On My Mind: NaNoWriMo Urgency

NaNoWriMo is all about the urgency of writing. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write. The act of writing itself is what will move you forward. Either with your work in progress (WIP), or with learning about the writing process, using the tools you have available. It’s a great way to start building the habit of writing daily and learning when to use which tools.

For me, however, it was before NaNoWriMo that I first dealt with this, namely when I had to meet a deadline with a short story. It was a writing experience I never had before and that’s why today I want to talk about first drafts and the urgency that can come with writing one.

Finish your first draft

The first draft of your story is the most important one, because if it’s not there, you’re book won’t happen at all. You have to finish your first draft.

I was working on a new short story. The plot was in my head, but the phrasing itself wasn’t, but it had to be on paper, because of a deadline. This is the time to show up, get my hands dirty, even when my muse didn’t show. Writing is hard work. Even when you’re talented, it’s still hard work, since there are no real short cuts you can take to a finished story.

This is also the case for NaNoWriMo, a lesson you have to learn. For NaNo your most important goal is to write quickly, but most of all to write. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you keep going. So don’t read back, don’t edit what you’ve written. Just keep writing. If you know there is a place in your story which needs something more, put a symbol there and move on. You can get back to it later (when you do your first edit).

It’s more important to have the story on paper than to focus how it’s told. You can change tenses, points of view, formatting, typos, and grammatical errors in later drafts. Some even compare the first draft with sex, quick and dirty. You’re the only one who has to see it. But it has to exist. It’s impossible to edit blank pages. Write now, fix later.

Don’t rewrite or edit

I’m someone who’ll rewrite everything she wrote, because I know I can do better. That also makes the ‘no editing’ rule a challenge to follow. For one of my WIPs I had to introduce a new character. Once I finished the scene, I already had a different, better version of an introduction scene in my head. But it wasn’t the time to start rewriting. If the scene I had in my mind was indeed better, I’d still remember it when I’m going to rewrite the whole story.

When you first draft is done, let it rest. The story will still be there when you go back, but your mind will see things anew with a break. You’ll see if sentences, paragraphs, or the structure don’t work more quickly. (Read Raven’s post about self editing to get pointers about what not to do.)

You have to accept that imperfection is okay, that failing (to get the words perfect on paper) isn’t the end of the world. There’s enough time to fix everything. But not in November. Use December to edit if you want, but it’s better to wait until the new year. January and February are the ‘Now what?’ months where you figure out what to do with your draft.

Now go and write. Work on your daily word target, whether it is 1667 or something else. Write until your first draft is done. Do it quick and dirty. Finish it and celebrate! Show it to someone you trust to see if it has potential, or start rewriting before you do. But most of all, have fun writing your story. No one wants to read a boring story.

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