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NaNoWriMo and the Horrors of the First Draft

National Novel Writing Month (in which a writer has 30 days to write 50,000 words) is well under way and my Twitter feed and email inbox are both full of reminders that no, I have not written my novel today. NaNoWriMo is usually an anticlimactic event for me anyway. I don’t know why I set out to participate. In general, I have a pretty good writing routine. It could always be better. As it stands, I typically do my work at night. I write what I can when I can. I journal at least once a day. There just isn’t much structure to my writing life. I could treat it more like a 9-5 job, but then I’d hate it.



I didn’t do too much planning other than coming up with a title (Under the Influence) and a basic plot. Essentially, I threw everything I’ve learned from my MFA out the window to begin this project. Plantsing (the term for a writer who plots a little bit, but mostly “flies by the seat of their pants”) is not my style, but for some reason, whenever November comes around, plantsing is my approach. Naturally, I’ve never won NaNoWriMo.


For the first two days of the month, I exceeded my goal of 1,667 words. On the third day, I only wrote a few hundred words and I quickly realized that I had no planned plot stages or events to move anything forward. My characters are mostly empty characters that I started filling with aspects of myself.


Seeing the entire mess of ME coming out of my head and into my story, I froze. I don’t want this to be a therapy session. I want this to be something I can actually do something with. The logical part of me says, “That’s what editing is for.”


The slightly illogical part of me says, “You don’t usually need a lot of editing if you do it the way you intend the first time.”


And the two halves tear at me and rip apart any possibility of me getting words down. The entire point of NaNoWriMo is just to write. It is about quantity over quality. Yet, I suffer from perfectionism. If I don’t treat that disorder, then I will kill any possibility of literary success.


At this point, I am not sure that quantity is even remotely my calling. I know for a fact that I do not want to write Stream of Consciousness garbage into my book and then edit out 40,000 words of nonsense later. It will feel like a total waste. I also know that I fell back into old Plantsing habits and that is the source of my misery. So what do I do about it?


We are into the second week of the event and I am about 10,000 words behind. There is no way I will catch up if I continue without any direction. So my next course of action is to outline the points that I know my story needs to hit, just like my mentor taught me. Then I keep filling out those points until I have a story.


Will I win NaNoWriMo at this point? Maybe not, but that doesn’t matter. My goal is no longer to write like a lunatic. My goal is to write like a writer (who may or may not be a lunatic).

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