So I wrote a 75,000 word draft of a novel in the month of November, which was National Novel Writing Month (or Nanowrimo, as the inventors of the event have called it). Nanowrimo is a challenge to write 50,000 words, or 1667 words per day, every day, between November 1 through November 30; because I am a full-time writer, I decided to push for 75,000 -- nanoandahalfwrimo. I finished the month with 75,956 words -- 167 single spaced pages of pure first draft.
I've been writing for most of my adult life, and teaching writing for a few years. I didn't think I had anything new to learn about the craft of writing. I was wrong. I learned more about writing during the month of November than I learned in two years of graduate school (where a professor once told me my work was too emotionally intense and needed -- a direct quote -- "more blather").
I learned that sitting in the chair and forcing yourself to write long past the point where you feel inspired can actually work. There were many days when I sat there in front of the blank page with the blinking cursor -- a familiar situation -- wondering, "What the hell do I write now?" -- a familiar question. Instead of succumbing to the idea that I had nothing to say, and that I should go away and think about it until I knew what the next thing to write should be, I forced myself to just write something, anything. And I did.
I learned not to overthink decisions, to just make them, and know that I could change them later. A character who was 28 when I started writing about her on November 3 suddenly aged and became 41 by November 12; another character lost ten years of her life. Other characters appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, just showed up on the page and started speaking and acting. Apparently, if you make your hands move, your brain will follow.
I also learned how much you can write in an hour, as long as you don't go back and reread and try to polish things. I used to think, what's the point, I only have an hour between appointments, I'll skip the office today. Now I know, I can write three pages in an hour. I also know that I can get up an hour earlier in the morning if I have to, that I can stay up an hour later. I remembered what it was like to work hard.
And I learned not to stop during a first draft, not to reread what I'd written the day before, not to try to polish things or make them sound good, just to open the faucet and let it go. If you stop and reread, you become self-conscious, and the minute you become self-conscious, you slow down. The time for self-consciousness is the second draft. And man, am I self-conscious now.
Because this first draft is a mess. Written in no chronological order, just chunks of disconnected scenes floating around a nucleus of an idea; abrupt beginnings and endings to scenes; dialogue that's so on-the-nose it might as well be Kleenex. Paragraphs like this, without line breaks or proper punctuation, where even I can barely tell who's speaking:
Nothing I do is right anymore. She wants to be reassured. When has that ever been his role? Did he ever promise to be the guy who reassures people? He sighs. I never said that. But you indicate that. You indicate it all the time. Abigail, you’re making things up. Don’t negate my reality. He can barely keep his eyes from rolling. See? You’re rolling your eyes at me. I am most certainly not rolling my eyes at you. I am trying to determine what you’re trying to say here, and how I can possibly convince you out of something you’ve decided is real. You could convince me by acting like you like me every once in a while. That’s neither accurate nor fair, he says. I gave you keys to my apartment; isn’t that an indicator of how I feel? I’ve introduced you to my father. I’ve told you, I’ve never had a relationship like this one before, and yet you keep telling me that it’s not enough. I’m starting to feel like I’m the one who can’t do anything right. His father's genes in him, he would have made an excellent lawyer.
See? A mess. But better a mess than a nothing. Because you can clean up a mess, but you can't do anything to a nothing.
(That doesn't even make sense, but now that I'm all un-self-conscious from Nanowrimo, I don't care.)