So, this October, I once again got reminded of the fact that November 1st marked the start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those in the know. The idea is that writers come together, virtually and physically, to write. The target set is to complete 50,000 words of a novel by the 30th November, with 1,667 words being the recommended daily dose to help you get there.
This year, rather than just tweeting that NaNoWriMo was about to commence, I thought I’d jump in feet first and actually join in. I signed up, I read the empowering updates that landed in my email inbox on a daily basis, and I started writing.
The novel I chose to write was one I’d actually started two years ago; I say started, I managed about 1,000 words and then never found the time to get back to it, especially as I started my business at about the same time and have spent every spare moment since, writing for other people. But having a head start meant I could ease myself into this intense writing pattern at a leisurely pace. And day one of NaNoWriMo was quite clearly a piece of cake, as I only had to write around 600 words to meet my target. I did it and I was on schedule. Bring on day two.
Well, by day two, life got in the way, and between school runs, client meetings, housework, cooking dinner, swimming lessons and homework, I had neither the inclination or the energy to open my laptop.
It’s ok, I thought, it’s only one day, it’s only 1,667 words, I can write that in no time.
The problem was, I had that exact same thought on day three and day four, and as each day passed by, the chasm between my target word count and my actual word count grew and grew. But I read the supportive messages of encouragement on my local NaNoWriMo Facebook page, and I read the email messages and pep talks sent from NaNoWriMo HQ, and I still felt positive that I could get there, that I could catch up with the rest of the eager beavers who seemingly had absolutely nothing else to do in November.
It was then that I chose to dedicate an entire day to writing. It was ridiculously cold outside and I had a child free day and an empty diary, so I committed myself to my bed and wrote. As I wrote I kept popping in to the Facebook group, and I felt spurred on by my fellow NaNoers. I wrote, and I joined in the word sprints that were started by other keen writers, these basically involve us all competing to get as many words down in various time intervals, and posting our results at the end. It felt good, and before I knew it I was 10,000 words in, I had a redesigned plot, and a main character I was already in love with.
But then, after my long draining day of writing I started to reflect on what I’d actually achieved, and on my thoughts on writing in general.
Yes I’d written 10,000 words, a whole 9,000 more than I’d achieved in the previous two years, but then I realised, what was the point in writing those words if the words I’d written were below par, which of course they were as most of them were written as part of a race with a stranger on Facebook. They weren’t carefully considered words, they weren’t intelligent or clever, they were just muddled words in my head, spilling out into my fingertips.
Now I know that the NaNoWriMo gang will insist this doesn’t matter; that it’s better to have a first draft than no draft at all. But I disagree. In my opinion, if you edit at least to some extent as you write, then your first draft is a much improved version than anything you may write in a word sprint. And as a result you may only need one or two re-drafts to get to the finished product. The NaNoWriMo method, I realised, would probably leave me needing five re-drafts and no doubt losing the will to live by draft four.
As a ghost writer and editor, I am constantly explaining to my clients that they should not just be looking to up word counts, or to pad out sentences. The aim is not to write just so their book looks the right size or so they get a total word count that equals whatever the latest advice is on ‘how long a book should be’. For me, it is far more important that the words written are there because they tell the story beautifully.
My priority when I’m writing is to make sure every word is necessary and that every word enhances the story; I like to ponder as I write, and if I get 3,000 words or 300 words in one sitting, if it’s quality writing I’m happy.
My other issue with NaNoWriMo (apart from it’s name, which is a rather annoying word to type), is that for me at least, being at my best creatively requires me to be in the right frame of mind emotionally. After a long day’s work and stress, the last thing I should be doing is writing about first love, because it will no doubt come out as bitter angst. But National Novel Writing Month doesn’t allow you to pick and choose when your creative juices are flowing, and if you want to keep on track for your November 30th deadline, then you’ve just got to write. And for me, this makes writing a chore, thus defeating the object of making me enthused about my novel.
Having written this blog post I realise I could have just written another thousand words of my novel instead, but I’ll save that for another time, when it feels right, when I know the words I write will be the right ones.
So for now, thank you NaNoWriMo for making me realise just what works for me, and helping me to remember what’s important when it comes to writing… quality not quantity.