Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNo, Tool for the Perfectionist Writer

Note: to those of you who are not writers or who don't know about such things, November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, or NaNo). It is an event in which manymany people sign up to write 50,000 words before the end of the month. That is what this post is about. You can find more info at

Dear NaNoers,

Last year I wrote you this letter about maintaining momentum, so I'm going to re-post it here in case it helps:

This year I'm also helping out with a cool endeavor of YA Highway, which is a daily NaNo newsletter that we'll be sending out for the rest of the month. It will include writing advice and cute animal pictures and links to helpful stuff. If you're interested, check it out here:

And now, onward to my thoughts!

I wanted so badly to participate in NaNo this year, but as has been the case for the past few years, my schedule just didn't allow it-- I'm going to be working on Book 3 for the next several months, and I'd like to really focus on polishing it and getting it right, so it doesn't seem wise to undertake something so involved at the same time.

The reason I'm so eager to participate is that I think NaNo is an activity particularly well-suited to writers like me, who live in paralyzing fear of drafting. (Or in other words: a particular kind of crazy perfectionist.)

For my entire writing life, I have tried to be any other writer but the one I am. I have tried to mull things over and to be very careful and deliberate as I work and to proceed slowly through drafts. I have tried detailed outlines and planning and story mapping. All that these attempts did for me is give me more time to doubt myself, more space to second-guess things, and the result was drafts that were just as messed up as all the drafts I had written quickly, that required just as much revision.

Some people need time and space and a slower pace. Other people need to churn out a fast, sloppy draft so they know what their story is before they try to make something of it. Some people relish their first draft. Other people pretty much spend all their drafting time with the fear of imperfection chasing them to the end, and proceed through revision with a much clearer head.

NaNo, I think, is an amazing opportunity for writers like me, who need to tear off the band-aid of first drafting so they can get to the sweet stuff-- the revising. NaNo is an exercise in daily forgiving yourself for the wild imperfections of your first draft. It can teach you to allow things in your life to be "good enough...for now," instead of feeling the frantic desire to tweak and prod and push before you even know what you need to tweak and prod and push. NaNo can give you a community to cheer you on when you're down, flail around wildly with you as you celebrate, push you when you lose your momentum, and give you directions when you feel lost.

It is a safe place to flub it all miserably the first time around and then-- shock of all shocks!-- celebrate at the end, which I think is a truly valuable lesson for life. Life is full of imperfect things--imperfect works, imperfect stories, and imperfect moments. You won't be able to fix them all, especially not rightthissecond. And I think us perfectionists need to learn to stay in that uncomfortable place where you know something needs work but you aren't going to fix it yet. There is a space between starting and finishing, and it feels a lot like when you notice that a picture frame is crooked but you can't straighten it yet, and that is where much of LIFE takes place. NaNo is like a tiny, condensed version of that experience of imperfection, and it will teach you to be patient with the flaws of your work (and yourself!), and I love that.

So NaNoers...use this month as a tool. Use it to help you get words on the page, to make friends, to make mistakes, to learn things, to make plans to revise, and to celebrate the hopelessly imperfect but wholly amazing accomplishment of writing a whole crapload of words.

The usual warnings: don't convince yourself that you don't need to revise at the end of the month. Don't submit your NaNo novel to agents in December, or even January, or February. Don't shy away from completely gutting your NaNo project and beginning fresh now that you understand the story better. There's no such thing as a wasted draft-- each one shows you your story in a new way and helps you with the next one.

But the encouragements: WRITE! Be imperfect! Be determined! Go forth and totally kick your draft's butt. I will be here, cheering you on as I beat the crap out of book 3 with my words.



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