I am a NaNoWriMo failure.
Okay, maybe failure is too strong a word. But today is November 26th, and instead of closing in on 50,000 words, my Work In Progress (WIP) is a lousy 20,000 words. To be honest, it’s not even that many words. Today I hit “save” at 19,126.
To put that in perspective, some writers were planning on doing 20,000 words this weekend alone.
What did I do this weekend? Well, I didn’t write a single word. Friday night my husband and I took our son to International Plaza, an upscale mall near Tampa airport. Saturday I picked up my car, went to the gym, went out to dinner with family, then watched a movie with my son. Sunday I read the newspapers, edited my son’s paper, dropped him off at the airport, then watched Sunday night TV. Sunday night TV is the best, by the way.
I wonder about those people who did 20K words this, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Did they not have family they wanted to hang out with? Are they more disciplined than I am? Or are they just more in love with their WIP than I am?
I started NaNoWriMo with such high hopes. Not necessarily about getting to 50K in one month, but about my idea itself. Before NaNoWriMo began, I had a general idea about what I wanted to write about, but then right before the month started, it got very specific. I was excited and had no problem reaching my goal word count every day for the first week or so of the month.
So it wasn’t just that I took a trip to Disney World, and it wasn’t just that my son was home for college for nearly an entire week, and I wanted to spend every waking moment with him, not my computer. But somewhere along page 50 or so (I’m not sure where that is in word count), my idea, that had seemed so specific in the beginning, got vaguer and vaguer as I got further into the story.
And rather than thinking in terms of major plot points, I’m only able to think a scene or two ahead. And the things that happen in these scenes aren’t necessarily tied in to what I wanted this book to be about.
The point of NaNoWriMo – the point of writing any first draft – is supposed to be just about getting the words down. You’re not supposed to edit yourself at all. Just keep on typing, even though the conversation you’re writing is the most boring, banal exchange between two fictional people ever known to man.
“Measure twice, cut once” is one of my favorite sayings… maybe because my mom really likes to sew. And this kind of writing is the opposite of that advice.
Would you get in the car and just drive if you didn’t know yet where you were going, knowing that you could end up doubling back and driving twice as long?
The conventional wisdom behind the “just write” advice is that editing written words is easier than filling a blank page. But you know something? I don’t think it is.
Maybe because I spent ten years editing articles by people who could not even write a lead, or maybe because I spent an hour wanting to pull my hair out while editing my son’s paper this weekend, but editing – good editing, substantial editing – is harder than writing. Yes, a blank page is scary. But what’s scarier is points that repeat themselves, abrupt changes in tone, opinions without supporting evidence, and paragraphs that have nothing to do with the main point. I’d much rather cut open a vein and bleed a few well-written paragraphs than have to cut, rearrange, and dissemble pages like they were so many dancers on a chorus line.
It is a terrible feeling to be typing out a scene, thinking how much you hate it, thinking about how it’s just going to end up highlighted and deleted in your first round of editing. It’s an even worse feeling to reread that scene and decide it’s not so bad, because that means you’re letting yourself off the hook, patting yourself on the back just for having written something, no matter if it were good or not.
I’m glad I took time off this week, because it gave me a chance to think about what I want to do with my main characters, who they are in terms of the actions they will take rather than the labels and descriptions I’ll put on them.
And if it takes me months to write this book, that’s fine. As long as it doesn’t take me months to edit it.