I had intended to dedicate this week to homonyms, or synonyms…or one of those “nyms” that cause so much confusion in our language, but I changed my mind when I realized that we’d come to the end of November — otherwise known as D (deadline) Day to the thousands of writers who took up the annual NaNoWriMo challenge. So, in honor of all of you who so valiantly battled day in and day out to accumulate 50,000 words or more during a month already packed with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and who-knows-what-else is going on in your lives, I dedicate this week’s blog to you!
First, I congratulate you for hanging in there, for making that lofty goal and giving yourselves some literary meat to tear into as you start the next phase in your story’s life. Even if you didn’t hit the 50K mark, I congratulate you for trying. And I can most probably guarantee that you wrote more words than I did (even if I count editing).
Which is why I vow, here and now, publicly, to never, ever….ever…put myself through that torture again.
I think there are some people who take to the annual writing challenge like fish to water. (See, that is a perfect example of NaNo writing. Everyone knows that’s an old and tired cliché. But I’m in a rush to get this post finished, and I don’t want to stop and think of a fresh way of saying the same thing. So I’m going to leave it, for now.) Those NaNo naturals must love writing fast and dirty, not caring whether their initial content is full of clichés, typos or other spelling errors. They just plow ahead and get the story down.
I believe this because for two years in a row, I attended a NaNo group write-off hosted by a friend on the first Sunday of November. During the afternoon, she tasks the group with several speed-writing challenges. She sets the timer for an unknown length of time, yells, “Go!” and we attack our keyboards with the ferocity of cub reporters trying to scoop the star of the cross-town paper who’s covering the same big story. The goal of these timed writings is to write, and write, and write, write, write, write, until we hear the ding!, signaling that time is up. Then our gracious hostess (who has stocked the room with enough goodies and beverages to give the entire student body of an elementary school a sugar high…God Bless Her) asks us for our totals, declares a winner, and hands out a small prize. Over the course of the afternoon, she varies the definition of “winner” so everyone has a chance at a prize: highest word count, lowest word count, most improved word count…you get the picture. (She’s so good.)
Each time I’d gear myself up for the race, type my fingers off, and at the ding!, I’d look at my total (maybe 1050 words for five minutes) and think, Hey, that ain’t bad. That is, until I’d hear the totals of some of my peers. Like the two young women in the group who somehow cranked out something like 3,000 words in five minutes! I kid you not! When I heard their numbers, I mumbled to the woman sitting next to me, “They must be using an awful lot of short words!” (I know, not my most gracious moment.) She shrugged and replied that they’re probably super-fast typists.
Fast typists? Really? Heck, I’m a fast typist. I tested at over 85 WPM a couple of years back, and that was going slow so I wouldn’t make errors! How the he– How fast can they possibly type!?!
Then she added, “They don’t stop to make corrections.”
Oh…..now I get it. They don’t stop. For anything. And that, as I understand it, is the whole point of NaNo. You don’t stop to edit. You don’t stop to research a detail in your story (like the “live oak” trees that I’m researching for my WIP–aren’t all oaks “live”??). You don’t stop to find the name of the hero’s third-grade teacher that you mentioned three chapters back, even though skipping that fact might cause you complete confusion when you get to edits. You don’t stop to go back and fix a plot point in the prior chapter that could conceivably throw you off for the remainder of the book. You just write, period.
I think there are some people who work well with that model. They’re the same ones who probably believe you should never edit while you’re writing, who believe you should save editing for the official editing phase. That works well for some writers. (I know a best-selling writer who creates a messy first draft, then keeps adding and refining until she’s gone through something like 20 drafts to get to her final product.)
If that’s the way you write, fine. But if you’re like me, it’s not fine, and I really don’t care that I’m not following so-and-so’s advice, because the way I write works for me. I do edit while I write. I do fix my typos (when I catch them). I do research fine details. I do go back to find the names of characters or places I’d conceived on the fly (and try to scribble them down somewhere this time so I don’t have to go back again). When I meander off my plot outline, I do take the time to make it fit, to reconcile hanging questions, because otherwise, I may never find my way back. (Believe me, my memory can’t take more than a couple minutes’ diversion. If I don’t fix it here and now, I’ll not only forget the solution, I’ll forget there was ever a question!)
If I decided to not edit as I wrote, the final product could be an editing nightmare, causing me and my editor more work (and probably confusion) than simply taking the time to get it right the first time. Over the past six or several years, I’ve culled my process down to three solid drafts before handing it off to an editor.) It works for me. NaNo does not. I’ve tried it twice now, and twice I’ve failed, miserably. It’s been several weeks since I’ve worked on my NaNo project, and I’m actually a little afraid to go back and look at what I wrote!
So, when it comes to these theories (fast and dirty vs. editing as you go), here’s my advice: Do what works for you. If you like the challenge of racing the clock (with or without NaNo) and you do well with smoothing out your rough edges and filling in the blanks during your edit phase, I applaud you. But if you’re like me, if you prefer to think and perfect while you write, embrace your style. There’s nothing wrong with doing what works well for you.
That’s what I’m going to do from now on. And when next year’s NaNo challenge rears its ugly– I mean, when the call to enter NaNo comes next year, I’ll happily sit it out and let the speed-writers have fun.
Happy writing! Happy editing!
(Hmmmm…I never did go back and change that cliché, did I?) 🙂
After spending her life working with words in various roles in both government and the private sector, including a 10-year stint as a freelance line editor, lifelong grammar fanatic Leah Price is excited about putting her skills and knowledge to work in the publishing industry as author liaison for Edward Allen Publishing. She also writes commercial fiction under a pseudonym and knows how tough it is to get all the pieces in the story puzzle to fit, but she loves the journey.