Final Nano

It seems fitting to write this final Nano post on the last day of Nano. If you’ve read my past few entries, you know it has been a positive experience that has allowed me to make my way through a good portion of a novel in the space of 30 days. I’m slowing down now but actually enjoying it more at this stage.

So my first point is an obvious one.

1. Who needs word count when you have words you like? A lot of folks on the forums seem to suggest you should be writing just to make word count. I understand how this meets a specific goal, but how can this be of practical use to anyone? I don’t need 45,000 words of junky adjectives and lengthy people’s names. I want writing I can work with. Otherwise I’m wasting my time. Maybe someone will be impressed that you’ve written thousands upon thousands of nonsensical words, but after nano is over, do you have a potential novel or the equivalent of Lorem ipsum dolor?

That’s not to say that excess and questionable prose won’t be tolerated. It is to be expected in a first draft. I’m not implying you need to curb your creativity. Part of what made Nano work for me was knowing I could write anything. But in order to go beyond the initial 30 days and continue feeling good about the work, requires more than the ability to satisfy a daily number. I need to believe what I’ve written can go toward an actual reusable first draft.

Writing 5000 words a day feels great. I just need to be more conscientious that I’m making an honest, genuine effort at storytelling (even if is terrible) and not simply fodder. If I don’t, I run the risk of disillusionment, wasting precious time, and possibly never completing the novel.This goes hand in hand with the next point.
2. You can slow down now
Writing quickly and blindly invites all sorts of unnecessary drama into your work. You may not care at the moment or plan to fix it all in draft two, but if 75% of your writing is the equivalent of closing your eyes and talkingreallyfastlikethis or writing such stream of consciousness bullshit that it reads as coherently as a dream journal, you will be sorting out those things for a long time, possibly until you have sucked all the life out of your new novel. Despite reading countless ‘how to’ books, completing an MA in Creative Writing, attending seminars and workshops, the following still came as a revelation to me. I’m going to put it in bold so you can’t miss it.

If you write consistently over a period of time you can finish the first draft of your novel in a mere few months.
I was comfortably writing 2500 words a day. More, when I really got into it. If I slowed down to a very doable 1000 words, over 90 days that would equal 90,000 wds. If I lowered that to a turtle pace of 500 words, I’d still complete the first draft in 6 months. If I did a combination of 500-1000 words a day to compensate for work, life, family/etc I could realistically expect to finish within 4.5 months without going crazy or sacrificing my sanity.

Again, I’m assuming that everything I said earlier about not editing or redrafting during the initial writing phase still stands. Otherwise I will be where I am with my other novel — still not having a good draft because I keep trying to perfect it on the go, so I can’t get past the first few chapters.

After all, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that writing consistently and putting in some effort (instead of waiting for the mood to strike me) means that my story will get told regardless. And as I’m accessing it everyday, I stand a better chance of being more coherent with structure/plot; better able to understand my characters and the telling itself will be fresher, more immediate and urgent.

Thinking it to death and constant rewriting has done nothing but make my past novel sound tired, overworked and obvious. But I’ve already covered all that. While I want to continue writing everyday so that I don’t risk previous problems, what I don’t want is burn-out or to unrealistic expectations. There is no way I can continue writing 3000-5000 words a day and still have a normal life, not to mention a relationship.

If I can manage to sit down for an hour to two a day that would be ideal. So that is what my goal will be for now. I don’t want to be too formulaic with myself but 500-1000 words isn’t an impossibility.

Final point.

3. Nano is not an atonement for past novel sins, or is it?
If one of your main reasons for joining the mad dash, was so you could identify where you went wrong with previous novels, you will have discovered your own good and bad points. I spent so much time obsessing about word count, it went by quickly, so I barely had the chance to make apt comparisons .Still, I think it is possible to continue some of the more positive habits I’ve developed over the past few weeks. But it will only work if I am able to forgive myself for not being able to complete my initial masterpiece in the required amount of time it takes to microwave a hot pocket.

I made mistakes. I screwed up with my first novel. Big Deal. I’m SO over it. What I wanted was to find out how to write another one. One I could be happier with.

I was quite concerned initially when I signed up. I’d spent a long time working on short story rewrites and edits and was eager to get to sink my teeth into something a little longer. But was being forced to come up with required words really a creative act, or the act of a desperate woman with something to prove? Most importantly, could I do it?

Every day I sat down with the fear that today was the day I’d freeze and get writer’s block and decide it was all worthless. I’d been there before, so sick of my work it induced violent physical reactions. I learned to deal with the paralysis by moving past it and not stopping to contemplate failure or how rubbish I was. I wanted to, believe me, it is my nature to painfully obsess over everything. I was just too busy.

To be honest, the fear never really went away, just hovered somewhere above, but I did a good job of ignoring it. If you can let go of past baggage and embrace the challenge of writing in a crazy consistent way, it may actually lead to the completion of something. Wouldn’t that be great?

I’m hoping after this chunk of first draft, I will keep on till I reach the end. I am REALLY hoping that I will eventually have written something I like. I’m not sure what happens during the second draft, but I’m sure the process will be less whimsical and certainly a lot slower and more thoughtful. But that’s fine. I’m looking forward to it. Just not right now. Now I want to write and see what happens.

2 Comments

  1. You make a good point. I also asked myself what I’d been doing these past few years. I certainly don’t have a novel to show for it. Re: character notes, plotting and themes, don’t those come afterward? I mean, I can see some themes emerging already but I’m certain they won’t all come up just yet and some need to be teased out in later drafts, or ‘manipulated’ if you prefer the uglier word.If this is the creative stage, it is far too early to put themes, plot (yuck yuck) and all that other stuff on such a frail backbone.The whole point of this exercise is to write more / think less, at least during this stage.But where to get time and motivation for 1000 words a day? Ahhh — that is the ‘Crunch’, to quote whatshiname from the Boosh.

  2. jamie

    thanks for the inspiring post. you’re certainly right that a target of averaging 500-1000 words per day sounds reasonable and doable (on average at least) and it’s inspiring that this would mean a draft (from scratch) could be done in about 4 months. That’s an amazingly short time. What the hell have I been doing for the last few years?! As you say, this means LETTING GO of all the reworking, the revisions, the plotting, the character notes, the thinking time about what the themes are, what the character motivations are etc… and just writing. or at least treating these other things as a LUXURY to be considered above and beyond the story writing time.I’m still at a point where I do want to compete some kind of plot summary/map about the crucial things I want to happen in the story, but I’m nearly there with that. Then I will try and wort-blitz my way through for a while and see if I can just keep the pressure up on myself for a matter of months, as you say. To finish a draft, even rough, would be a great landmark moment.At the moment I can’t really see where I’m going to find the time for 1000 words per day (at least an hour’s work) but I’ll have to.

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