Like thousands of other writers around the world, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo). During NaNoWriMo, writers commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November.
The bottom line for NaNoWriMo is that you have to concentrate and write fast. But I’ve always wondered if forcing yourself to write fast is helpful. Can any good come from a novel (or half of a novel) produced under such pressure? Or do most NaNoWriMo books end up being garbage?
After having done NaNoWriMo now for many years, I can safely say that I have found several benefits of writing a LOT of words in a SHORT amount of time. But on the other hand, I see the drawbacks too.
*The story has the chance to flow.
I’m the first to admit that most of my “writing” time is filled with countless interruptions, and just when I get into the flow, one of my kids needs me for something, or the cat is puking, or the dog is eating another stray glove.
I’ve had learn to write under less than ideal circumstances. And the slow steady pace works well. A little bit every day eventually adds up into a completed book. But . . .
Through NaNoWriMo, I push myself to write more, to go beyond my usual comfort zone and steady pace. And since greater proportions of my story unfold in my head every day, the story stays with me better. I find myself thinking about the plot and characters more often during my non-writing times. And when I come back to the manuscript the next day, the story continues to flow and pick up speed.
*The inhibitions begin to fall away.
Because the story is flowing stronger and faster, I find that I have less “wasted” time trying to pick back up where I’d left off the previous day. I can more easily jump back into the raging river and let the story spurt me away in the fast current, rather than drifting lazily along the way I usually do.
My characters’ needs become more urgent, their problems more real, and the conflict more consuming. The story becomes paramount, and the nit-picky issues fall away.
*The creative part of the brain has the chance to operate at maximum capacity.
Once the inhibitions fall away, then the creative part of my brain has the freedom to come out and play. One of my favorite aspects of being a writer is experiencing the new developments that happen during the writing process, those times when I come up with something unique and totally unexpected. It might be a brilliant new plot twist or an interesting way to round out the character arc. When I reach that place of uninhibited creativity, I begin seeing and embracing ideas I didn’t know existed.
*Potentially sloppy writing mechanics can take over.
Fortunately, sloppy writing is something we can always go back and fix during the editing stage. Unfortunately, all too many writers are over-confident in their abilities and think they “nailed” the story in the first draft. Perhaps they’re so excited to have a finished project and send it out to agents and publishers prematurely. Or maybe they’re in a rush to get the book to publication and skimp on getting enough outside editing.
I’ve learned that a first draft is only getting the story’s potential down on paper. Once that potential is there, then the hard work begins of analyzing every scene—sometimes wildly hacking and sometimes gently trimming, but always changing and making better. I love this Shannon Hale quote, and all throughout NaNoWriMo I remind myself that my first draft is just the sand that yet needs to be shaped into the sand castle.
*Neglecting other things in your life.
Yes, during NaNoWriMo I have to pare down my blogging and social media to the bare bones. I have to cut back on other social activities. And I will have to spend my Thanksgiving “break” practically glued to the keyboard. But I always find that I’m more productive when I’m “under deadline” than when I have all the time in the world. Go figure!
Writers: Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? What was your experience like?
Readers: What is your biggest editing pet peeve? In what way should writers be more careful?
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