Thursday, December 4, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008

There it is. I participated. I met the challenge head on and won. I can't say that I'm proud of it, though, because it was a lot of painful work for a negligible reward. It feels like a hollow victory.

I'm not talking about the web badge or PDF certificate I was awarded. They're kewl and I'm glad to have them.

What I mean is that NaNoWriMo isn't for everyone.

The intent of NaNo is to enable a writer to produce a novel's first draft in only 30 days instead of the six months or longer that it usually takes. It is particularly effective for writers who can't quell their inner editors long enough to finish a first draft.

Unfortunately, as in other aspects of life, one size does not fit all. NaNo isn't suitable for every writer; I suspect especially those who don't tend to do a lot of rewriting. In case you're wondering, writers fall somewhere along a line that ranges across three basic categories: from writers to editors to revisionists.

For example, Lee Child writes a first draft and that's the only draft he does.

In "James A. Michener's Writer's Handbook: Explorations in Writing and Publishing," Michener described himself as being not a good writer, but a great editor.

At the opposite end of the range from Lee Child are writers like Louise Ure who describes herself as a revisionist who changes everything that's in her first draft. Everything!

Because I tend more to Lee Child's end than I do to Louise Ure's end of the range, being a polisher and tweaker instead of a rewriter or revisionist, I am still dismayed at the huge amount of untenable crap that was the result of my participation in NaNo. Sure, I won, but what I got from it was merely the length of a novel. It wasn't a first draft as far as I'm concerned. From the 344 manuscript pages that resulted from my NaNo efforts, I've been deleting everything I have to rewrite from scratch. As of this posting, only 55 pages remain.

That's a serious load of crap, isn't it? I'm not concerned about the actual rewriting because I have all my preparatory material. I'm annoyed only about the waste of time.

The reason for this is because the pressure of the short deadline and the advice given by Chris Baty and other experienced NaNo writers influenced me to cast everything I learned from Mary McClure to the wind. In addition to being a mentor to journalists, Mary encourages all writers and has an excellent sense for what works. It's not that Baty et al give bad advice, either, only that it doesn't always work for everyone.

So there I was, halfway through November, suddenly aware that extremely little of what I was writing could remain. It's not that the story is bad. It's because the writing was truly awful; I haven't seen my writing that bad before - ever. Not even in junior high school. By striving for the quantity that NaNo demands, I wasted nearly a month's worth of writing time that would have been put to better use producing pages that I wouldn't have to delete at the end of the challenge so I can rewrite them.

I would have given up and quit at that point of unhappy discovery, but I decided to see it through. After all, I had dedicated November to NaNoWriMo and I didn't have anything else to do on the spur of the moment. I did, however, quit as soon as I came to a natural stopping point after passing the 50K word goal even though there were more days left that I could have used to write more. I just didn't want to have to rewrite any more than I did already and I'm not enough of an adrenalin junkie to want the intensity of NaNo writing to last longer than necessary.

It really is an accomplishment to come out of NaNo as a winner. I only wish that what I got out of it was more like other first drafts I've done.

The bottom line is that while I have a winner's badge, the real prize for me is a workable draft. That is, a draft that I can actually work on, not one that I have to delete and rewrite.

Maybe if I was a revisionist, I'd be a happy camper. Instead, I suffered the insanity of NaNoWriMo and have only 12,000 words to show for it despite being a winner. I could have had that anyway if I hadn't been honor-bound to not start writing before November 1. NaNoWriMo simply isn't my cup of tea.

Will it work for you? Here are some things to consider. If you:

1. Are a procrastinator

2. Can't stifle your internal editor long enough to finish a first draft

3. Typically do heavy editing, rewriting, or revising

NaNoWriMo is likely to work out very well for you.

If you're a procrastinator who doesn't like to rewrite, all I can suggest is that you either set your butt down and write on your own volition, or bite the bullet, do NaNo, and rewrite whatever results.

To be a NaNo winner, I offer the following tips:

1. Dedicate enough time to churn out an average of 1,667 words per day for 30 days in a row. Get a haircut, do all the laundry, buy groceries, warn your family and friends that you won't be available, get an answering machine or turn off your phone, put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door, have your spouse pay all the bills or pay all you can afford on October 31 and delay as many as you can until December 1.

2. Persuade someone to prepare your meals or stock up on sandwich fixings, cereal, Ramen, and other quick foods like Knorr Rice Sides and Sides Plus to which you can add a drained 8 oz. can of vegetables and a drained, two-serving can of meat like chicken, ham, or sliced Vienna sausages after preparation according to package directions. That will give you a one-pot meal that serves two. If you're single, refrigerate the second serving and reheat it later for another meal. (For easy cleaning, fill the pot with hot water and a few drops of detergent as soon as it's empty, and let it soak while you go back to writing. It'll be easy to clean after a few hours.) During NaNo, I had an unusual craving for milk and grapes. Since protein and fruit are synergistic, I wasn't concerned, only noticed that the combination and quantities were unusual for me.

3. Plan your story as much as possible. The more you know about your characters and plot, the less you'll get stuck. Free-flow writing works, but if you get writer's block, having an outline or a stack of notes at hand will help you get back to writing. If it isn't cohesive, don't worry about it. Write on. Fix later.

4. If you don't have names for your characters before Nov. 1, don't get hung up on inventing them during NaNo. Simply call them something, anything, consistently all the way through. That way, you can go back after you determine a name and do a Find and Replace All if you're using Word or the equivalent in other word processors. Then, you can tweak the names according to how other characters address them during a regular editing pass. I used occupations such as POLICE CAPTAIN, WAITRESS, character types such as VILLAIN and VICTIM, and physical characteristics such as BLONDE when I didn't want to waste time thinking up a name.

That's all I can think of at this time. If you have other tips that helped you become a NaNo winner, please post them in Comments.

Happy Writing!

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