Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful…

I’ve been apprehensive about posting Nano progress for a few reasons.

1. I want to save myself for my novel

2. Everything sounds like bragging rights

3. I am trying hard not to be distracted and blogging falls under that category

4. Who needs enemies when you have writing friends?

To compensate for point 2, I won’t tell you how many words I’ve written. If you really really want to know, check out my writing profile on Nano. As for 4, there isn’t much I can do. It may not need to be said, but this is MY personal experience and it may differ completely from yours. So you can either continue if you’re interested in what I have to say, or STOP reading right now, as this will be filled with things you’ve probably read before.

If you read my earlier posts, you’ll know that Nano was an experiment of sorts to determine whether I could force myself to write something approximating a novel in the space of 30 days. So far I’m amazed it has gone more or less smoothly. And by that I mean I’ve been able to come up with the requisite words, not that it has been easy. What it has been is surprisingly enjoyable.Here are a few things I’ve discovered in the last 12 days.

Every day is different
I know 1666 is the magical number one should be aiming for, but some days I feel wordier, some less so. Wordy or not, I try to spend the same amount of time at one sitting, I just compensate for those less verbose days by writing more when I’m flowing.

Knowing when to recognise the point when the creative well runs dry
I have clocked my optimal productivity period at approximately at 2.5 – 3 hours. If I continue past that point, everything I write sounds useless and tired. Better that I stop while still feeling good. I also like to leave a little bit for the next day so I have something fresh to start with.

Expect the first 50-100 words to be a little rusty
This seems silly but I can’t tell you the amount of hours upon wasted hours i’ve spent correcting clumsy words in an opening chapter. In the past, I’ve held my novel hostage until everything was in the perfect order. I know now that it takes me a while to warm-up so I don’t have to worry so much about the first batch. I get the words out and continue doing other things, like figuring out where I want to go next. Plenty of time to obsess about perfection later.

Who is in control here?
I’ve recently discovered I have a natural pattern and rhythm to my writing. I’ve just never noticed before. If I’m at my desk for an indeterminate amount of time, say 6 hours, I manage to convince myself that I am free to email, chat, play games, blog and in general, waste the day away. Not only is my word count lower when I do this, but the writing is of a poorer quality because i’m not concentrating. Plus I feel grouchy after spending the day doing nothing but writing. If I tell myself I need to complete something within a certain amount of time (say 3 hours) I am more likely to stay focused until I am finished. Sometimes I even give myself a cookie at the end of it.

Nano only works if you allow yourself to make mistakes
This is the most important thing I’ve learned thus far. I’ve had to force myself to realise that my first draft is exactly that and NOT a finished product. Yes, some of the writing is at times iffy. I know there are far too many adjectives and I cringe at the cardboard cut-out characters I’ve produced. Worst of all are the clichés allowed to run rampant. So many clichéd sentiments in fact, that I should seriously consider working for Hallmark.

But who cares? What I’m trying to get across is the story. Later, the scenes in my novel can serve as notes, place holders, outlines, maps and if I’m lucky, three dozen pages of usable material towards the next draft.

If I am allowed to tell my critical self to back off so I can write whatever I want, then I am more likely to capture the real story, because let’s face it (and you may not want to hear this) BUT doing it the other way… the ooh la la look-at-me-aren’t-I-a-serious-writer-getting-it-right-the-first-time-around method, never worked for me.

Yes, the words were often better and sometimes I was so amazed at a line or two that I gazed at its shiny brightness for days at a time. But the story was crap. The flow non-existent, ditto the tension. And my rhythm/pacing/POV was off – WAY off, despite all the time, energy expended. If I continue writing this new way, I might finish a novel or two instead of sitting for months (or years) tearing my hair out and complaining that I can’t say what I want to say. Which brings me to my final point.

The story I am writing now is the story I want to write
Laugh, scoff or sneer. It is true. Sure, I am not telling it with the best words possible. My concepts and themes aren’t clear yet, and technically I am producing fodder fit for barnyard animals. BUT there is nothing wrong with my story telling ability.

When I was a child it was easy. I spun story upon story and lost myself in my own head without worrying about the right or wrong way to tell something. The point was getting it out. To most children, structure and narrative is innate. It may not always be cohesive or full of depth and meaning, but to be honest, neither are most lit-fic novels nowadays.

At a young age, kids are still highly imaginative and their stories are seldom boring or formulaic, even if there is always a pattern to storytelling: first this event happened, then that, then something else happened.

Spinning my story is the most enjoyable part of the process and I don’t dare ruin it by sharing my first draft with anyone. No way will I let you read my crummy extract or my best lines because that is to put my critical editor on full alert and who needs him right now? He’ll have an important part to play later, when I take my messy thoughts and words and try to form something out of them. It may not even end up looking like what I have now; in fact I know it won’t, as this is how I write short stories. I write the damn things ALL the way through. Not always on the first sitting, of course, but I certainly don’t start editing before I’m done because I may change my mind a few times. And between the second and third drafts I will most likely change my mind another five times.

Why waste breath on getting the first junky draft down perfectly??Look, I am one of those people who use to turn up their nose every time someone said ‘just keep writing and ignore your critical self’.

It was naïve of me to think that writing a novel was significantly different from writing anything else. I had it in my mind that lengthier meant more esoteric and romantic and full of trade secrets I’d never learn, no matter how many books I read on the subject.

First, it isn’t an easy thing to heed the advice of others if you’ve been doing it your own way for years.

Second, no one wants to admit to having wasted all time with little to show for it.

Third, the solution seems too straight forward and uncomplicated, therefore fishy. Shouldn’t the process be more angst-ridden? Shouldn’t it be traumatic? I would say YES without a doubt if it worked. As it hasn’t, there must be a more productive way to finish a book.

I think this initial development stage should be done with as little worry and stress as possible. I need to be relaxed and open to with whatever ideas come along. After all, anything can happen and I DO love surprising myself. But I can’t, if I keep stopping and checking myself because I’m concerned my writing isn’t up to par.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Next time I’ll write about the negatives aspects of churning out thousands of words per day and how I can realistically use this nano method in future without being too extreme.


  1. Very good post. It is hard to write and stay away from the blogs I enjoy visiting, but I guess you have to take a break sometime.”The story I am writing now is the story I want to write” – that ‘s the best part. You should feel very happy about that, because it isn’t always the case.

  2. This is an inspirational post. I wrote something vaguely similar recently under the heading, Losing my Mojo, about that feeling of editing and polishing and honing and rewriting until the original feel of the thing was well and truly lost. I too am writing the story I want to write now, and enjoying it properly which is something I haven’t done for a while. Good old NaNoWriMo. I had a feeling it might focus my attention and it has. Good for posts like this too. I’ll be back!

  3. Very interesting… I love hearing how other writers figure out the ways. It sounds very different to what works for me but that’s what makes it interesting. I remember when I used to glue myself to writers’ advice and get so excited if I was doing something the way they were doing it, thinking wow! I must be a real writer. But then of course I realised they were all doing it differently so there was no point in getting hooked on any of it. You have to find your own ways. I’d be curious to try this nano thing but so not right now. I can barely remeber what it was like to be coming up with new material… I’ve been re-writing for so long.

  4. Congratulations, Niki, on completing the Nano challenge. It’s a good discipline actually to get you to write every day and not be too concerned with the quality until the first draft is finished. I hope you can rework the material that you produced for Nano. The initiator of Nano has actually got a book written on “a plot in 30 days” or something to that effect!I’ve only tried the Nano challenge once, around four years back. I actually completed it but it was such a struggle to come up with the words! I’d write paragraphs and delete half, etc, etc. It was tough and I’m not ready yet to try it again.

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