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A bit of advice for NaNoWriMo

Logo for National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month - is almost here! Across the interwebs, writers of every age, genre, creed (pantsers vs. plotters), and experience levels are revving up to participate.

As veteran of NaNo (have been doing it since 2003, won all times but 3, and in my defense, I was writing thesises or MA school applications), I  have been asked a few times if I have any advice for the newbies.

Yes, I do.

Remember, as wonderful and fantastic as NaNoWriMo is – 50K of a first draft is not a novel.

The average commercial novel is between 80-120K. That means that what you have at the end of NaNo is a very, very good start. You have half a novel, and only the first draft thereof. But it is not done. (Have pity on agents and slush-readers! Don’t send it out on December 1st!)

A novel is not a novel until it has been edited, polished, revised, beta’d, red-penned, and re-re-re-rewritten. Your NaNo is brain vomit and it needs to be tidied before it can be a novel.

But what you DO have is the foundation on which to lay an entire, fantastic novel, a DAMN good start, and brand new set of work habits to add to your tool kit. You have experience, an idea of what your novel can grow into, and enthusiasm. You have a new community of peers to support you, critique you, and help you. You have the glowing knowledge that you did it, that you’ve made it this far… and frankly, getting to 50k on a first draft is the hardest part. It’s all downhill from here. What is another 30-50K on a novel that you’ve already done 50k on? What is, as my agent says to me, “a few more months spent dialing it in?”

 And I don’t say any of this to be mean or to put you off NaNo; quite the opposite!

I say this so that you come into NaNoWriMo with a clear understanding of what it is EXACTLY that you are creating and that it will be, in all honestly, a bit crap.

And you know what?

THAT IS FANTASTIC. ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE A BIT CRAP.

The truth of the matter is… first drafts are always a bit crap. In fact, first drafts are meant to be a bit crap. That’s the nature of first drafts.

And the reason you allow your first draft to be a bit crap is because the important part of creating a first draft is not to write a polished, perfect, incredible novel. The point of a first draft is to get the STORY onto the PAGE. All the magic of tone and form and style happens in editing. But all the magic of running and jumping and loving and hating and living and dying and killing and screaming and kissing … that happens in the first draft. And it is supposed to sweep you away and plunge you into your world and make your chest ache and your stomach twist and your eyes swim and your mouth grin.

And you can’t do that if you’re self-censoring every time you pick up the metaphorical (or not) pen.

So allow your first draft to be a bit crap.

 Because fearing to write because you’re going to be a bad writer is silly; if you hate everything you put on the page, if your inner editor cringes at each typo, then how will any of it get ONTO the page?

Embrace that your NaNo is going to be a bit crap and use that as permission to keep writing. Think: “Oh, well, this scene is a bit crap. But that’s okay, because I can edit later! LATER! For now I will follow my fingers and my imagination wherever they shall lead and it will be GLORIOUS.”

So there it is. There’s my advice for NaNo.

BE A GLORIOUSLY, WONDERFULLY, UNASHAMEDLY BIT CRAP.

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