Monday, October 24, 2016

NaNoWriMo Prep #3 // A Cautionary Tale

This NaNoWriMo, as you strive to write however many thousands of words you hope to manage, it helps to remember: 

You can edit later. 

I have mentioned this in previous posts, I am sure, but it bears repeating, so I’m going to say it again. And again. And again. Until it sticks in your skull as well as mine. 

You can edit later. 

I know there are authors who find they need to edit their novels as they go (Gail Carson Levine, for instance), so I am not saying ABSOLUTELY, UNEQUIVOCALLY DO NOT EDIT AS YOU WRITE. But I am saying pause. I am saying consider. NaNoWriMo, at its core, is meant to help you break free from writing ruts. It’s meant to help you rip the bandaid off and get writing done, even if it feels unnatural. Because it will. You are by no means going to come away from this with a polished novel, so don't expect to. 

Story time.

You have seen me refer to to TIB, which I drafted in November 2013, as the first rough draft I managed to finish. I have chosen to consider it this way, even though I technically—very technically—finished two books before then. That’s what we’re talking about today. 

When I was twelve, almost thirteen, I was given a writing assignment in literature class. As these things go, I started writing the story and realized it was the beginning of a trilogy. What can I say? This is typical of me. I have a collection of short story ideas, and sometimes I pick away at them, but I am always a little scared I will get a seven book series from the next one I touch. This might be why I have trust issues. 

It took me almost a year to write the sort-of-rough-draft for DSS 1 (now DRACONIAN), because I wrote it chapter by chapter, editing as I went (and also because the computer broke halfway through, resulting in several months of unexpected, unwanted writing vacation). 

Even when I was that young, my mother recognized how much I wanted to become a published author, so she tailored my curriculum around that goal. On top of all my other schoolwork, she assigned me roughly an hour of writing a day. In order to be able to give me credit for my work, she read each chapter as I finished it, then made revision notes. Essentially, she guided me through writing my first novel, which is one of the reasons I don’t count it as my first official rough draft. But more on that later. 

When I tackled DSS 2 on my own, I resuming editing as I went even though I felt like it was blocking me. And I ended up cutting it off at 40K without tying up the plot lines. After that, I only made it 18K into DSS 3 before hitting a wall. 

In late 2012, I decided to attack DSS, to write a new rough draft of the entire trilogy using the original work like an outline, because I thought that would help me figure out what was blocking me. I made it about 50K in before I hit another wall. I would edit a portion, only to realize I needed to go back and reedit that section as the story evolved beneath my fingers. An editing session that felt successful one day would seem slapdash the next. It killed my writing mojo. 

Come November 2013, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo with a new novel, a palate cleanse of sorts. I was nervous, because I didn't know if I would even be able to make the 50K, or if I would manage to write anything worthwhile. To my surprise, I ended the month with an entire trilogy (which I later cut down and consolidated into one novel, TIB). It was the most freeing thing to realize that I could power through rough drafts without getting bogged down by edits, that I could finish a project without spending forever backtracking. 

By the time November 2014 rolled around, DSS was starting to nag at the back of my head again, big time. Because it wanted to be finished. By golly, it demanded to be finished. So I picked up where I had left off and wrote the rest of the entire trilogy, a whole new rough draft, red and raw and not at all polished. Just word vomit on the page. And man it was horrible. And man it was the best thing that could ever have happened to that story. No more ripping the carpet out from under my feet. Just forward motion, like a truck plowing through a hoard of zombies. 

All told, I have been working on this trilogy since December 2009. For those of you who aren’t so good at math, that is almost seven years. SEVEN YEARS. My goodness, no wonder I feel like I’m going insane. 

It has taught me so much. Patience. Confidence and tough love. Technique. How to hide a body. (What? How did that get in there?) But the biggest thing it has taught me is the importance of maintaining momentum, of finishing a thing before I start judging it. I don’t regret the help I received while writing DSS 1. I needed that. But the point I’m trying to make here is that I wasted several of those seven years trying to force myself to use a system I knew was no longer working for me, to the point where I risked editing DRACONIAN to death (and this is coming from someone who likes editing). That is why I consider TIB my first official rough draft, because it was the first draft I completed without backtracking and getting lost along the way. It was the turning point, the place where I realized I could actually do this writing thing. That is why I love NaNoWriMo more than is probably healthy. 

So this November, as you plunge into NaNoWriMo full speed ahead, please remember this. Remember to lock your inner editor up in a cage full of disgruntled chipmunks until you are ready to sign over control once more. You can do this without the red pen. I believe in you. Be free this month. Be messy. Be brave. 

What about you, my little coffee beans? Have you struggled with the urge to edit as you write? What are some of your regrets in your writing journey? What are some things you feel you’ve done right?


  1. Ahhh such wise words yesyes *nods* Thank you for sharing! Seven years - wow. That's a long time to work on a project! *fist bump*

    1. *bows deeply* You're welcome! I am happy to share my wise words of wisdom. :P It is quite the long time, but it's felt like longer. When I did the math, I was surprised to find it was only seven years. XD *fist bumps you back*

      Thank you for commenting! :)

  2. Dude, I started one of my WIPs in 2007... at the latest. I get you.

    Luckily I don't really have the problem of wanting to stop to edit... I actually don't mind editing that much, but I just have to get all my ideas and thoughts down before they run away. I like writing that first draft fast, even if it is horrendously bad. :P

    1. Ooh, you have me beat there. *high fives you* It's so weird to realize I've worked on one project for such a large portion of my life.

      Editing as its own entity doesn't bother me at all--I actually prefer it. But rough drafts are my least favorite part of the process, and I really hate dragging them out in any way, shape, or form. :P I'm glad you enjoy editing too! :) (And ugh, if we're talking about horrendously bad, you should see some of my rough drafts. :P)

      Thank you for commenting! :)

  3. My first novel took 4 years to complete!!! So get this! Not having to write perfect has unlocked so much for me... the NaNo is only my second novel... yet forgetting perfection this novel is going soooo well!! - oh, funny side note: my first novel was called Perfcet ;)