Thursday, 5 November 2009

One For The NaNoNaySayers

A good-writer-friend of mine (she's a good writer and a good friend) recently asked me if talking about my novel as a NaNoWriMo project worried me at all. I said "no", with the gusto of a writer who discovered the benefits of NaNo a little way along the line, as if I have to make up for the times I've privately thought that NaNoWriMo was a bit like "rushing your homework". Because, I have to admit, when I first joined a writers' forum and the subject of "writing 50k words in a month" came up, I dismissed it. I'll go further than that - I thought it sounded a bit naff. It didn't go along with the romantic vision I was still clinging onto, of brilliant wordsmiths squeezing out word by painful word.

Of course, by that point, I'd written four first chapters. I'd written slightly fewer second chapters, and still fewer thirds. I was very very good at starting things and very very bad at keeping them going. I was, let's face it, a bit pretentious and fairly naive.

About a year on I received a massive slap in the face (metaphorical) about a book I'd sweated blood over. I was pregnant at the time and resolved not to let it get me down - I make that sound a little easier than it was. It was then that I thought: right, I've got a month until this baby comes - I'm going to let my hair down. I meant as far as writing goes, so I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and resolved to write a first draft in triple-quick time - something funny-but-dark, because that's the sort of thing I love. My main aim was to please myself.

In one way I failed - I didn't make it to 50k and I didn't get my NaNo winners badge. But I made it to 35k, with a few days to spare before the baby arrived. And boy I'd had fun. I loved my characters. I hadn't a clue where it had all come from, but it was there - November 2006, the story unfolded before my very eyes / very fast-typing fingers. I was a complete convert. Kind of like an ex-smoker. NaNo was The Best. How had I lived without NaNo before? What was wrong with all those people who didn't understand what a great thing NaNo was?

But herein lies the truth of the matter: the 35k words I wrote during that November 2006 are not the same words as the ones now in a real-life printed book in-all-good-bookshops-blahblahblah. The book is about 65k words and I couldn't possibly say how many of the original 35k survived. The point is that NaNo gave me the freedom to indulge - to believe that for One Month Only, writing was my priority. That really can't be the case for most part-time writers - it's very difficult to fit writing in around full-time jobs (I'm including full-time parenting there, obviously) - but many of us can throw caution to the wind and devote 30 days per year to it. Really go for it. It's only writing the same number of words as many professional writers would do, only we're not quite there yet, so we have to squeeze the hours, instead of the words.

What all long-toothed writers know is that writing a book is not about the first words that come to mind, but what we do after those first words have come to us, been put down on paper, rested a bit, and then undergone one of the most painful tortures known to WriterKind: rewrites. That's where you'll find the blood, sweat and tears.

So if you still think NaNo is a bit like rushing your homework, think again. There's nothing tacky about devoting a month to a first draft. It's what you do with it afterwards that counts.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


slippingthroughtheworld said...

You said it Emily! And boy do I need the push. I'm keeping up on the daily allowance - don't want to scare this old horse away :-)

Unknown said...

Hi Emily :)
Thank you for sharing!
I found it inspirational and it refueled my own determination. I actually like rewriting. Do you?
Love & Best Wishes to you & yours,

Debs Riccio said...

Well said and more than a little inspirational!
Debs x

E.G. said...

Irene, you go girl! Your brilliant writing deserves a whole big fat novel and I'd love to read it one day!

Hi RK, I'm so glad to provide fuel! I'm not sure I "like" rewriting, as such - I think my relationship with rewriting is complicated :) Staring down the barrel of a big rewrite is scary, but the moment when you realise most of it is behind you is magic.

Debs, thank you! Wish I was doing it this year - think that's why I'm talking about it :)