Putting the “No” in NaNoWriMo

Words, Polonius. Too many words.

Words, Polonius. Too many words.

November 1st. Today begins NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, during which people around the world try to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. It’s great. It’s an excellent way to build and maintain momentum on a project. There’s a supportive online community offering encouragement, tips on writing, and tips on surviving the month. And if you write your fifty thousand words—however horrible—you “win” NaNoWriMo!

It’s great. But it’s not for me.

I’ve tried it. I won’t say I failed, though I did not reach the 50k goal the year I tried. What I did do was relearn the lesson that high-volume output is never going to work for me. (We’ll skip all the whinging about perfectionism and how writers can get bogged down agonizing over every word as it’s produced.) A beautiful finished product is not the point of tossing down 1,667 words a day for a month. The point is getting it out. As much as possible. The point is volume. And volume is my problem.

I am a slow reader, a very slow reader. For a writer, exceptionally slow. I have a form of dysgraphia that means I can only read as fast as I can turn the words on the page into sounds in my head. (No, my lips don’t move.) That’s a really slow process, but it’s how my particular brain works. The upside is that I’m a close reader. I’m deeply in tune with the sound and rhythms of the words and sentences. I’m paying a great deal of attention, and I don’t miss much. Post-doc comprehension; fourth-grade reading speed. Seriously. For complex literary fiction, I might be downshifting further.

Your ten-year-old reads faster than I do.

So. If you can’t read fast, and reading is a huge part of editing, whatcha gonna do? You gotta minimize the reading, at least the reading of dreck you know is destined for deletion even while you’re typing it. So I avoid that dreck. I plan. I need to know where I’m going, what scenes I’ll include, and even how those scenes are going to be shaped. I need to know my characters and their relationships and conflicts before I start.

Cats may work with you or against you.

Cats may work with you or against you.

Not all the discovery comes during the thinking and planning phase, but I’d say at least half of it does. That’s unusually high. “Pantsers,” who write by the seat of their pants, just start, and write and write and write and find out what their story is when they happen across it. That’s never going to work for me. I don’t have time to sift through all the shtuff on the way to the story. I can bang out minor dents here and there, and of course there will be polishing, but I’ve got to build the thing right, or pretty damn close to right, the first go. (Of course I revise and edit. A lot. I’m not an idiot. I’ve just developed a process that avoids later wholesale scrapping of material.)

So, again, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year. What I can do this month is write every day. And that’s my plan. It won’t be 1,667 words a day, and won’t be 50,000 by December. But this book will be closer to done, and that’s a win for sure.

Good luck to all the NaNoWriMo-ers this month. Happy writing.