day. Not a big contribution to my word count for the days away but when I cam back I knew where my story was and it was much easier than it would have been to get back into it. I am going to try writing 100 new words each day as an exercise over December/January and see if I can establish it as a new writing habit.
NaNoWriMo provides a lot of support like chat rooms, face-to-face chapter meetings etc. I didn’t subscribe to or make any posts or attend any of the activities here in Perth. They work for a lot of people, but for me it was time that could be spent adding to the word count. I did create my own web page in their site, posted an excerpt from my story and used the daily total function. I also kept track of my NaNoWriMo buddies during the month. This low key connection worked for me but other people make other choices.
In his book, Chris Baty suggests spending one week maximum on research, character and plotting before NaNoWriMo starts. For a detailed plotter like me this challenged the very core of how I write but I did it. I spent the week on GMC, romantic conflict, setting, and research and collected all my thoughts in chart form. I stuck it to my office wall and used it to write during November. Chris advises not to plot at all during NaNoWriMo and just write the scene that is in your head, the scene that you are motivated to write, no matter where it occurs in your story. He says that if you have character you have plot and this is how I like to write anyway. I usually come up with a character first and can spend ages getting to know them and then all of a sudden they seem to launch themselves into action. Chris suggests that limiting time on plotting not only stops you procrastinating about writing but also means that you are not too protective of your story before it is even down on the page.
Again in his book, he suggests that you make two lists: all the things that make a good novel for you and all the things that you hate or depress you in novels. When you get stuck during NaNoWriMo be inspired by one of the points on your lists. I did this and added the lists to my office wall. They were great. For example, I don’t like insubstantial heroines who only win the hero because they are very beautiful so when I got stuck I just wrote up some scenes for my heroine that showed her depth as a person. I like a lot of dialogue and action in novels rather than internal monologue or authorial intrusion. Another time when I was stuck, I asked myself, what happens next and wrote it out in dialogue and action. It reads very much like a screenplay.
‘All words are good words. You may not edit. Not at all.’ I didn’t have time to even think about editing. I set out realistic targets that had me writing every evening and trying to get large chunks done on each day of the weekend. On days where I knew I couldn’t write I gave myself a target of 100 words. There are no nice even steps on my chart to 50,000; it soars then plateaus then rises then soars and plateaus again until you see me throw for the line in the last few days. I didn’t edit – not at all. I didn’t have the time.
I am the proud owner of a 50,000 word filthy draft. Filled with errors, no chapters, out of order, lots of suggestions to myself in the text about areas that need research and the heroine’s name has probably changed two or three times. But that’s OK. No one is ever going to see it. And that was the most groundbreaking advice that I got from Chris. You don’t ever have to show anyone what you wrote in that month. Once you have edited it – delete the file! The first that W.ink will see of my work is a draft opening chapter. At first glance, this is likely to comprise the first five pages that I wrote on November 1, two scenes that I did on the last morning, another three scenes that I did in the second week and some words that join all of that together.
The next task is compiling it into scenes in chronological order and composing chapters and working out what is missing. And here is Chris’ most welcome advice – when you finish, put it aside, take a vacation from your story and get some perspective and then come back to edit.
I am mid-way through a two week vacation from my story. It is great!